Authors note: What you are about to read is conjecture on my part, in fact the odds of me being completely wrong are stacked against me. The only place they have any reality is in my imagination. Therefore before proceeding I would advise you to become an “open mind skeptic” and proceed with caution. And if what follows opens your mind to the possibility that you may be suffering from depression please talk to a professional.
There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:4-7 ESV)
Just as there is "one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all," there is ONE journey. And within our one journey lies ALL the experiences we experience from sadness to joy, joy to sadness, from hopeless to hope, from hope to hopelessness, from conflict to peace, from peace to conflict. from life to death, from death to life, from depression to comfort, from comfort to depression, from disconnectedness to connectedness, from connectedness to disconnectedness.
Today I write about depression because over the past couple of years there have been brief periods of depression. While not having any medical training other than experiences in depression caused by Myasthenia Gravis, 11 hip replacement/reconstructive surgeries, 42 years working in a factory, over 50 years of being a developing/growing disciple of Jesus I diagnose my periods of depression as emotional/spiritual and not a chemical imbalance in my brain.
Yesterday (Fat Tuesday) I believe the Holy Spirit opened me up to myself and allowed me to see insights I have been unable until now to see. Here is what I wrote: One of the things I need to do probably today is to figure out just where I want to be spiritually when Lent ends Easter morning. There are times when I wonder why it seems so hard for me to grow spiritually these days. When I think about my spiritual journey I can describe it as drifting. It’s like I am sitting in a storm tossed sea going not with the current but going with the prevailing winds. There seems to be deep within me a vision of walking with Jesus next to him. I would like to do so work on the idea that there are times when Jesus carries me and there are times when I walk beside him and when I walk behind him. There are also times when I walk ahead of him when I do that I am not real sure whether that is good or bad (probably a mixture of both).
Basically what I discovered went something like this. “Okay Crusty, it’s time to put your spiritual journey on hold so you can be depressed.” And the next thing I discovered were brief periods when Jesus needed to carry me. As much as I love the poem “Footprints in the Sand” and as much as I have leaned on it not only for comfort but hope as well I am in the beginning stages of reassessing its impact not on my life but its impact on my spiritual journey. As I continue to grow in my spiritual development the thought has occurred to me the idea of Jesus carrying me has become a crutch because it has become easy when the going gets rough to run and jump in Jesus’ arms thus robbing myself of valuable lessons in my spiritual development.
As I begin my Lenten Journey from today Ash Wednesday to experience Easter morning when I encounter the risen Jesus it is my intention to reconstruct all my fragmented experiences of my life in to one experience in spiritual development/growth. One of my goals is to picture myself no longer running and jumping into Jesus arms but taking his hand and walking next to him with him leading the way. My goal is to take Jesus’ hand and walk with him as he walks with current of God’s plan for my life in spite of the prevailing winds of depression.
Here are a few observations on depression:
Depression is a mental state in which you are sad and feel that you cannot enjoy anything, because your situation is so difficult and unpleasant.
A medical condition that makes you very unhappy and anxious and often prevents you from living a normal life.
Probably the most common psychiatric complaint, depression has been described by physicians from at least the time of Hippocrates, who called it melancholia. Its course is extremely variable from person to person; it may be fleeting or permanent, mild or severe. Depression is more common in women than in men. The rates of incidence increase with age in men, while the peak for women is between the ages of 35 and 45. Its causes can be both psychosocial (e.g., the loss of a loved one) and biochemical (chiefly, reduced quantities of the monoamines norepinephrine and serotonin). Treatment is usually a combination of psychotherapy and drug therapy (see antidepressant). A person who experiences alternating states of depression and extreme elation is said to suffer from bipolar disorder.
Synonyms: sadness, blues, dejection, (the) dismals, dumps, gloom, heavyheartedness, melancholy, mournfulness, unhappiness. Related Words: boredom, doldrums, ennui, tedium.
While those observations apply to our physical, and mental wellbeing for me they are not adequate observations of our spiritual lives because I believe depression also has a spiritual facet as well. And I believe there are times when our depression rather than physical or mental is actually spiritual. Perhaps my favorite bible story of depression is found in 1st Kings and follows Elijah’s encounter with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers." (1 Kings 19:2-4 ESV)
On the surface we may get the impression it was fear for his life that caused Elijah run away and become depressed but when you go deeper into Elijah’s before and after depression experience another facet of depression is revealed after he met God on Mount Horeb where in the aftermath I understand depression as another step in his spiritual journey.
I believe one of the difficulties we humans face and must overcome is our tendency to see events in our lives as “stop action photography” and instead see our lives as a “blockbuster motion picture.” With one action scene giving way to another with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the starring roles and everyone else including myself (or yourself) in supporting roles.
With those thoughts in mind I am discovering that spiritual depression is not something to be avoided, something where we run and jump into Jesus’ arms but something we need to embrace and take Jesus’ hand and walk with him to the next scene. That does not mean I will go in search of a reason to be depressed it simply means that I will no longer see depression as something to be avoided.
Which leads one question unanswered the answer how do I tell spiritual depression from other forms of depression after all I have no medical experience. As I struggle to understand what is going on in my life I am faced with three scenarios; 1) seeing depressing as spiritual is in itself another form of depression; 2) there’s no such thing as spiritual depression; or 3) depression other than clinical depression is in actuality spiritual. Another goal I am working toward is after my 40 day journey to discover the truth and with the Holy Spirit I will (to my satisfaction) achieve that goal.
This may seem to an unorthodox way of beginning a Lenten Journey but my understanding of Lent to be a journey from where I am right now in my spiritual development deepen and strengthen my relationship with Jesus. And perhaps for the first time in my journey toward spiritual maturity I have come to understand that ALL of my positive and negative experiences are inclusive in my spiritual journey toward maturity (keeping in mind complete spiritual maturity will not happen in this life).
And so taking Jesus’ hand I will walk with him as he walks with the current of God’s plan for my life in spite of the prevailing winds of depression. While the cross and empty tomb are in my crosshairs it is on our walk-about I’ll discover the ultimate truth I am loved unconditionally.
And so begins Lent 2012, My Spiritual Journey Continues…
Part Two… An Inside Look at Spiritual Depression a Personal Story