FINDING THE INSIDE SMILE AGAIN
Dear Pastor Jeremy.
It’s been a while since I reached out to you with a word of encouragement. Though you do not seek it from man, I acknowledge your hard work as you seek to glorify God through your ministry. It is not easy. You are called to study the divine scriptures and to walk the road with others as they navigate their way through sorrow, pain, and trials. It is my prayer that this letter will empower you through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit to minister His truth regarding a pressing need all too common and all too overlooked.
Everyone is so busy these days trying to stay afloat in stormy seas of family relationship, personal difficulties, work challenges, and financial matters. I too have found that everything on my to-do list for the day cannot be accomplished in the hours given. It has left me feeling overwhelmed and emotionally drained. Because you desire peace and victory for me, I need to let you know how I am feeling.
I have attended church for as long as you have. I listen intently to your messages each week and find great comfort for my depression in the Scriptures you share passionately. How present Jesus has been as I walk the unpredictable road of my mental health-related issues and intense counseling sessions.
Next to my bowl of cereal in the morning is the anti-depressant medication I must take before I finish my coffee.
By three in the afternoon, my energy is running on fumes. As the sun sets in the evening, so the anxiety rises to take its place. And as my head hits the pillow, they who are hidden in the darkness empty barrels of the toxic sludge of PTSD and wounded memories in my mind.
God has brought me a long way on the road to healing, but sometimes I still attend church with a warm smile on the outside and unsettling heaviness on the inside. I rise in God’s grace to serve Him and His people, but often at the same time I fear the darkness I can see approaching from a distance.
Smiling on the outside is easier than smiling on the inside.
A service can go well without it being well with one’s soul. I know God wants me to smile on the inside. He wants me to rejoice. He knows too that depression isn’t a coat that can be taken off and stored in the closet.
There are some days that are so hard, and praying is difficult. I barely say anything. I carry my Bible under my arm and sorrow in my heart as I enter the sanctuary. Though I am still quite young, there are times when I feel very old on the inside. I desire to know God and experience Him afresh, but so often I struggle to do so because it feels like my eyes are stinging from the coarse grains of sand the storm of mental-health struggles has kicked up about me.
But Pastor, I’m not giving up. Don’t get me wrong, there is no confidence in the flesh.
No neuron or muscle, talent or accomplishment serves as a cure to soothe the inflammation of the mind and restore the missing inner smile. If I gave up, where else could I go? Where else could “we find a friend so faithful Who will all our sorrows share?1 Christ is our Truest Friend. He is the only dependable Friend of the church. I love God because He first loved me. I have tasted the Living Waters and have lost my desire for the cup of the world. I sing the hymns and choruses of old because they confirm what God has done in me. Partaking at the Lord’s table with Him is truly a sacred time. If I walked away from church and from serving God, then I would deny the confidence that “… I will see the LORD’S goodness while I am here in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).2
I know you are aware of the struggles Christians face as they live as Christ’s ambassadors on the earth. You have preached often about the bitter experiences of Joseph, David, and Paul. You haven’t been afraid to take your congregation through the pages of Job and Hannah’s story. You’ve encouraged the children of God to “have a cup of tea” with Thomas, Peter, and John.
I’ve seen you at times wearing an outward smile. I am not foolish enough to believe you have it all put together.
Each precious soul in the body of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ needs to find and keep their inward smile – a joy that is not dependant on good times or feeds off outward enjoyment of things. The church needs to return to the safest arms and warmest heart. He will not reject us though we come still wearing the heavy coat of depression to worship Him. The Shepherd knows how to carry His lambs and how to break the jaws of the wolves that stalk the flock.
When that darkness envelopes me, I have found Psalm 43:3-4 most uplifting: “Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God-the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!”
It doesn’t take a professor of Theology to understand where a broken heart and troubled mind can go to be counseled, comforted, and restored.
I’m learning that the only way I will find my inner smile is to follow God’s light and truth to the place where He restores it anew. It leads to a place where I am touched by the Master’s hand. It is a place where holy acoustics convey the Father’s heart and words with perfect clarity. Though I suffer outwardly and emotionally, I do not need to ask Him to call me home. All that matters is that He calls me “beloved.” How often, dear Pastor we forget that God still Is everything He was, and that because He restored the inner smile of Joseph, David, Paul, Job, Hannah, Thomas, Peter, and John, He will do it for His bride today. I know it is your testimony too. May we all submit to His holy work and good plan as we work the corners of our mouths by flexing the muscles of faith.
Dear Pastor Jeremy, I encourage you to spend time in this Psalm. Follow His light and truth. Look into the matter thoroughly. I know you’ll be encouraged.
In Christ’s service
Jeremy Dykman is a pastor with a heart to serve God and a calling to share God’s Word with others. He was born in South Africa and spent thirty-nine years in Johannesburg before moving to Canada with his wife and two sons. Jeremy has recently released a book detailing his personal journey with depression. Room 13B is available through your favorite retailer.
1 What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Lyrics: Joseph Medlicott Scriven. Music: Charles Crozat Converse. Published in Sing His Praise by Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, Missouri, (1991).
2 Scripture quotation taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation. NLT® Text Edition: 2012. Copyright © 2012 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, Illinois.