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 5th November 2000

Psalm 42:1-11 

In 1996, after the Olympic Games in Atlanta, I read a series of articles in the psychology magazines about what was called the POD Syndrome: Post Olympic Depression Syndrome. While 250,000 people headed for the airport after a night of partying at the end of the Games, “a lot of people are going into P.O.D -- Post-Olympic Depression" the articles said. So I prepared myself to see how Wesley Mission would need to react to help people cope with the let down after the Games - Olympic and Paralympic - in 2000 AD..

Then one newspaper article started: “I know you probably don't want to hear about my intimate medical problems, but I've been suffering from a terrible bout of POD this week: Post Olympic Depression. I miss it all so much - the heroic athletic feats, the soccer and greco-roman wrestling and the swimming.” Poor chap. He just had a case of withdrawal after two months of total focus on sport. But the post Games let down goes much deeper than that. Sue Williams, a Sydney journalist, wrote: “A wave of post-Games blues has hit Sydneysiders, and counsellors and therapists are gearing up to cope with depression, relationship break-ups and career crises. These Games have involved and affected a lot of people and many have started re-evaluating their lives in the light of the experience they’ve just had. They have started asking themselves what’s important to them in their lives, and that means a lot of decisions to make life changes and embark on new beginnings - which means a lot of endings in terms of relationships and jobs.”

Whenever there is high emotion, there is a corresponding high let-down for many people.

Those of us who continued with our normal jobs and routines while the Games were on, suffer the least. Those who became totally involved: athletes, staff, support personnel, long-time television viewers, Games volunteers and so on, are most likely to suffer from POD. Career counsellors say they have been hit with a wave of people wanting to change jobs. Marriage guidance counsellors are extremely busy with bookings. Employment agencies report a rush like they have after Christmas. Wesley Mission’s psychiatric hospitals, when I checked occupancy this week, are filled to capacity. Why this after-Games let down?

For some people, two months of fun has come to an end and they realise they have enjoyed it immensely, and they would like to continue to work in that atmosphere. Hence they are applying for jobs in the hospitality industry. For others, the example of people smiling, fit, healthy, polite to each other, has created a desire that this feeling continues all the year. But in their case it hasn’t. The let-down is enormous. 

For others, especially those who were not employed previously but who spent three months as part of that marvellous 45,000 member volunteer team, the carnival is over. For a while they were constantly thanked, appreciated, spoken to, and in their lovely uniforms had a sense of personal significance and meaning. They had authority: they told people where to go and people obeyed. They were part of the team! They even had their own street parade of appreciation. But today, none of that exists. They have gone back to the old life and it is pretty meaningless. The depression that comes is deep and hurtful.

A 428-page volume produced by the N.S.W. Health Commission said: "There is a dramatic number of our fellow citizens who daily suffer from emotional disorders, anxieties, depression, marital conflict, job frustration, sexual worries, constant headaches, and other psychological upsets, and the number of these people makes us very worried indeed." A significant number of people in the heart of Sydney show symptoms of excessive drinking, excessive use of pain-killers and tranquilizers, and signs of constant headaches and sleeplessness. When we live in a great city, we jostle so many others. We live with noise, with distraction, with competing interests for our attention, with insecurity. Public transport is unsafe. Some housing areas have violence. Many say, "I feel dreadfully lonely, even though I live in the heart of a great city."

Problems of city living are not modern phenomena. Paul knew about them. In Acts 18, we read that Paul came to Corinth, a great Greek city. It was here Paul saw the Pan-Isthmian Games. When he reached the city he was close to the end of his tether. He felt depressed. It had been a rough time. In Philippi he was bashed by an unruly mob, jailed, and put in stocks. He went on to Thessalonica and was battered by stones hurled at him and beaten with whips. Next, Athens. He was not physically assaulted in Athens, but was taken before the city council where he argued his case for Jesus. Then Corinth, infamous for vice, corruption, and homosexuality. Into this bustling city of evil notoriety came Paul the Apostle. He had been on a long journey. He had been physically beaten. He was tired and run down. He was under stress. Listen to what happened next.

After weeks in the synagogue trying to persuade Jews and Greeks to believe the gospel: "Paul gave his whole time to preaching the message, testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. When they opposed him and said evil things about him, he protested by shaking the dust from his clothes and saying to them, 'If you are lost, you yourselves must take the blame for it! I am not responsible. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'" Acts 18:5,6. Years later, when he wrote his second letter to the church at Corinth he remarked: "Even after we arrived in Macedonia, we did not have any rest. There were troubles everywhere, quarrels with others, fears in our hearts." 2 Cor. 7:5. Physically tired, emotionally exhausted, disappointed at the response to his preaching, downcast and despairing at his rejection by the Jews, Paul shifted into the house of a Gentile, Titius Justus. But the story did not end there. Something beautiful happened in Corinth. It can happen in Sydney and it can happen where you are. God encourages the downcast in four ways. God can also encourage you.

Paul added "There were troubles everywhere, quarrels with others, fears in our hearts. But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us with the coming of Titus." 2 Cor. 7:5,6 When under stress and pressure, God renews us through others. Aquila and Priscilla were God’s angels to Paul in trouble. “Paul went to see Priscilla and Aquila and stayed and worked with them." Acts 18:1-3 They were Christians pushed out of Rome in one of the first persecutions. They settled in Corinth where the downhearted Paul met them. When you feel down, God helps you through other people.

God ministers more through other people than we realize. Priscilla and Aquila, coming from Rome under pressure themselves, were God's agents to minister to an exhausted, emotionally drained Paul. Then Silas and Timothy also arrived. Then Titius Justus became a Christian and invited Paul into his home. Then Crispus, a wealthy man and the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord and he and his family were baptized. This was another lift to Paul's spirit. There were others he later mentions in a letter to Rome. He refers to "My host Gaius, in whose house the church meets, sends you his greetings; Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings." Rom. 16:23 It was through such people that God encouraged Paul. We know the truth of this principle in other areas: in Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Weight Watchers. The secret is to be with someone like yourself with whom you can share. If you feel let down find some friend, a Christian person through whom God can give you encouragement. 

Often, when people come to me for counselling they tell me that they are worn out, exhausted and tired. I say, "What have you been doing lately?" They reply "I've been away on holidays!" They act as though they cannot possibly go another step, or take on board another burden. When I ask, "How are you going?" they reply, "Oh, I can't take much more of this." They are doing nothing in terms of physical work. The exhaustion is all in their minds. Many of us have discovered that when life is flat, doing something physical gives a lift. Clean the house. Mow the lawns. Polish your shoes. Help your neighbour. It doesn't matter much what it is.

Physical energy eats up mental depression. The burden in the mind is lifted through the muscles of the hands. "Paul went to see Aquila and Priscilla, and stayed and worked with them, because he earned his living by making tents, just as they did." Acts 18:3 Paul recovered his strength because of two words: He worked and he earned his living. Wesley Mission’s crisis centres report an increasing number of suicides among the unemployed. Those who have no work become despairing, disappointed and depressed and to ease the pain, suicide. But health is restored when people work and earn a living. If there is no work, still do something: work in caring for others, in doing voluntary service, in becoming involved in community activities, through the church, anywhere you may be useful. There is healing in labour, even if it is unpaid. It heals feeling let down.

God helps you to good health through intelligent witnessing, through using your brain and heart to share your faith with others. Often, when we are depressed we retreat gradually into our own little world, our own little house, our own little self. The more we retreat, the more isolated we become. We need to move out and exercise ourselves by sharing with others. Paul's strength was in his willingness to speak to people. Acts 18:4-8 We read of Paul witnessing. He held discussions in the synagogue each week. He was using his mind. He rests from making tents, and shares his faith. His witness bore fruit. Paul was exercising his intellect, disputing, arguing, debating and testifying. This is a good example for all of us. Debate, discuss, read, improve your mind. Testify to your faith. Witness to Jesus. You will not feel let down, when they come to faith.

God encouraged Paul through a dream: "One night Paul had a vision in which the Lord said to him, 'Do not be afraid, but keep on speaking and do not give up, for I am with you. No one will be able to harm you, for many in this city are my people.'" Acts 18:10

Christians know God can assure in quiet times. The Lord spoke to Paul: “Do not be afraid." The only answer to our fear is our faith. "Keep on speaking and do not give up." Do not withdraw into a world of silence, but continue to share your faith and your belief, your hope and your optimism. Do not give up. "I am with you." This is a great promise from God to Abraham when Abraham's life appeared to be collapsing in ruins. This promise came when Moses was about to undertake a big job. When Joshua was afraid to lead the people into Canaan the word came, "I will be with you." When Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, He said, "I am with you.” 

Then God said: "No one will be able to harm you." Paul still had much to suffer. Later he was attacked, shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, imprisoned. But if you had asked him he would have told you - he was not harmed. Not the real Paul. His body suffered but he wrote: "In all these things we have complete victory through Him who loved us!" The Lord was with him. Others shared his faith. Others served with him. Note that final statement: "for many in this city are my people." Paul saw Corinth as a great commercial centre, a powerful materialistic city of unparalleled corruption and vice. But God said, "Many in this city are my people." God assures us when we feel flat and lifts us up.


Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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