Treatments for Funk (and Lent)
Recently I found myself in a funk. A bad mood. A bleh. Everything was annoying. Everything was maddening. Everything was the end of the world. I get like this sometimes. And, through the years–thankfully–I have learned to recognize it. No, my marriage is not falling apart. No, I am not bad at everything. No, it won’t feel like this forever. I am just in a funk.
This particular funk was recognized early. And as soon as I figured it out, I went to work digging my way out. I tried everything I could think of. I tried yoga. I tried playing with my daughter. I even tried watching Downton Abbey. Nothing was working.
I knew that, as a Christian pastor, my go to solution to every funk, mood, or malady should be to sit down with my Bible and pray. But, because I sit down with my Bible and pray for a living, I have to admit that even this can cause stress for me in the midst of funk. So I was at a loss. (Being at a loss is also a common symptom of funk.)
So frustrated with my funk was I that I was willing to try anything to get out of it. And suddenly God put this image in my head of a long brown canvas case sitting in the back of the closet. Inside was an old friend that I hadn’t seen for years: my viola.
When I was young, I found that the best cure for anxiety, anger, and general funkiness was playing my viola–not the kind of play that makes you more proficient, not the kind that prepares you for concerts, but the kind that you get lost in, the kind that soaks through logic and words and theory to whatever psychological and spiritual mysteries lay behind them.
So in my recent funk, I dug through the luggage and old clothes and pulled out that dusty case. All of my strings had unravelled, and the muscles in my left hand strained to play even a simple scale, but as I tightened the pegs, rosined my bow, and recalled muscle memory from years of cobwebbed gray matter, I began to relax.
Then I made a providential discovery. In the top pocket of the case, I found music from the last time I played seriously, at my seminary in “Marquand Chapel”. I pulled out page after page of copied sheet music notating the greatest hits from worship experiences that have been hands down the most formative of my Christian life. I immediately began playing “Give Me Jesus,” “Parting Hand,” and “Santo, Santo, Santo”. And it was in playing these familiar songs that I was finally able to pray. Not with words, but with feeling and with relationship.
Paul writes in Romans 8:26-27: “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
I have found that playing music is one channel through which the Spirit prays for me in “sighs too deep for words” when I am having trouble speaking my prayers. I bring this to you today because some of us may be now thinking about taking on a spiritual practice for Lent. And I want to encourage us to think bigger and broader. If setting aside 30 minutes every morning to read the Bible and pray has never worked for you, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure at prayer. While a set aside devotional time is really helpful for many of us, it’s not the only way to be intentional about your spiritual journey. For some of us, it may be singing hymns in the shower, sitting in an empty church on the way to work, meditating, running, reading, or praying for people on the subway.
So as we prepare for Lent (Ash Wednesday is next week!), I encourage you to pay attention to when you feel most connected to God, when you feel the Spirit interceding for you in sighs so deep, and then simply be intentional about doing that thing more regularly during Lent…or perhaps the next time you hit that funk.
Join us on our Lenten journey “Real Talk in the Wilderness”. Our Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, when we will distribute ashes outside the church starting at 8am. We will also hold a 30 minute service at 12:15pm and a slightly longer service at 6:30pm.