It seems like it's pretty hard to go anywhere lately without hearing talk of the current economic downturn. Even though part of my New Year's resolution was to reduce my daily intake of news, people are talking about it at church, at work, even at the little deli I shop at every morning. Christian universities have tightened budgets and implemented temporary hiring freezes. Churches and non-profits are buckling under the strain of reduced donations. According to one expert, churches alone will experience a 3 to 6 billion dollar loss in expected donations over a single quarter.
In a survey posted last month, The Barna Group reported that two out of every three families, including over 150 million adults, have already been affected by the economic downturn. By the time the economy starts to turn around, most of us will know someone affected by the recession - friends and family that have lost homes, lost jobs, lost hope. For many, what once seemed so stable was not so firm and sure after all.
The stark realities of the current economic crisis have caused me to think deeply about other kinds of recessions we face as believers - specifically the emotional and spiritual recessions that are an inevitable part of the Christian life.
A recession of the spirit can be triggered by a personal crisis such as the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, sickness, or difficulties in marriage or ministry or they can be the result of gradual, slow drift away from God. Either way it occurs, a recession of the spirit can leave us feeling rudderless, as if we are blindly groping for answers in a dark room.
So how do you maintain hope in a time of recession, be it financial or spiritual? In my life and ministry, three things have buoyed my spirit even in the most turbulent of times.
1. Telling the truth. Telling the truth means being honest about my circumstances, no matter how difficult it may be. It means admitting and accepting the full gravity of reality. Being transparent and honest about my situation brings down my defenses and allows God a window of opportunity in which to work.
2. Creating a list of "grates." Creating a list of "grates" is counting my blessings. Everything I am grateful for goes on that list. Everything. Like having an opportunity for advanced education, a fridge full of food, a big, fluffy duvet comforter, a strong marriage, or a healthy baby girl growing strong in my belly. When I'm faced with the list of all my blessings, I realize that most of the things I worry about never come to pass–they never even happen. And all those monsters in my mind start to shrink in comparison to the sheer greatness of the blessings and gifts I have been given.
3. Blessing others. The last thing I do is I try to figure out how to bless someone else. How would I lift their depression or help them in their time of need? What would help them feel blessed, special, and give them the sense that everything is going to be okay? This could be anything from a prayer to a good meal to a listening ear. I'll freely admit I'm not always the best on this point, but my goal is to grow better at this with time and practice.
We cannot choose whether or not we will encounter times of recession, but we can choose how we respond in those periods. As French theologian and sociologist Jacques Ellul wrote, "Hope is a firm advance toward a masked future."