Saturday, February 3, 2018

God, When You're Depressed

In my first post about depression, I said nothing at all about God or the power of prayer. This was intentional. In my experience, depression has most often been accompanied by a dark night of the soul-- that is, a lack of any spiritual reassurance or comfort; a palpable nothingness where before, if memory served, there seemed to be an entire heavenly court of God and angels and saints. Where there used to be bolstering faith and hope, there are now only howling winds of doubt.

In this state, it is a singularly wretched experience to be told you must pray for strength and healing, that you must have faith, or that you must offer it up to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Depression already makes you feel emotionally isolated from your friends and family; when combined with a dark night of the soul, you are isolated from Jesus and your spiritual family as well. And Christian religion without Jesus is like referencing a book to find its pages empty, pouring a cup of water only to find it dry when it reaches your lips, or following a map that is suddenly blank. Because of this, it is truly a kind of hell.

I go to church every week. When depressed, it feels wrong. It feels so wrong that it hurts to be there. It's like being Susan Pevensie, told she was now "too old" for Narnia and would never see it again, but standing by, wondering what it had all been for, as all the others still talked about it excitedly. Sometimes it's like life has turned into a glitchy video game, where your character keeps getting stuck running into walls for no reason, never progressing, but you can't turn off the game and do anything else.

Catholic religious education taught me that sin kills the life of the soul, cutting me off from God, but also that He is always ready to forgive and welcome me back to the fold when I repent. The cruel thing about depression is that when I'm conscious of no sin, the disconnection is real. Sometimes in the past I have concluded from this that my sin must be a neglect to put my faith in God, to be grateful for all He has given me. It is then a painful exercise to pray- to talk- to God and give thanks when it feels like He never existed and He never cared. It feels dishonest to offer such prayers, even though I know that something being true and something feeling true do not always coincide.

So if you are depressed and feeling this way about your faith, I understand. I'm not going to tell you to pray about it or to accuse yourself, searching for unconscious failings. If it helps, you're carrying the Cross right now, and there seems to be no mercy or compassion from any direction, only the imperative to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There's a memory of a memory of hope somewhere up ahead. You may not reach it.

But don't give up. Don't you give up.

I think you have permission not to worry that God will feel abandoned by your lack of prayer. I think you can hold Him in your heart quietly when it's just too painful to say anything. Learn how to be kind to yourself. Work at it. It is hard work, kindness, and though the work may crack your hands and break your back, each kindness starts small and delicate.

Imagine a patch of dry, cracked earth that used to be a living garden. Don't demand fountains and flowers and shady trees from it. Nurse that land back to health: turn up the soil, water it, fertilize it, and wait. It takes time. Pull up weeds. Turn up the soil again. Make a plan. What will you plant, and where? Find the seeds and find the cuttings. Make your furrows and plant each, one by one. Water them. Wait. Let it be enough. When you least expect it, you may wake to find God waiting in your garden.

I wish you strength and peace.

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