This week we are privileged to have our first guest speaker/blogger. When coronavirus restrictions are lifted and we are more able to interact with those around us, we will introduce you to more second gen churches and Christian leaders.
Pang Foua Rhodes is the Spiritual Growth Director of RiverLife Church of St. Paul, Minnesota, a second- and third-generation Hmong Church. Most of the church’s attenders are Hmong who were born in the U.S., and all services are conducted in English. RiverLife is an outstanding example of a second-generation church, making disciples of those who function in both their parents’ cultures and the white American culture in which they work and study. Pang Foua is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a graduate of both Fuller Seminary and the University of Minnesota. She has appeared on talk shows and other educational forums in both Hmong and English. She is the wife of RiverLife’s lead pastor. Pang Foua gave this address in response to an increase in the suicide rate in the Hmong community of Minnesota in 2019. This week’s blog is adapted from her video.
What does the Bible say about depression? The word depression itself never actually occurs in the Bible. But there are lots of words that were used to describe people who had these deep emotions. Words like: downcast, brokenhearted, full of anguish, crushed in spirit. And when Jesus was praying right before he was killed, we are told that he was sorrowful and troubled.
What do you do if a family member or a friend is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts? Well, thankfully the Bible has stories about that. Today we are going to look at the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Job loved God, served God, and did everything he could to stay away from evil. He was a loving father, a great husband, he had 10 wonderful children, and on top of all of that he was very wealthy. He was a great businessman. In fact, the Bible describes him the greatest man among all the people of the East. But one day out of the blue, Job lost everything.
His cattle were stolen. Fire from heaven came down and destroyed his belongings. Most of his servants died, and worst of all, all 10 children died in a freak housing accident. Not long after that, Job himself was afflicted with sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. And he was in so much pain and anguish that all he could do was sit on the ground and take a broken piece of pottery and scrape himself. The greatest man in the East suddenly became the sorriest man in the East.
Job had 3 good friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Job 2:11-13 says, “They set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him. They began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
When they came, they cried. They were emotionally moved. They didn't try to be strong. They actually let him see their emotions by tearing their robes and putting dust on their head. That was their way of saying, “We mourn with you in all these things, all these losses and your children's deaths.” They sat on the ground with him for seven days, letting him know that they were committed to him. And the most wondrous and amazing thing of all, they didn't say anything for seven days.
It's really easy to sympathize with someone when we see them in pain. But this weird thing happens when the person starts talking. If you've ever been with someone who's depressed, they can be kind of irrational. You're thinking as you're listening to them, “You can only see this from your perspective. You're not seeing the bigger picture.” All they focus on is the pain. You're thinking, “Wait a minute. There are good things in your life too.” And all of a sudden it can be harder to be sympathetic.
Job’s 3 friends sat in silence for seven days. Then Job 3:1 says, “After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said, May the day of my birth perish.”. Later on he also said, “I will not keep silent. I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit. I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Job was frustrated with his situation. He had no idea what happened. He wondered, “Why is this happening to me? I haven't done anything wrong.” His friends, because they cared for him, really wanted to set him straight. So they took turns answering him.
Unfortunately they did more harm than good because when we are trying to help someone, it's easy for our own discomfort, our own fears, our own helplessness to set in. And sometimes we panic and instead of helping the person, we want to rescue them. And when it comes to spiritual matters, we don't want them to think wrongly of God. So oftentimes we get in the way of helping. We either get scared and run away, or we get scared and we try to rescue and we try to find an explanation.
Job’s friends were helping the best way they knew how. Some of them became offended or were impatient with Job. They accused Job of having sin. He got mad at them too, and then they became offended and defensive.
I think part of what happened was that they lost their compassion for Job. And when you lose your compassion for someone, you can start to be rough with them, and it's easier to take things personally. Job said, “You are no help to me.” And he called them worthless physicians and he said, “You are miserable comforters.”
Interestingly enough, Job was the one who told them what he needed. In Job 13:5-6 he said “If only you would be altogether silent. For you, that would be wisdom. Hear now my argument; listen to the pleas of my lips.” So basically he was saying. “Shut up and listen.” Can you remember that? If you're with your friend and they're struggling and they're telling you how bad their day is or how worthless life is, just shut up and listen, okay? That's what Job needed from his friends. Helping someone struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts is not rocket science. I know most of us are afraid, we don’t know what to say or do, but we make it harder than it actually needs to be. What we need is to be present and listen with compassion.
Henri Nouwen described that kind of a friend in his book “Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian life”: “Which person in our lives mean the most to us? We often find that it is those who instead of giving advice, solutions or cures have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness--that is the friend who cares.“
Let’s talk about practical things you and I can do to be present and listen with compassion. The website www.helpguide.org has an article entitled Helping someone with depression: ways to start the conversation.
Most likely if someone is depressed and hurting, they're not going to come to you. Job's friends heard about it and then they traveled to get to him. Here are some things you can say to start to connect with your friend or family member. You can say, “I've been feeling concerned about you lately”. Notice how you don't say “You've been doing weird things and scaring me.” Or you might say something like “Recently I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you're doing.” Or you might say something like “Hey, I wanted to check in with you because you've seen pretty down lately.” Those are gentle ways of saying, “I'm noticing.”
You may want to tell them that they're not alone. “I'm here for you during this tough time.” You might say, “Even if I'm not able to understand exactly how you feel, I care about you and I want to help. You're important to me.”
Here are some things not to say. “Dude, this is all in your head.” “Hey, everyone goes through tough times.” That minimizes their pain. Avoid saying, “Try to look on the bright side.” Also avoid saying, “Why do you want to die when you have so much to live for?” Don't say “You just need to snap out of it. You should be feeling better by now. You shouldn't be feeling this way. Or, think of all the people who have it worse than you do.” This is basically when you start to get impatient that they're not changing fast enough. And then this last one, “You just need to pray more and trust God.”
Now let’s talk about what you CAN say and do if someone is suicidal. First, take seriously any and every threat to harm themselves. If you hear someone say, “You know, I just want to die” or “I'm going to kill myself”, you take it seriously. Every single time they say it, it's important to clarify whether they are just saying, “I wish life would end”, or they're actually saying, “I want to take my own life.” There is a difference, and you need to clarify before you jump to conclusions. Then ask them what they plan to do. This does not make them do it. Some of us are afraid that if you ask them, it's going to make them think about it more and then they're actually do it and then it'll be my fault. It doesn't work like that. They're going to be thinking about it anyway.
Ask them directly if they have a plan. “How do you intend to kill yourself? When were you going to do it?” And then ask whether they have the means to do it. If someone says, “I'm going to kill myself with a gun”, you say, “Do you have a gun? Do you know somebody who has a gun?” When you know these details, you can help them put a safety plan in place. You can say, “We’re going to remove the weapons that you have access to.”
Then ask, “When you're feeling suicidal, what can you do?” Recommend that they go be with someone, text someone, call someone and don't just say, someone. Actually put in the name: “I will call Greg.” Or I will leave my room and go to my parents' office. Be very specific. Then connect them to services, help them get counseling or medication if they need it, but definitely seek out further support for them.
And if in the conversation you find that they are a danger to themselves, then just call 911. It is better to save a life and have them hate you afterwards because you got in their way than to regret it later. We want to remind you that there's the national suicide prevention lifeline. You can call them anytime at 1-800-273-TALK. Or if you don't want to talk to somebody but you like to text, you can actually text the word “home” to 741741 and a counselor will come online and have a text conversation with you.
Let me close in prayer: God, thank you that you do not judge us when we feel depressed or worried or even when we wish our life would end, but instead you meet us. Your word says you are full of compassion for us and that you will not crush our spirits. In fact, your word says that you will save those who are crushed in spirit. So I pray that for all of us, Lord, that we would know that we have a place to turn, that we have brothers and sisters, family, friends that we can lean on. And most of all, we have your assurance that you love us and that you are with us always. So I thank you and I lift everyone here to you in the powerful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.