The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the flowers are blooming. It is a beautiful Spring day. But you could not feel more bleak, more dreary, more isolated, or more depressed. Major Depressive Disorder and its variations are common struggles for millions of people, yet it feels so isolating. Depression is notorious for preventing people from enjoying activities, inhibiting social connections, and fostering despair. The isolating effects and the darkness of depression prevent people from doing what they need to do to manage their mental, physical and spiritual health. Depression can lead to despair, which can lead to suicide.
Seeking out therapy, support, and taking care of our bodies mentally and physically are important when we suffer from depression. But so often we can forget to address our depression spiritually as well. And understandably so, because depression makes everything harder and clouds our vision. There is much to say about this topic, but let us take this article to look at one avenue for navigating the darkness of depression.
The evening prayer for Palm Sunday led with Psalm 119:105-112:
Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path. I have sworn and have made up my mind to obey your decrees. Lord, I am deeply afflicted: by your word give me life. Accept, Lord, the homage of my lips and teach me your decrees. Though I carry my life in my hands, I remember your law. Though the wicked try to ensare me I do not stray from your precepts. Your will is my heritage for ever the joy of my heart. I set myself to carry out your will in fullness, for ever.
If we take the time to pray this Psalm slowly, we can see how it can assist us when we are in the darkness of depression. “Your word is a lamp.” Not, “Your word will take away my depression.” It can be so hard to do the things we know will help us when we are depressed. But, if we are to navigate the darkness spiritually, we need God’s word. It will be our light. We often get stuck at this step as well because we long for relief and when we do not get that after reading the bible or praying we become discouraged and are too quick to abandon God. We cannot think that our depression will disappear if we just read our bible or pray. While God could take away our depression, for most people, it is not so simple.
Secondly, “I have sworn and made up my mind.” We need conviction. In the darkness of depression we must be committed to relying on God’s word as our light. If we fail to be in the word, to be in prayer, we must recommit ourselves. We must make up ours mind to carry God’s light with us. We cannot be so quick to disregard our spiritual health.
Next, when the pain of depression tries to snare us, we ought not stray from God’s ways. Depression can lead us to engage in unhelpful behaviors, alcohol, drugs, sex, stress eating, etc. We start to skip church and stop reading the bible as we encounter discouragement and despair. These are some of the wicked snares of depression. When we find ourselves here, we must remember to go back to the light of the word. Go to confession, ask for the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, speak to a priest, ask for help in praying. Giving in to feelings of loneliness and isolation will continue to ensnare us in depression.
Lastly, “I set myself out to carry out your will.” Yes, God has a plan for us. Even in the darkness of depression, God has a plan for us. “I set myself out” is key. This is a journey. It is a process. This life is full of trials, disappointments, challenges and depression. We would not leave for a long trip unprepared and we ought not be unprepared to deal with depression. If we are unprepared, we will get lost. We must set ourselves out to carry out God’s will. With the light of God’s word in hand.
So many people get stuck in depression, become ensnared, and abandon their faith. It can be hard not to! The chronic nature and weight of depression can be crushing. But, we have to do our part to prepare ourselves. God may not take away our depression. Oh that he would! But what he does give us is a light for the journey. And that is his word. Prayer, the sacraments, the saints, devotions, and each other. Living with depression is a journey of suffering. But on the way, we can and will grow closer to God. We will have to commit and recommit ourselves time and time again as our weakened human nature causes us to fall and abandon the light. But God has not abandoned us. We need to turn back to the light and carry it with us. Commit and recommit. Turn on the light.