Lenten Lamenting – The Gift of Depression

Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, alabaster, ...

“We are so easily blinded by pride.  We hold back from confessiong our sins and resist the work of repentance.  We subtly interpret our gifts and blessings as signs of superiority over others.  We assume it is better to be rich than poor, to be satisfied than hungry, to be bouyant than tearful.  We readily form judgments of others and then downplay our own weaknesses.  If we’ve been Christians a long while, we grow overly confident in our understandings and less open to instruction.  Finally, we tend to put more stock in correct words than concrete actions.”  ~ Bobby Gross, Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God

I find this excerpt to be particularly convicting.  I’m not sure why, since we often read similar reflections in church and I mouth them obligingly.  Perhaps the issue is that I do it with an empty head and heart.

I have been wondering lately why, now that I am emerging into the sunlight after a brief but simultaneously eternal depressed period, I feel as though God has retreated into the background.  For most of my faith journey, devotion has been a mental exercise.  I am convinced intellectually of my need for God but do not often know my need for God.  Living with depression was, in many ways, a gift.  Kathleen Norris quotes Andrew Solomon, who expresses what I mean:

“”Curiously enough,” Solomon admits, “I love my depression.  I do not love experiencing my depression, but I love the depression itself.  I love who I am in the wake of it.”  He cannot help respecting that which gave him knowledge of “my own acreage, the full extent of my soul.””  ~ Kathleen Norris, Acedia & me

My struggle with depression allowed me to experience fully my absolute worthlessness (sinfulness, if that makes more sense to you) and my absolute need for Christ’s salvation and grace.  It was obvious that I needed saving from myself, and that I was powerless to do it.  The words of Scripture meant more to me than ever before.  Passages that I had written off as culturally related and therefore meaningless suddenly took on life and reached deep into my soul.  I found myself clinging to the passages I had memorized in a desperate attempt to find some hope for myself.

And I did.  Those Bible verses repeated themselves over and over in my mind, took root in my soul, and are now bearing the fruit of happiness and hope.  But strangely, now that I am becoming used to a life with meaning in it, I find myself becoming again less convinced of my need for God.  My spirituality is becoming less a vital thing and the precious consciousness of the Holy Spirit receding slowly into the past.  So I am left to ponder Bobby Gross’s reflections on pride and repentance, and the unexpected benefits of being tearful rather than bouyant.

Perhaps my depression was really a struggle against my ego, a struggle between the Spirit and my spirit against the self-centred part of me.  Perhaps my Lenten fast and devotions and church attendance are meant to bring this unconscious struggle to the foreground.

What are you becoming aware of as Lent progresses?


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