In these last three posts, we have looked at the issue of suicide and depression in the lives of men. We said the fear of failure and shame are a primary cause of depression in the lives of men. We have somehow come to believe that real men don’t fail. Failure is for losers.
But is it? What if God can use failure purposefully in our lives? What I have found to be true, is that if we see no purpose and meaning behind painful events as they unfold, life will always be bleak and hopeless. On the other hand, if we can see meaning and purpose in the storms of life, it changes everything.
Dr. Henry K. Beecher of Harvard Medical School made an interesting observation among the 215 wounded men from the Anzio beachhead in World War II:
Only one in four soldiers with serious injuries (fractures, amputations, penetrated chests or cerebrums) asked for morphine, though it was freely available. They simply did not need help dealing with the pain, and indeed many of them denied feeling pain at all.
Beecher, an anesthesiologist, contrasted the soldiers’ reactions to what he had seen in private
practice, where eighty percent of patients recovering from surgical wounds begged for morphine or other narcotics.
Here you have two different groups of people suffering from the same exact injuries. The soldiers’ responses to pain were impacted by the fact that their injuries carried with them a sense of meaning. They were a result of being involved in a significant mission for their country. They also had a sense of gratitude that they had survived. Yet the civilian patients with the same exact wounds saw their injuries as being depressing and calamitous; thus, they begged for the medicines that would ease their pain.
The meaning behind what you are experiencing changes everything. And as men, if we can relinquish our ego’s hunger for the approval of others and re-examine our anxious fears through the lens of God’s truth, our fear of failure can truly be transformed.
I am reminded that Pulitzer Prize-winning Alexander Solzhenitsyn spent eight years of his life in prison for making a few disparaging remarks about Joseph Stalin. He went into prison as an atheist, and he came out eight years later as a Christian. The first words out of his mouth:
I bless you, prison. I bless you for being in my life, for there lying on rotting prison straw, I learned the object of life is not prosperity as I had grown up believing, but the maturing of the soul.
I share this story because Solzhenitsyn raises a great question: What is the object of life? If you believe it is business success and achievement, you will see difficult economic times as nothing more than a calamity. You will be fearful, bitter, angry, and eventually, perhaps, struggling with depression.
But if the object of life is, as Solzhenitsyn suggests, the maturing of the soul – the transformation of our character through knowing God – we will learn to see hardship just as Solzhenitsyn did; in fact, it will be a true blessing in the development of our lives and our relationships with others.
How could Solzhenitsyn, or anyone in his right mind, say that, after eight years of a prison sentence, away from family, friends, and comfort, that the experience was a blessing? Solzhenitsyn tells us that his suffering a harsh prison term was the only way for him to find the spiritual truth of life that he had been so blind to.
Could this be true of us?
Some of life’s most sacred truths can be learned only as we walk through our individual storms in life. We all have them. Yet all we ever seem to want is relief and comfort. We demand instant solutions, but what we fail to recognize is that God can solve all of our problems; however, instant solutions are not important to Him.
What is important to Him is how we respond to our struggles . The highly-influential, twentieth-century Swiss psychologist, Paul Tournier, said that only rarely are we masters over the events that take place in our lives, but that, nonetheless, we are accountable for the way we respond to the struggles we encounter. Tournier believed that a positive, active, creative response will develop us. A negative, angry response will only debilitate us and stunt our growth.
In fact, Tournier believed that the right response at the right moment might actually determine the course of a person’s entire life. He found that quite often, in fact, humans are presented with a rare opportunity to develop and grow only through hardship and trial. This is why he moved away from a practice based solely on the traditional patterns of diagnosis and treatment in his profession and moved to incorporate and address his patients’ emotional and spiritual needs as well.
Could my response to the storms that enter my life determine the future course of my life? Clearly if it is a negative, angry, fearful response, it can lead to depression. And if a man sees no way out of the depression, he might consider suicide as an option.
On the other hand, if we can see our pain and suffering through the lens of God’s truth, we will see that He is trying to make a spiritual breakthrough in the lives of each and every one of us. And particularly for us men, we will see that He is trying to teach us how we so easily build our security and significance on those things in life that can be taken away from us.