"Are any among you...?"
"Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise." (James 5:13)
This past week Patti and I spent Wednesday - Sunday with our youth group and about 3500 others from all around the country (and world) at the United Methodist Church's gathering of youth at Purdue University in Indiana. The event was called, "YOUTH 2011" and will be repeated next week in Sacramento, California for folks on the west coast. The event kicked off with a "bang" (literally - see the pyrotechnics in the photo) and continued with great fellowship, worship, workshops, entertainment, and other special events. The auditorium was thumping and bumping as the crowd rocked with the musicians leading them in worship. Yet... I knew a secret...
I knew that as I looked out over that sea of faces there were among them those who were suffering - suffering from teen depression. As a matter of fact, the statistics tell us that if all the 3500 had been teens, we could have expected that 700 of them would have been suffering from the illness - 20%. Here's a couple of even more startling numbers. During the time we were together at the festival from noon Wednesday until midnight Saturday over 20,000 young folks in our country in the age range of 15 - 24 attempted suicide. Most of those attempts were fueled by depression. Even worse, by this time next week when Patti and I head to Sacramento for the second half of the YOUTH 2011 event, 100 of those young folks who made attempts will have completed suicide and died.
There are those suffering among us, hidden in the crowd of eager, cheerful faces. The truth was further revealed for me after each of the three workshops I taught at YOUTH 2011 on "teen depression." After each workshop there were teens who waited afterward to talk with me and share their stories about their struggles with depression. Some were already getting help and others asked about how they could get help. I will always especially remember one very tall young man who towered over me. I thought his tears were literally going to drop on me like rain as he shared part of his struggle. Adults also stopped to talk with me at our booth in the exhibit hall. Some of them shared their stories and pain. It helps to know that when you're in the crowd someone knows your secret, someone knows your pain, you're not alone, and there's hope for God's healing.
My workshops really aren't about "teen depression." They're really about God's hope and healing. God knows there are those who suffer in our midst - teens and adults - and offers healing. It's time that those who suffer know they need not be the "secret" in the crowd. Depression is an illness like heart disease, diabetes, etc. that still has lots of mystery surrounding it, but also has tremendous hope for healing. In the book of James from the New Testament the author reminds the followers of Christ that their community of faith, their crowd of believers, is composed of folks with various needs and life issues. Some are "cheerful" and some are "suffering." He offers directions for both. We need to be careful and not send a message to those who suffer that tells them they should simply slink into the crowd, pretend to be cheerful, and keep their suffering a secret from the rest of us. That's not the model Jesus offered when he healed the sick. There is hope, there is healing. That's God's invitation. There are those suffering secretly among us who need to hear that invitation. I pray that God will help me offer that divine invitation to healing and hope. How about you?
Blessings and Peace,
Pastor, Sand Hill United Methodist Church
Boaz, West Virginia
Help save lives! For more information on my new book, "A Relentless Hope: Surviving the Storm of Teen Depression," visit www.survivingteendepression.com.