Monday, January 31, 2011

My Big Blue Funk

No, I’m not talking about a 70s rock band; I’m talking about my mood. And I hate it. I hate it because I prefer to feel upbeat and optimistic. I hate it because I can never predict its onset or its exit. I hate it because I have no known reason for feeling this way. I hate it because I deal with people every day whose circumstances could make the hardest heart weep in sympathy. I hate it because I can’t control it, because it reminds me that I am weak. I hate it because I don’t know how to rid myself of it other than to wait it out until the blue funk becomes a blue sky once again. And I hate it because pastors, many think, should be immune from such things. And even though I know better, sometimes I think that too.

But no one is immune. A young man came to a renowned doctor in Paris complaining of depression. He asked what he could do to get well. The doctor thought of a well-known young man named Grumaldi, prince of clowns in the Paris circus. The doctor told the young man, "Go see Grumaldi. He will make you laugh and forget your troubles. He will show you how to enjoy yourself. He can help you get well." The downcast patient looked at the doctor and said, "I am Grumaldi." I think I understand how Grumaldi felt.

What I’m describing is not some deep dark depression. It’s not the kind of thing keeps me from functioning or smiling or laughing at something I find funny. It doesn’t keep me from coming to work and counseling with people and writing sermons and teaching Scripture and dealing with issues (although those things take a lot more energy when I feel this way). I don’t have any compulsion to stay in bed or keep the curtains drawn. I don’t court the darkness. I don’t stare into the face of the great abyss. It’s not that. It’s not that bad or that deep or that pervading. It’s what I call my big blue funk. It’s not a pit; it’s a rut. It’s not a Rottweiler that takes a chunk out of my backside; it’s a Chihuahua that nips at my heels. It’s a joy-stealing heaviness of heart I call my big blue funk.

It would be easier to understand if things were going badly in my life, but they are not. I am blessed. Things go well. My family is fine. The church I serve is rolling right along and doing significant kingdom work in our city and around the world. I don’t feel lonely, unloved, or unappreciated. Maybe that's why my heart is often drawn in times like these to the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 18 the Lord gave him a great victory over the false god Baal and Baal’s prophets. Revival broke out on the mountain and multitudes of people praised the one true God—in 1 Kings 18. But in 1 Kings 19, Elijah gets wind of Jezebel’s threat on his life, takes off running for the desert, and ends up moping and depressed in a dank dark cave. That didn’t make sense for Elijah, and it doesn’t make sense for me. Seems like I ought be doing a march or singing in major chords, but minor chords are the best I can do today. I wish I could be cheery in every season and all the time like some Christians I know, but I’m not and I can’t.

And I’ve learned to be okay with that. I’ve learned that God loves me no less in my funk than He does in my joy. I’ve learned to rest upon the wings of grace to carry me through. Such funky seasons are no stranger to God’s people. Consider the prayers of the psalmists, the laments of Job, the frustration of Moses, the cave of Elijah, the thorn in the flesh of St. Paul, the stomach trouble of Timothy, the cries of Jesus on the cross. So I’ve learned through the years to just ride it out and wait on God to lift the funk.

Even though I hate feeling this way, I’ve grown to appreciate these seasons to some degree. My big blue funk keeps me humble. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me authentic and real and teachable. It also helps me move a bit more deeply and quietly into Jesus—my ears and my heart more attuned to that still small voice of God.

Ann Lamott writes of a mother whose two-year-old child accidentally locked himself in a room one night. She heard him calling for her: "Mommy! Mommy!" She couldn't open the door from the outside, so she kept saying, "Just jiggle the doorknob, honey." But he didn't understand because he was afraid and sobbing. She tried talking to him. She tried coaxing him. She tried everything she could think of and nothing seemed to calm him down. When the woman could think of nothing else to do, she finally fell to her knees and slid her fingers beneath the door in the space between the door and floor. She told him to find her fingers. He did, and they stayed like that for a long time—on the floor, with him holding her fingers in the dark. Eventually he stopped crying. Once he was calm, she gently said, "Now stand up and jiggle the doorknob." He did, and in just a moment the door popped open.

It's the image of the fingertips under the door that Lamott could not forget. It's the way that we are like the two-year-old in the dark, and God is the one who, though we can't see Him, is there to comfort us and help us until we are clear enough to get out of a big blue funk or even out of a deeper, darker pit of depression.

So if my big blue funk sounds sort of familiar to you, then hang on, listen for God’s gentle voice, or just hold onto His fingers in the darkness. Perhaps, and even sooner than you think, you’ll be able to stand up, jiggle the doorknob, and come out into a better, brighter day.


  1. Praise the Lord for Blue Funk. I was there yesterday myself after getting a rejection letter from a church that I felt that the Lord was opening, because we had been talking for about a month.
    Thanks for letting me know that there is a brighter day ahead of me when that Lord opens that door of me to walk through.

  2. Thanks Pastor. I appreciate you as a mentor, friend, Shepherd, and fellow traveler. Thanks for your authenticity.

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  4. Thanks, all of you, for your comments. Isn't it kind of God to meet us in the funk and help us find our way through? Thanks for sharing a bit of your story too.

  5. Джон! Бог с избытком дал Вам дар слова! Я как ребёнок с огорчением понимаю, что у меня этого нет.

  6. Hi John, Well written and wow something to think about but I know we have to go through the winters of soul to enjoy the lightness of springtime and Thank God it is upon us. Peace and Blessings, Mollye