“We could have never written this song 10 years ago.” These words were spoken by Dustin Lolli, lead singer of Sanctus Real at the relaunch event of Ichthus here in Wilmore, KY. I was a volunteer at Ichthus at the prayer tent this year and only slightly listening to Sanctus Real when that sentence stopped me in my tracks. What was he talking about? The song in question (also the title of this post) is called “I’m not alright.” Dustin went on to explain how in many Christian circles, it has been taboo to admit struggles. Far too many of us can think of times when eyes widened, and mouths opened larger than normal when we dared to share a struggle. We can think of people who began avoiding us or whispered with another as we walked by after sharing openly. Thankfully, the tide is shifting.
Over the past decade or so I have gone through a personal struggle of battling depression and at the same time realizing a deep passion for discipleship. What do these two things have in common, you ask? Well, let’s start with the latter. What is discipleship? Well, a disciple is a follower. Discipleship then is the teaching a follower sits under. In their book Discovering Discipleship: Dynamics of Christian Education Dean G. Blevins and Mark A. Maddix say that “Didache, the Greek term for teaching, serves as a conceptual framework for discipleship…”[i] They go on to say that “Discipleship is the older concept of a particular way of living as learners and teachers in rhythm with the Holy Spirit.”[ii] Finally, while discussing that discipleship certainly can look a lot like our education processes today, Blevins and Maddix say, “It includes spiritual formation, catechetical guidance, pastoral leadership, compassionate service, and missional engagement.”[iii] Discipleship sounds a lot more robust to me than a Sunday school classroom or a small group meeting on Wednesday night. Those things are included, but there can and should be much more to it. My understanding of discipleship is learning to live a life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that looks like that of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, when an opportunity arose for The Francis Asbury Society to partner with Ichthus by sponsoring the prayer tent, I viewed this as a perfect opportunity to engage in active discipleship. I wrote to our team of volunteers saying, “We have no idea what will come our way on Saturday. However, I do know that people will come with needs, and it is a pleasure to journey with them for even just a few minutes." And while the line was not a mile long waiting to pray with us at the tent, we did indeed have the opportunity to engage in discipleship with a few people. One girl timidly came with her friends a few paces behind and bravely stated, "I need to grow in my prayer life." A 30-year-old man came carrying a heavy burden which could be seen by the sadness in his eyes. “I need to surrender. I wanted to be married by now and I don’t know how it will ever happen. I am addicted to pornography. I have racist tendencies. I don’t want these things in my life anymore!” What an honor to sit with these two, and others, and to walk for just a few minutes with them and then cover them in prayer. The girl was handed off to her youth leaders to continue walking with her in deepening her prayer life. The 30-year-old man shared his phone number with one of our volunteers who offered to continue walking with him while he waits for God to send him someone closer to his home who could journey with him. If I were to go strictly by Blevins and Maddix, I would say that we participated in spiritual formation, catechetical guidance, pastoral leadership, compassionate service, and missional engagement in those few short moments on Saturday. And it was so good!
OK but what about that personal piece I mentioned? Don't worry, I'll tie it in. Again, for about a decade I have engaged in a battle with depression. I thank God that it is not a serious battle and thus far by His mercy, I have been able to combat it with counseling and staying active. But as I watched the young lady and the 30-year-old man come to the prayer tent on Saturday I saw something familiar in their eyes. Fear. They were afraid of what was going to happen if they opened up about their struggle. They were determined to do so because the Holy Spirit was prompting them. Praise God for His grace! And yet the fear of opening up was real. I remember sitting in a counselor’s office in 2016 and reaching my breaking point. “Something is wrong with me, and I don’t know what it is!” It seemed I could not find joy in anything. Not being a husband, a father, a missionary, or a friend. I just constantly felt like someone had placed a weight on my chest and refused to take it off. It took me so long to get to that breaking point because I was afraid to admit that I was not alright. Then as the dam broke and I reached out for help I realized something special; people were willing to walk with me. Brokenness and all. My wife didn't run away. The rest of my family didn't run away. And I began to realize that I had friends going through similar struggles and they counted it a joy to walk with me.
And so, what is discipleship? I think it's walking with another – brokenness and all. It's being willing to admit to someone, "I'm not alright" and letting them carry your burden. It's also being ready at any moment to receive the burden of another as they face their fear and admit to you, "I'm not alright." As we carry each other's burdens, we turn our face to the one who offers to carry them Himself. Peter tells us in I Peter 5:6-7, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (NIV)
I am so glad the tide is turning and it is OK to admit "I'm not alright." I believe this will open tremendous discipleship opportunities for those of us who call ourselves a disciple of Christ. Such joy can be found in journeying together to the feet of the one who cares so deeply for us.