I have spent most of my life depressed to one degree or another. As a shrink said to me when we began talking decades ago, he found that the most predominant thing about me was a pervasive sense of dread. Yuck.
Well, the battle continues. Like a persistent rash or limp, I live with depression every day. And the key phrase here is, “I live with depression.” I believe you can too.
If I may, let me share some insights that are helping me make it through my days.
In reading the Psalms (highly recommended), I notice that the psalmists are often addressing God out of imperiled circumstances, from the midst of being unjustly treated and regarded, and from a more generalized gloominess and despair. Depression, here taken as a dragging and sometimes crushing weight that undermines momentum and joy, seems to be a pervasive climate in many of the Psalms. But the psalmists continue on. They live with it.
How is this? And what can we learn?
Just this. They remember that God is merciful and faithful. They also know that regardless of how they feel and regardless of how things appear, he will work out his benevolent and faithful will in, for, and through their lives.
To these insights I add two more.
First, God is faithful to work out his will and to work for our benefit in our circumstances even though we cannot detect his workings. I believe it was the great Rabbi Ovadia Sforno (1475-1550) who touched on this issue in his musings about Moses imploring God on Mount Sinai, saying “show me your glory.” God said that he could not show Moses his glory head on because “no man can see me and live.” Rather, God said he would hide Moses in the cleft of a rock, and that Moses would be permitted to see the glory of God after he had passed by. In a sense, he was telling Moses, “You cannot see my headlights: they will blind you. But I will let you see my tail lights.”
Sforno’s application was that similarly, in our lives, we seldom if ever see God’s handiwork while it is taking place. We only realize in retrospect that God has been at work. Therefore, let’s remember that God is faithful to work out his will and to work for our benefit in our circumstances even though we cannot detect his workings. So carry on knowing that he is there in the midst, silently working in the shadows, even in the complete darkness.
My second added insight is this: Instead of seeing our depression as a hindrance to the work of God in and through us, we should instead see our depression as the context in which he works. Take Elijah or Jeremiah for example. These were great prophets through whom God worked (Elijah) and spoke (Jeremiah) dramatically. Each was intimately acquainted with depression. Yet God worked in and through them, in and around the context of their depression.
You are depressed? Welcome to the club! There are some prophets having coffee over there in the corner who would love to chat with you when you have time. But meanwhile, see your depression as the context in which God does his stuff, undetected and undeterred, working silently even in the shadows and darkness of your circumstances, in your life, and in response to your sometimes laborious obedience.
None of this will make depression fun. It’s never fun for me either! Just acknowledge your depressive feelings, and, remembering your Divine Companion is there with you, silently working there in the dark, carry on.
And keep an eye out for tail lights.