Dark Night of the Soul
I have suffered from depression most of my life. In fact, I have been diagnosed with what they used to call "Double Depression," and now it is called, "Depression with Major Depressive Episodes." Essentially it means my regular state of being is slightly depressed, and sometimes the depression gets worse -- nearly debilitating. I now wear a tattoo on my wrist that is of a sun and a moon. I wear it to remind myself that my depression is cyclical, much like the sun and the moon. For every dark night, there will be a brighter day behind it. Eventually.
This psalmist describes his state of depression in vivid detail. Depression includes a sense of abandonment -- like everyone and everything I've loved has left me to flail and flounder alone -- even God. It includes an oppressive feeling, like the entire world is out to harm you. It includes a plea for someone -- anyone -- to throw a lifeline to this drowning soul.
Depression, when managed or treated, can also include a glow of light that pierces the darkness. It can include hope in the midst of despair. It can include faith that the God of love has not abandoned us, even when we are in too dark a place to feel God's presence. And with the right training, depression can even include healthy self-talk ("Why are you cast down...? Hope in God.")
Depression is not a bad mood. It is a disease of the mind. It poisons the body as much as it sickens the mind. Depression is fatigue, tense muscles, body aches and pains, tightness in the chest, and a general feeling like the body is sinking into quicksand. Depression is not a failure of will. It is not something you can snap out of. It cannot be cured with positive thinking.
Depression is, however, treatable. It is manageable -- even the kind that is low-grade and always present. If you love someone who is depressed, continue to love and support them. Give them space, and also give them lots of reassurance that you're not going anywhere, even if it takes them weeks, months, years, or decades to recover. If you yourself are suffering from depression and have not yet sought help, be hopeful. You can reach out for help at any time, and there will be people willing to help you. Call your doctor, your best friend, your pastor (or bishop, if you are a pastor), an EAP, or a local crisis hotline. (Heck, you can call me if you need to. Go to https://www.facebook.com/clergystuff/ and click the Message button. I'd be happy to talk with you about your options for moving forward!) You don't have to keep suffering. Take it from me and our psalmist today -- as long as there is breath in your body, there is always hope.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Psalm 43
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people;
from those who are deceitful and unjust
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
why have you cast me off?
Why must I walk about mournfully
because of the oppression of the enemy?
O send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy;
and I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.