Naming the elephant


One of my goals since I came to Recovery Worship has been to educate people about addiction and depression, and to take the stigma off of both of these diseases.

Recently, my wife, Sandy, and I went to a funeral for a friend who committed suicide. Connie had struggled with her addiction for a long time. Whenever she was in treatment here in Fargo she would come to Recovery Worship. A few months ago I was the principle speaker at Seminary on the Prairie, an educational event that drew pastors and lay people to Red Willow Bible Camp near Binford, N.D. Connie, to our surprise and delight was one of the students. At first she didn’t think she belonged at the event, however, by the time the event was over she was pretty much the main speaker. Everyone learned from Connie.

As the funeral began the pastor apologized for the "non-traditional" funeral that the family had requested. He took exception to the song "Spirit in the Sky" sung by the Kentucky Headhunters (on CD). I chuckled, we had sung the same song, sung by its writer Norman Greenbaum, the previous Sunday. Norman is in recovery, for over 30 years, and he gave us permission to sing the song as often as we like. The young pastor also promised a lot of laughter, which is just fine with me but never did materialize.

The service was pretty traditional up to the sermon. During the sermon the pastor told stories he had heard from Connie’s family and mentioned on several occasions the "bad choices" Connie had made in life. It became pretty evident that he did not know Connie. As the sermon continued I began to wonder how well the family knew her. There was no mention of suicide, no mention of the long battle Connie had waged against depression, and the words addiction, alcohol or treatment were not mentioned once. The church was full of Connie’s friends; they knew the truth. All during the sermon I had a vision of this huge elephant up behind the altar, a kind of Dr. Seuss-looking critter with a grin on his face because he knew that everyone was thinking about him, but nobody knew his name.

I am not faulting the pastor. I don’t know him, and I don’t know what the family had asked him to say or not to say about Connie. But I do know that Connie would have wanted her addiction and depression talked about; probably the family did not. They were in denial. They had not even bothered to run an obituary in the paper, something that happens regularly in our recovery community.

It’s sad. If I had preached the funeral, I hope I would have insisted on naming the elephant in the room. I am sure there were others in the congregation that struggle with addiction and depression. Did Connie make bad choices in life? You bet she did; we all do. She also suffered from an illness, addiction and depression. We should not be afraid to name the elephant in our congregations. There are plenty of them for us to identify. By naming the elephant in a loving manner, we help force the elephant into the open and show it to the door.


Originally posted Sept. 25, 2012, at Recovery Worship of Fargo. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Ray Branstiter’s blog Recovery Worship of Fargo at Lutheran Blogs.

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