God's Tail Lights: A Message From the Depressed to the Depressed

July 22, 2019

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.

11 comments on “God's Tail Lights: A Message From the Depressed to the Depressed”

  1. Stuart I have been I interested in Jews, epigenetics, and trauma in relation to depression. The minor keys of our history run in our blood, and pain accumulates through the generations. In some way we have been chosen for this fate -- as vessels for something or other. I trust that there is meaning to it.

    1. I think considering the multi-generational sorrows of our people, depression is a rational response not to be run away from but to be understood and learned from. In my counseling experience, I have met with people who are sad due to trauma or abuses suffered. At such times I remind them that their sadness is rational--not pathological. The trick is to learn from these things, and not to let them define or limit us. The Japanese psychiatrist Shomo Morita reminded his depressed clients that emotions are like the clouds in the Japanese sky--constantly changing and not subject to our control. He therefore counseled them to acknowledge the emotions, and to carry on with their responsibilities. And sometimes it helps to say "I have depressed feelings" rather than to say "I am depressed." The latter defines us in some way: the former only names a condition that accompanies us. which Winston Churchill named as "a Black Dog."

  2. Depression runs in my family, to a degree.

    Hence, I spent seven years in an unremitting melancholy all the while the antidote was in the little bottle; I threw away. Some people need Meds, but in my case, it was clinical and during stressful times, my dopamin/serototin levels decrease.

    Notwithstanding, being the literalist that I am, I discarded the help and spent seven long years paying for it?

    God redeemed the time because in my darkness, it was easier to acknowledge the light, to run towards it, to cling to Him like a belt clings to the waist of a man. I found out that, a bruised reed He will not break, nor a smoldering wick, He will not put out.

    One morning at a retreat in Blue Mountain, Pa., the guy who couldn't 'nod off' for all those years, woke up to sunshine streaming through loose knit curtains, and the fresh mountain air tapping his face. I was back!

    Adversity, such as depression can either make or break a man. It brought me much closer to God, and enabled me to identify with others who suffer the same. To feel more compassion and those tormenting sleepless nights, now but a faint memory.

    They somehow still keep drawing me closer to God. Life is difficult, but God's goodness; grace and mercy are new every morning.

    1. Thank you for your moving contribution, Marc. I imagine you will agree that for many people the "treatment" for depression is both/and and not either/or. I have good friends who are strong believers in Yeshua who also are disposed to depression. Both are aided greatly by the right medication, while at the same time also being buoyed up in life through the resources of faith. Neither resource is, or is meant to be, a replacement for the other.

      May God continue to lift you up as you lift your life up to him.

  3. Bro Dauermann, I still dance in the tail lights! As a widow I found depression constantly knocking at the door, I told others when it happens to them DON'T answer the door. You're description is very on the mark, work with God, don't run from what He is allowing in your life. The lessons, the blessings, the tools bestowed are priceless! Thank you so much for this writing, it a song within my heart.

    1. What a beautiful and heartfelt comment, Diane. Thank you for bothering to do so.

      I hope that other things I write will encourage you again, as you have encouraged me and others with this valued comment.

  4. Stuart

    This is just excellent and exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you for sharing your insights. And thanks to Dvorah Toller for sharing it with me!

  5. Rabbi Stuart,

    This is very helpful. I will look into the teaching of Morita as advised. Thank you for your transparency and your reference to the Psalms, where I often turn for guidance when depressed or perplexed.

    1. You are most certainly welcome, Eric. I encourage you to endeavor not to be spooked by your emotions and their swings but to remember that they have proven unreliable, and that you live for things which are far more solid.

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