Monday, March 18, 2013

Wounded Heroes by Elizabeth R. Skoglund

Are struggles with emotion something that Christians should be ashamed of?  Are they somehow evidence of sin or a faulty walk with God?  Elizabeth Skoglund attempts to answer questions like this in her work, "Wounded Heroes."

I have been slowly reading this book over the past several months - the title intrigued me, and so did the list of spiritual giants that Skoglund includes: Amy Carmichael, CS Lewis, Ruth Bell Graham, CH Spurgeon and more.

I have to admit - the writing in this book is rather disjointed and made it difficult to read. I struggled to get through it.  However, that being said, the nuggets of wisdom and truth I found in this book made slugging through - WORTH it.  I am no great writer myself, so no harsh judgment here.

My favorite take-away from this book was how much I learned about Charles Haddon Spurgeon and his struggle with depression.  Few people realize that this great giant of the faith and publisher of multiple great works and sermons struggled deeply with recurrent depression. 

Skoglund puts it well - "Spurgeon did not become great alone.  Nor was he a plastic saint.  Rather it is his combination of greatness, strength and humanness that has refreshing appeal to the modern reader.  Spurgeon was weak, yet strong; ill, yet triumphant.  He had emotional problems, but they only refined him into the finest of gold which bore the image of that Great Refiner of souls."

While highly criticized for his struggle, Spurgeon saw it as a cross he bore in order to walk in humility before God despite his great fame.  He wrote, "My witness is, that those who are honored by their Lord in public have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves, and fall into the snare of the devil..."

And again he writes, "The Lord frequently appears to save His heaviest blows for His best-loved ones; if any one affliction be more painful than another it falls to the lot of those whom He most distinguishes in His service.  The Gardener prunes His best roses with most care.  [Discipline] is sent to keep successful saints humble, to make them tender towards others, and to enable them to bear the high honours which their heavenly Friend puts upon them..."

Spurgeon had a tremendous gift for making things understandable to the common man.  In speaking of human struggles, he wrote, "We have the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, and if there be a flaw in the vessel here and there, let none wonder."

Prayer was a true 'saving grace' for Spurgeon in his depression:  "When our prayers are reason of our despondency...the Lord will bow down to them, the infinitely exalted Jehovah will have respect unto them.  Faith, when she has the loftiest name of God on her tongue...dares to ask from Him the most tender and condescending acts of love.  Great as He is, He loves His children to be bold with Him.  Our distress is a forcible reason for our being heard by the Lord God, merciful, and gracious, for misery is ever the master argument with mercy." 

Spurgeon noticed that there were multiple reasons for the onslaught of depression:  (1) after an hour of great success - "we are apt to faint," (2) "before any great achievement" - he recognized depression as a sign that God was preparing his ministry for a greater blessing, (3) "in the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labor" - he recognized that our humanity means that we must rest and be refreshed! and finally, (4) "causeless depression" - with no known source.  This list encouraged me to watch for these reasons so that I may know how to appropriately respond - with rest and prayer. 

Spurgeon had great compassion for those who suffered, and yet tried to extend grace even to those who did not understand suffering.  He stated, "If these who laugh at such melancholy did but feel the grief of it for one hour, their laughter would be sobered into compassion."  So true.

I have wrestled deeply with emotional distress - the highs of ministry and the lows of perceived failure are both extremely familiar to me.  I believe the examples put forth in this book have enabled me to see emotional duress as something much more 'normal' in my missionally-focused life.  Resilience increases as we stand firmly on the examples of those who have walked before us, learn the lessons they left behind, and move forward to strengthen others.

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