Greetings faculty, students, friends and family. My name is Nate Noonen.
Yes, Joe is my dad. If you couldn't tell by my balding head and my distinct lack of melanin, I am confirming what all of you may be thinking.
I'm not sure what you know about me so I'll assume my dad has been doing what he's been doing since I first remember him preaching and telling you stories of semi-questionable veracity mostly dealing with the mythical creatures known as "his family."
To remove some of that myth, I was born in Toledo in 1983 while my dad was still in negotiation with God and his parents as to what his vocation would be.
Once that was settled, we moved to Kansas so he could go to seminary. My lasting memories of Kansas are more around the Jayhawks and the Royals than around church. If my dad's presence at MVNU sporting events is any indicator, I don't think much has changed.
When my dad graduated we moved to New York City where he was a pastor and I was mostly a thorn in my parents side.
I've always had a little bit of a problem with authority figures so New York was a series of minor and not so minor run ins with teachers, principals, various Sunday school personnel and my pastor/dad.
I moved to Ohio before my parents and stayed the summer with my grandfather before he died. When my parents and, by now, four younger sisters joined me in Mount Vernon, I mostly resumed my role as general thorn.
I added part time athlete and tinkerer with computers to my list of hobbies and generally had a good time.
When it came time to go to college, my issues with authority figures had become issues with post-secondary college professors so MVNU was not for me. I went to Ohio Northern University mostly on scholarship and ended up graduating in November of 2006.
I was married by then to a girl I met on an MVNU mission trip (possible new slogan for mission trips: Come and encounter God. Also maybe your spouse). We both had felt called to Chicago independently so when I got a job offer as a software developer in Chicago, everything fell together and we moved.
We live in the same apartment we moved into 9 years ago. We have a three year old daughter named Charlotte. I now work as a software architect at a company that writes legal software for most of the largest law firms in the world.
I am employee number 50 out of 500 and know and am known by most of the company. I think I got that from my dad as well.
And that's the Instagram/Facebook/Twitter version of my life. And if that's all you knew about me you'd think I was standing up here to talk about vocation and how you can serve God at a software company in the big city.
I could do that and hopefully you'd be inspired to go out there and conquer industry for Christ. And you should learn about the Biblical definition of work and what that means as a Christian professional. But that's not why I'm here.
I could tell you the story of my walk with Christ. How I discovered Rage Against the Machine when I was 11 years old and declared myself first a communist and then, after realizing Jesus cared about the poor, a socialist.
How I had to take my dad's Christianity and make it my own in college. How discovering Christ in Chicago has changed my views on my entire history and made me proud of the fact my dad welcomed a transvestite to worship with us on Sunday in New York.
I could do that and we could get into a large discussion about Jim Wallis and God's Politics and half of you would be inspired and the rest would call for my dad to be fired. And that's an important conversation to have given the way the world moves and we as Christians are called to remain consistent. But that's not why I'm here.
So why am I here? I am here because every day I wake up and I don't know what the day will bring. Some days I wake up and feel like I can conquer the world. Other days it’s a struggle to get out of bed. I'm here because my name is Nate Noonen. And I have a mental illness.
Will you pray for me before I bring the rest of my message?
Father God, I don't know these people. I don't know their history or their struggles. I don't know if what I will say will mean anything. But I pray that you will be glorified in the speaking of truth, in the airing of dirty laundry, and that you will take what I say as the next step in fulfilling the promise I made to you on Easter when I read Psalm 22. Amen.
If you have your Bibles or a way to read your Bibles that won't tempt you into texting or swiping left or right, we'll mostly be parked in Psalm 22. It's a good Psalm. Less popular than its neighbor Psalm 23 but still solid in its own right.
Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest
Those of you with even a year of Bible under your belts have no doubt read Matthew's account of the crucifixion and are half a step ahead of me. But before we even get to the cry out, we have to settle on the isolation. Why have you forsaken me? That is not a statement of happiness or even an introduction. The author of this Psalm knows the intimacy of a relationship with God and is asking, in Eugene Peterson's translation, "Why have you abandoned me?" He is feeling the pain of isolation and crying to God.
As a good Christian, raised in the church to sing the songs of victory in Jesus on a daily basis we don't talk about this that much. It's uncomfortable to admit that some days I feel like God has abandoned me. Has he? No. Do I know that in my mind? Yes, well, maybe. I don't really know.
On my worst days, this isolation comes without prompting. It's not because I did or said something or because of some unknown rift between myself and God or an unconfessed sin.
Some days, and this is the easiest way for me to describe depression, I wake up isolated. On those days, I may just lay in bed until my wife or even my God pulls me out of bed. Some people are not here today in chapel because they woke up isolated and have decided to stay there.
Remember them, pray for them, and I'm giving you permission now to leave and go get them. My wife has done this more times than I can count. My friends have all done this in their own way. It is through their love and sacrifice that I stand here today.
And I have to tell you that some days, my cry is the same as the Psalmist. My God why have you abandoned me? My dad why have you abandoned me? My wife, my mom, my friends, my family, my loved ones. That is what depression feels like to me. To think of someone you know beyond the shadow of a doubt would or has laid down their life for you and wonder if you're worth it.
However there is hope. And that hope is the fact that we recognize that something is fundamentally not right. Whether it's Christ on the cross asking why God has forsaken Him or David asking the same question, we can feel like tiny children lost in a parking lot, arms to the sky, crying for God.
There is grace in that moment that shows me something is broken. I need my God. An abandoned child in the parking lot crying is sad. An abandoned child in a parking lot playing as if nothing is wrong is a tragedy. The former child knows love and knows their tears are worth something. The latter child is alone and always has been.
On bad days, however, I don't cry out. I sit in my funk. I am the abandoned child unwilling to admit something is wrong. And then enemy sees this and the gates of Hell are laid open and a full out assault begins. I begin dwelling on what could or should have been done. I consider my sinful nature and doubt a loving God. I am now the abandoned child in the parking lot blaming himself for being left alone.
For me, and for the child, the only hope is a community that recognizes something is wrong. In my life there are a set of people who know when I'm going through the motions or protecting my inner thoughts by a facade of "stress" or "me time."
1 Peter 5:5-7 Reads "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 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. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
Why, in Peter's exhortation is he connecting pride and humility with the path to destruction? And why does he follow with "Resist him (that is the devil), standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings"?
This is a somewhat rhetorical set of questions but it's an important message to allow to sink into your mind and eventually your soul. Be in community. Be honest with that community, air your dirty laundry in front of them and you will find that the dirty laundry you have, the secrets you have allowed to bore into your soul and separate you from others, are not that uncommon.
The worst thing that has happened to you has happened to someone else, probably on this campus, maybe sitting next to you. The specifics may be different but God builds communities not out of perfect people but of broken people. This campus is no different, despite what Instagram may say. We're all broken. And we need humility to walk into a room full of people who look like they have it together and say "I don't have it together. I have these thoughts. My parents did this. I did this."
We are all children in a parking lot.
I see a psychiatrist and have since 2006. I had been with my last psychiatrist for over 4 years and then work started getting stressful and Satan started attacking. I started into a deeper depressive phase than I'd been in in a very long time. It was an unshakeable and unmistakeable depression.
I talked to my psyc about it and she suggested that lithium would be the best next step. When she told me that, I reached out to ten people. Because of confidentiality I'm not going to describe them but they were people I knew from every sphere of my life who knew my story and who know me. Family, work, church, etc. I didn't know it before my doctor wanted to put me on lithium but the fact that I had told my story allowed me to enter into the world of the people who knew my story and ask what I should do.
These 10 people who will remain nameless are etched into my soul. When I think of them, I swell with pride and love. One of the people I haven't seen or talked to since. I'm almost positive God placed him in my life specifically for the support we were able to offer each as we struggled through similar issues. When we were both done with the issues, God removed us from each other. He may have been an angel, I don't know. I know his face, his voice, and his influence. And I thank God for putting him in my life.
Thankfully, my circle of support was all in agreement and I didn't start taking lithium but I did start seeing a new psychiatrist who also happens to be a Christian (who, by the way, I found out about because my wife told my story to her circle).
God used the honesty and humility that I had to surround me with His Church. And while it seemed humiliating in the moment, giving and receiving personal stories is one of the greatest honors we can bestow upon each other. Treat each other’s stories as sacred gifts and God will do amazing things.
As we return to the text, verses 3-5 read "Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
If the first two verses are a complaint the third is a recognition. Why was there such a dramatic shift? Why does the writer of Psalms seem to bemoan his own existence in the first breath and then praise God immediately? I would like to propose that what we don't see here is the inner prompting. We see the results, the aroma of the inner life, but not the actual inner workings of David's mind and spirit.
In other words, we hear the story come out of someone’s mouth but we don't know how long it took them to gather the courage to say something. We don't know how long the Holy Spirit has been prompting them to speak up we just hear the timid voice.
I am connecting these two things deliberately. David praising God in my mind is the exact same as someone bravely offering up their story. The reason is that the Holy Spirit is breathing truth into David's mind while his physical hand is penning verses one and two. The Holy Spirit is breathing bravery into the young man who was assaulted or the young woman who is afraid. The Spirit is at work in each and every one of us.
He is pushing you to open up. To be brave. To go up to that person who sits alone at the cafeteria and engage. To walk into that room full of people who have all admitted they suffer addiction and raise your hand and say "me too." To walk into the office of a trusted adviser and admit the painful truth of your struggles.
The Spirit nudges us when we complain to see the Holy God who loves us infinitely. He nudges us towards compassion every moment we are dismissive. He is there, gradually moving us towards Holiness (what Nazarenes like to call Sanctification) whether we recognize it or not. And then one day, one breath, one moment, it's gone. Our sorrow turns into joy. Our pain into a funny story. The thing we worry the most about becomes an afterthought. And the Spirit moves on to the next prompting.
I listened to these gradual prompts. Sometimes to the discomfort of those around me and a lot of times in spite of the humiliation I was sure was right around the corner. And sometimes people around me were uncomfortable when I talked about depression openly.
And a few times I was humiliated or given a pat response from someone who didn't care about my story. But for every moment I was humiliated or made people uncomfortable, I have had many more conversations than I ever would have.
As Peter said “the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” And I stand here as a testament and a testimony to that fact.
Once that turn happens and we are reunited with believers, the relationship with God has been reestablished and a dialog begins.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
Here we see David recognizing the core of his problem. It's not God who has abandoned him, it's people. I make this same mistake all the time. I stay up too late watching Netflix and question God's love for me when my wife asks me to get out of bed and help with our daughter. I eat too much fried food and ask God to take the evil from my stomach. One person criticizes my work and I ask God why he brought me into this terrible field full of awful people. It is in these moments when I have cried out to God that sometimes I need my community to kick me in the butt and remind me who is in charge. There are other times when I'm crying out to God and I need my community to come along side me and give me a hug.
One of my best friends in the world is a black dude. We get along because we're both Christian Engineers who have a bone to pick with society. His frustration may be a bit more justified but I digress. One night we were having a guys night, just the two of us. Normally there was a group of us but on this night it was just me and this guy. He was telling me a story about how his white coworkers are all very angry (when you deal with technology for a living, anger is sometimes good fuel for problem solving) but when he gets angry they treat him like he's being the angry black guy and respond differently.
I started going through possible solutions and how we could do something or say something to his boss or start a petition or a hashtag. As an aside, if retweeting is the height of your political and social engagement, you're not engaged. Anyway I was about 5 minutes into this diatribe and he said "Nate, shut up."
I didn't know why he was telling me to shut up. We had just been over solutions to a work problem I was having and now it was my turn to help him. He said "Sometimes when you're outside standing in the rain crying with no umbrella the best thing someone can do for you is put their umbrella away and stand next to you. It's OK to say that sucks and to try and feel my pain without trying to fix it."
As friends we are sometimes called to fix the problems of those around us. And that's great a lot of the time. But sometimes, when your friend tells you there's something wrong, the best thing to say is "Yeah, that sucks. Can I give you a hug?"
If we see an abandoned child in the parking lot, the first thing to do isn't to pick them up and take them to the police station. The first thing is to get to their level, look them in the eyes and ask them where their parents are.
Psalm 22:19-21 But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
In March of 2006, the third day of my final quarter of my Senior year, engaged to be married in five months, I was informed by my adviser that due to some unforeseen complications around retaking a class I would not be graduating in June. I hid this fact from my parents for awhile but increasing depression led me to consider suicide and the God who saves led me to a Methodist Church somewhere on route 30, where, after a long conversation with the pastor on a Sunday afternoon, I called my parents and told them. I hid this from my fiancee.
A few weeks later, having still not told my fiancee, I read a book. Not the Bible but a book that was the sequel to a book called “A Child Called It.” In the book a man who had overcome child abuse married a woman who was lazy. She had failed to graduate from college and was a general leech on this man who had done and overcome so much. I finished the book at 4:00 AM on Easter Sunday 2006. At that point I decided my family and my fiancee would be better off without me. I took some pills and some rat poison, wrote a note, and laid down in my bed for what I thought would be the last time.
I woke up the next day puking my guts out. My mom took me to the ER. I remember keeping up my lie by telling her I had a dream I ate green candy. I couldn’t bring myself, even in this vulnerable state, to tell the whole truth.
The truth came out over the next few days. Over the next few months, God did amazing things in spite and not because of what I had done. Kimmy and I were still married that August. I graduated in November and moved to Chicago in December.
I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him; may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!
I tell you this story and deliver this message because I read this Psalm in the hospital bed and promised the God of deliverance that I would, if ever given the chance, tell my story to His people. I have told these stories to hundreds of people in the 9+ years since it happened. And I will continue to tell it.
We serve a great God who keeps alive those who cannot keep themselves alive. When our minds are weak, He sends His spirit to preach truth and breathes life into our souls. Sometimes He does it through the kind words of strangers.
Sometimes He does it through songs we know but have never heard. As we close will you join me in preaching to our souls that the God we serve has given us countless reasons to be here and to love Him. As you go through the rest of your week, allow that truth to penetrate beyond your fear and to show you a world of healing, grace, and wonder beyond belief.
May the Peace of Christ be with your Spirit. Thank you.