Articles

“A Message of Hope”

Dr. David Waggoner (via Gravatar.com)

I’ve had some experience with depression, which I highlighted in my review of Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression, so I was very interested when I received an invitation to an upcoming lecture on “Depression, Anxiety, and Spirituality,” at Central Lutheran Church in Eugene. I met with the organizer—an old friend from my days in the Episcopal Church— and wrote a short article about the event for MyEugene:

Local chaplain and counselor to deliver ‘message of hope’ during free presentation about depression and anxiety, April 22

BY DAVID OZAB ON APRIL 17, 2012

The clinical and spiritual sides of depression and anxiety are the subjects of a free presentation this Sunday at Central Lutheran Church.

Dr. David Waggoner, a chaplain at Sacred Heart Medical Center, will give a talk on “Depression, Anxiety and Spirituality” on Sunday, April 22, at Central Lutheran Church, 1857 Potter Street (at the corner of Potter and 18th Ave, across from Pioneer Cemetery) in Eugene. The talk runs from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. and includes a question and answer period. Admission is free to the public.

Waggoner holds a Ph.D. in education from the University of Oregon and also has an extensive background in psychology, theology, and pastoral counseling.

He is a pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a member of the board of trustees of The Disciples Seminary Foundation. He works at the Johnson Unit at Sacred Heart’s Downtown Campus and was trained through Stephen Ministries, a nationwide ecumenical Christian counseling program designed to help people of all faiths and none.

Fellow chaplain and Central Lutheran congregant Angel Scott organized the talk together with the pastoral staff at Central. She is a colleague of Waggoner’s at the Johnson Unit and was also trained through Stephen Ministries. When Scott asked Waggoner to give the talk, she said she knew he would be the best choice to present the subject matter to a broad audience.

“I originally asked a psychiatrist to give the talk, and I knew that he would end up giving a more clinical presentation. I knew that David could turn this into a message of hope.”

Scott can’t stress the point enough. This presentation is intended for anyone who’s had to cope with depression or anxiety, which is pretty much everyone.

“I think anybody can benefit,” Scott says, “whether it’s somebody who suffers from depression and anxiety or who knows someone who does. Part of being and supporting is recognizing when depression starts setting in because the earlier you catch it the easier it is to treat. [Early intervention] can prevent suicide attempts and all kinds of turmoil. The sooner it’s caught, the sooner it’s recognized.”

The key is a good support system, and these are hard to find. For people outside of faith communities, they may only have family or close friends to confide in, but as we become more mobile and less grounded in communities even these support systems can be stretched or broken by great distances. But even within faith communities, seeking help is often discouraged by those one would expect to provide it.

“It’s not something that’s discussed a lot in church.” Scott says of church congregations in general. “We don’t hear a lot about what to do when a loved one dies. I know that time is a huge part, but it results in this uneasy feeling—’oh I should be over this thing by now’—but people don’t always get there quite that easily. You might go to a loved one, but you never involve the pastor: that’s not what the pastor’s for. ‘God forbid we should ask a trained professional.’”

Scott also perceives a generational gap in her congregation, with those over the age of sixty both most likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, due to losses of loved ones, medical concerns, and the stresses of aging and retirement. Yet these are the “builders,” the ones who made America what is is today and to admit that they need help is to say “I don’t have a place.”

“It’s almost chic nowadays to have a therapist,” Scott says with a laugh, “but not among the people I see in church who are older. To them it’s still a stigma” to ask for help.

Scott hopes that Waggoner’s talk on Sunday will begin a conversation within her church and the wider community as well: a conversation that will lead to healing and to hope.

In the article, I described the lecture as “a conversation that will lead to healing and to hope.” That was the last line of the story on MyEugene. I wanted to target the article to as broad a local audience as possible, so I downplayed the more specifically Christian part of the story. I include that part here, quoting the event’s organizer, Angel Scott:

You and I as spiritual people remain centered. We have a resource that others don’t have. People who focus on their work; what do they do when they lose that?

When I go to the Trappist abbey, I go there for solitude but I also go for support. I always connect with a spiritual director at the end of my visit. I think that what’s missing particularly among Christians with the mind set of “God’s punishing me for my lack of faithfulness” is that they don’t understand that part of what the community is for is to support them so they don’t have to bear the entire burden if they’re not able.

We talked a bit about our experiences with monastic retreats: mine at Mt. Angel Abbey and hers at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey, and then moved on to the subject of scripture:

The Bible is full of examples of very strong people who have struggled. Jesus speaks about anxiety: “do not be anxious about tomorrow.” How can you tell that to a people who are living in an occupied country? How can you tell that to a people who don’t even know if their children are going to live after birth? Where the prayer “give us this day our daily bread” actually meant food? (But) people today turn (Jesus’ teaching) on its head saying “I’m anxious, therefore I’m not abiding in Christ.”

Turning what should be words of comfort into a command: “Don’t you dare be anxious!” We had a good laugh about that, but it’s true, and it’s a shame.

And that brings me back to Not Alone. Most of the contributors to that anthology come from a faith background of some sort, and many of them faced the same questions: “Is it my fault? Is my faith not strong enough? Is God punishing me?”

The answer to all of those questions is “no.” God isn’t punishing us when we’re depressed. God want us to seek help and sends people into our lives to help us. Just like in the icon of the Resurrection—where Christ pulls Adam and Eve up by the wrists—God wants us to be Christ to one another, to be his hands pulling each other out of the pit.

Resurrection Icon

That is “a message of hope.” That is good news.

UPDATE: MyEugene.org ceased operations in May, 2012. The site is down and currently for sale. I have reposted my complete articles on this site—in this case block-quoting the complete article within this larger post. (11/6/2012)

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