Peter Adam has been a long term sufferer of depression. How does he think about Christmas - traditionally a season of joy and happiness?
Our guest: Rev. Dr. Peter Adam OAM is Vicar Emeritus of St Jude’s Anglican Church in Carlton where he was vicar for 20 years. He was also principal of Ridley College in Melbourne for 10 years. He is the author or many books and regularly speaks around the world.
This conversation was recorded in partnership with Darebin Presbyterian Church.
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Bigger questions asked in the conversation
So Peter, Christmas is fast approaching. Are you a fan of Christmas at all?
What do you like about Christmas?
Do you have a favourite or memorable Christmas?
Today we’re talking with Peter Adam about depression and merriment at Christmas. So in today’s smaller questions, Peter I thought we’d test you on how much you know about joy at Christmas.
1. Now one possible source of joy is Christmas cracker jokes - the truly terrible jokes found inside Christmas crackers. Now last year a thousand people in Ireland were polled for their favourite Christmas cracker joke. Which one of these was it? Which was Ireland’s favourite Christmas cracker joke. Was it?
A. What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney? Claustrophobia!
B. Who hides in the bakery at Christmas? A mince spy!
C. What did Adam say the day before Christmas? "It's Christmas Eve"
D. What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck? A Christmas quacker!
Merriment and joy are key parts of Christmas and the term “Merry Christmas” has become a universal term to communicate joy and good wishes. But feeling happy and merry is not necessarily the experience of someone suffering from depression. Now Peter, you do suffer from depression? What exactly is depression? It’s more than just feeling a bit down or sad?
So how did it happen for yourself? What was your experience of depression?
What did you feel?
But isn’t the Christian message about freedom from guilt and condemnation - so did knowing this make your depression worse?
Our society makes a lot about how you’re feeling. Did this affect you?
So what caused your depression?
Depression and a relationship with God
So Peter, how did your depression affect your attitude to God? Did you question if God was even there?
Why couldn’t you just shake it off? Or pull yourself together?
Some pastors have suggested that those with depression should shake it off and move forward in faith relying on God’s strength? Why couldn’t you do that?
But if God is good and powerful - why does he afflict you like this?
Psalm 88 - a wintry landscape of unrelieved bleakness
How did your depression affect your approach to the Bible? Did reading the Bible help at all?
In the Old Testament book of Psalms, Psalm 88 is described as the most mournful, darkest and saddest of all Psalms, “a wintry landscape of unrelieved bleakness.” Is this an appropriate Psalm to read when you feel depressed?
The Psalm contains some mournful and sad language as the author describes his situation, In verse 3 he says,
I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
In Verse 15
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
And verse 16
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
Then it concludes in verse 18,
18 You have taken from me friend and neighbour –
darkness is my closest friend.
It really is a mournful Psalm. Does it resonate with you? What in particular?
It’s a bleak Psalm seemingly without hope or good news. Does it surprise you that it’s in the Bible?
How does it affect you to know that passages like Psalm 88 are in the Bible?
Do you think Psalm 88 is useful for someone to read who suffers depression?
Joy at Christmas
Elsewhere in the Bible, in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke, which is one of the four biographies of Jesus’ life that we have, we read about the story of the first Christmas, where the baby Jesus is born. In Chapter 2, verses 9-11, where an angel of the Lord appears to shepherds in a field. Luke writes,
An angel of the Lord appeared to them [the shepherds], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them,
‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all
the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to
you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
This passage talks about good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Is this the reason that we sing Christmas carols like Joy to the World at Christmas time?
So what exactly brings joy at Christmas?
The angels say that this is good news. How is it good news?
‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Though in the 17th Century there was a real battle over Christmas. Some Christians objected to its celebration. One writer even saying,
Laughter was inconsistent with the gravity, modesty and sobriety that ought to mark a Christian life. Jesus who himself never laughed, condemned those who did.
So is happiness, and celebration really an appropriate response at Christmas time?
Joy with depression
As someone suffering with depression, do you find joy in the message of Christmas?
How does it manifest itself in someone who has suffered with depression for over 30 years?
So is it possible to have joy and be depressed?
Do Christmas cracker jokes help at all?
Is there a difference between joy and feeling happy?
Does the Christian message make you more or less sad?
How does the Christmas message affect you?
The Big Question
So Peter, can you have a merry Christmas with depression?