Monday, September 2, 2019
How to get your joy back
Carl W. Kenney II preached this sermon on Sunday, September 1, 2019 at Liberation Station, home of Underground Church.
I Kings 19:3-7
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,
4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”
6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.
Protest defines what it means to be an American. Since the beginning of the incorporation of America’s Constitution, and even before that, participating in this experiment we call freedom has been measured by efforts to redefine what that means. Freedom is marked by the people holding pride in the claims of our creeds.
God bless America is the song of white supremacy and male domination. The reality of what it means to be an American is not what we read in history books, it’s the determination of the people screaming from the underbelly of America’s nightmarish truth.
It’s black people still seeking equity. Its women yelling Me TOO. It’s native Americans still crying a trail of tears. Its poor people robbed by corporate corruption. It’s the post traumatic stress of the men and women who fought for a version of democracy in wars exposing America’s greed.
America’s history is about the battles to stop the insane ways of people determined to maintain status quos. Almost everyone has a battle. Our battles expose the absence of a clear national identity outside of a desire to be free.
Be it Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Workers Rights, Safe the Earth or another agenda – fighting is America’s DNA.
It comes with a price. It takes a toil on our emotions. It brews in our belly like lava preparing to erupt. It robs us of the will to rest. It keeps us trapped in a cycle of proving points, overcoming assumptions, slaying intolerant opinions, feuding to offset complicit agendas, avoiding attacks of misinformed people, challenging policies attacking the dignity of some people, attacking interpretations of scripture.
We keep fighting. On social media, we fight
On the job, we fight
We fight in our sleep.
Fighting is the nightmare that supplants the American dream.
The American way is conversations about systems and policies, strategies for winning sustainable change. The work is about taking it to the streets and plans to unseat politicians.
This work robs us of joy. It keeps us stuck in mental and emotional hardship of the work. It intensifies stress and leads to depression. It makes it hard to get out of bed to face what’s waiting in these streets.
It’s hard to keep moving when the work never seems to be enough. One victory is followed by a reminder of more to be done. There’s no time to celebrate. The enemies of peace keep coming.
This is the lesson of the Prophet Elijah. After the victory of Mt. Carmel, he’s forced to come down. He faced a massive confrontation with the prophets of Baal. After a pivotal moment in which the faith of his tradition was pitted against the faith of fertility worship. He comes down from the mountain.
He had the people place a bull on wood to be sacrificed. The prophets of Baal did the same. He called on his God. They called on their God. It was a show of power. Who has the power? The priest of Baal called on their God. Elijah called on his God.
We know this challenge. My god is bigger than your God. My candidate is better than yours. My way is better. Let’s fight.
Elijah won the battle, but the fight continues.
Black people won the right for public accommodation, but the fight for voting protection continues. Women won the right to vote, but the right for equal pay continues. Each win is followed by an enduring reality. Each victory is followed by new truths.
The enemies of peace don’t give up. The death of Michael Brown was followed by others. It felt like it was happening every day. The story of a sexually assaulted woman was followed by others. It felt like every woman has a me-too story.
It’s too much to take. It eats our joy like a parasite inhabiting our intestine. Little by little, day by day – our will to fight fades.
After King Ahad tells his wife Jezebel Elijah killed her prophets, she sends Elijah a message. She plans to kill him. He runs. He ran for a day. He left his friend Elisha in Beersheda. He left his support system. He left his prayer partner and ran some more. He ran into the wilderness to hide. He ran until he found a broom bush.
Then he prayed. He didn’t pray for strength. He didn’t pray for support. He didn’t pray for courage. He prayed to die.
His joy is gone. His hope is lost. His faith has vanished. His will to live has evaporated.
This reads like depression. This reads like a man in need of therapy, but where can he get help. You can’t get help while running away. You can’t get help while avoiding the situation. You can’t find a solution when fear has you running away from the support you need.
Let’s not judge Elijah. Most of us have been there. Most of us have felt like ending life because of the fear chasing us. Anyone who has worked hard to make a difference knows the pain stirred by the consequences of activism. Most of you know how much it hurts when someone wants payback after you do the right thing.
This is what depression feels like. Sometimes praying isn’t enough. Sometimes our faith isn’t enough. Sometimes our reliance on scriptures to help isn’t enough.
Sometimes you need therapy.
Sometimes you need medication.
In some cases, it may be related to mental illness.
This is not an indication of weakness. This is a lesson involving the limits of human strength. This is what happens among people fighting for justice. It’s a lesson about self-care. It’s a lesson about the danger of embracing a superhuman persona. We have limits. We have fears. Sometimes we run alone. Sometimes we run to places no one else can go. Sometimes we cry for God to end it all because there seems to be no escape.
What do you do when the misery fuels the blues?
How do you keep moving when your feet are glued to disappointment?
What does it take to get your joy back?
I. Remember why you do it.
This is a point that separates the people who do it for attention from the people who act of a sense of calling. A call is a continuing response to a transformative moment. Something happens to change perspective. Something happens to make it difficult to go back to that former place. A call is a response to the urge to participate in the making of a solution. It’s a place of vulnerability. It exposes a variety of weaknesses. A call is about the unknown within the context of brutal opposition.
A call knows what should be. A call accepts the possibility of unfulfilled dreams
It may never get better, but you have to try
They may never listen, but you have to speak
They may never see you, but you have to keep marching
A call forces continued movement. You can’t stop because something happened.
Each of us enter from different places. What you’ve seen may be different from what I’ve seen.
I’ve seen extreme poverty. I’ve seen women beaten by lovers. I’ve seen the impact of addiction. I’ve identified bodies of murder victims. I’ve seen children cry because of the death of a parent. I’ve seen the torment caused by cancer and other diseases. I’ve heard the moans of people suffering from mental illness.
More than that, there’s what I’ve experienced.
I’ve experienced relationships tarnished because I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I’ve experienced the challenges of overcoming substance abuse. I’ve reaped the rage of church folk who use scriptures to discount the integrity of my witness. I’ve cried through numerous nights because of a woman’s decision to love someone more than my love to defeat.
I know the life of frustration. I know the pain of being misunderstood. I know what it feels like to ask God to stop it. Make it go away. I know midnights agony in the face deep loneliness.
It’s the mark of a calling. It’s way those called keep coming back after the attention fades. It’s why you keep doing it when there isn’t enough money to pay your bills. It’s why you keep showing up after a devil wins an election. You can’t give up. No matter what happens. Another sexist Supreme Court Justice. Another public policy aimed at keeping women barefoot and pregnant. Another homophobic policy. More racist rhetoric.
We know the moan of disappointment, but we are called to do this. Cry. Get it out, but evil can’t win.
II. Keep moving.
I recommend time for self-care. When joy is lost, find a place recover. Give yourself permission to run to the hills, your help is up there. Go to a beach and wade in the water. Find a book club. Get a massage. Make love. Cry in the arms of a person you trust. Share your story. Rest. Rest.
Resting is not a lack of movement. It’s a different type of progress. Rest is a form of sabbath. Sabbath involves trust beyond the known.
Sabbath is trust in provision beyond what we control. It’s faith in a power beyond what we know. Rest is movement. It’s inward movement. It’s healing movement. It’s giving the burden to a God beyond our understanding. It acknowledges what we don’t know. What we can’t fix. It embraces the grace of limits.
Not my will, your will. Not my way, your way. Not my strength, your strength. Not my influence, your influence.
Rest is the movement of God’s activity when we lack the will to move. This is what Elijah does. Preachers have used this scripture as a model of weakness. It’s used as an example of what not to do. It used as an example of depression rooted in emotional weakness. It makes depression something we pray through. Depression is viewed as the counter to spiritual strength.
God is in this moment. Elijah’s depression doesn’t isolate him from God. God is there. God is patient. God speaks to the prophet. God eases him through a process of healing. He gets there slowly. By moving, from one place to another, until he hears God speak within his depression.
Not in the mighty wind. Not in the earthquake. Not in the fire. God speaks in a still small voice.
He challenges Elijah to keep moving. Eat. Live. Move. Trust. Listen. Patiently, God supports the prophet and speaks.
God speaks to you.
Maybe not through a powerful sermon. Maybe not through the opening of the heavens and a declaration through the witness of a thunderous voice. God speaks, softly. God speaks, throughout the journey.
III. You are not alone
Loneliness is what this work creates. Loneliness is what fear creates. It’s what happens when you feel chased. It’s comes with disappointment. It’s what isolation brews.
Elijah leaves Elisha behind to go deeper into self-pity. It’s only me. No one else understands. I must suffer the consequences alone.
Depression traps us in an analysis of self-reflection. Thoughts of others happens within the context of how our mess impacts them. I have to protect my children. I have to consider how my actions impacts the work. My shortcomings destroy the credibility of the work.
Not true. False assumption. It’s not just you.
Go back. There are others waiting who feel the same way. Go back to your support group. Others are depressed. You need each other.