Depression and the Living God – Lenten Series

by Christine Sine

This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? was written by an anonymous contributor.

 

I don’t hunger and thirst for much. I just hunger and thirst to escape depression. There,
I’ve said it. But I’m not able to add my name to this statement. I need to be anonymous.

I am a middle-aged pastor of a suburban congregation of around 150-160. Every week I
stand and declare that Jesus forgives our sins and restores us to life. Yet I am bound by
pain which reaches back into my infant past, pain that I have only just become aware of
through therapy, pain that I have not yet faced—and fear to face even now.

I have grown up being driven to ‘repair’ the world, to ‘make a difference’, trying to make it
better so that others don’t suffer the way I do. I fear I have mixed that up with what it
means to be a Christian, and to be a pastor. When I fail, there is a kind of voice within my
my therapist calls the ‘savage god’ who accuses me of being—wait for it—less than
perfect. I have confused that voice with the Living God. Sometimes the only thing that
protects me from suicidal thoughts is a sense of compassion I can find within myself for
those with whom I could be rightfully angry with. I would dearly like to find ‘rest for my
soul’.

I see a therapist several times a week. I take antidepressants at the maximum dose. I
pray. I believe. I love my congregation, and I have the good fortune to pastor a supportive,
wonderful community. The people know I suffer with depression, because I’ve spoken
about it from the pulpit. It seemed important for me to do so to help fellow-sufferers who
felt shame for their illness. Yet only a few know how much I suffer; I want to protect the
congregation. I want them to know the freedom that is theirs in Christ. In fact, when I lead
worship I do feel like the burden is lifted for a while. I find that I can step outside the
constrictions of the pain I feel and be with the people. I don’t mean that I’m overly
demonstrative, just that I know that inner freedom for a time and my smile is genuine.

I don’t think I’m living a lie. My problem isn’t authenticity, it’s just pain that has dogged me
since the nursery.

I’m sure there will be others posting in this series who want justice and peace for all. So do
I, and so does my community. I want the kingdom of God to come. I know it is here now, in
the midst of my pain, our pain. I know that in Bonhoeffer’s great words, ‘only a suffering
God can help’ and I take comfort in that. I know Christ’s strength is in my weakness. I just
want to feel it all the way through.

This Lent, I expect to put one foot in front of the other and walk towards Holy Week and
the Triduum. I rejoice at the destination of the Empty Tomb. But I fear there’s still quite a bit
of me mouldering in that tomb, and I hunger and thirst for it to live.

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3 comments

Karilou March 31, 2012 - 9:36 am

To live means to suffer because we and the world are not perfect. Our Christian beliefs and Scripture deal with suffering in ways both positive and negative. .helpful and sometimes not so much. I’m wondering whether your self-imposed identity as a sufferer has become part of your being for so long that despite medication and therapy you’re stuck in what Eckhardt Tolle calls your “pain body.”
Some psychotherapists treating depression use the principles of Buddhism as a positive adjunct to the Christian Way. Mindfulness, as the Buddhists teach, can be an ongoing powerful answer to swimming in suffering. Not a flash “cure” for suffering but a steady shift in thinking and being as one practices resting in the present moment.
This Holy Week leading up to Easter brings us hope and joy in the promise that in the midst of pain and suffering we have an assurance that all will be well with us. I pray that you will be able to come to this realization and accept that you are loved and valued.

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earthma March 31, 2012 - 3:19 pm

Thank you for sharing this, it gives strength and comfort to others who suffer too.

I’ve just read Mother Teresa, Faith in the Darkness by Gregg Watts, and bought it so I can re-read at leisure. It was enlightning to here that she was dogged by feeling adrift and ‘abandonded’, feeling that there was only emptiness in response to her prayers.

She wrote many times to her mentors asking for advice and they responded by saying that Jesus himself felt abandoned, and whilst dying on the cross cried out to God asking ‘why have you forsaken me?’ (you, of course preach this every year, but is all the more poignant at this time).

She carried on her prayers and total commitment to God until her death. She had some vicious detractors, and was contraversial in her beliefs but stood by them no matter what, in the best of intentions.

I agree with the following saying of Sike Milligan, regarding his depression. The pain is far worse than for other people, but the sun shines so much brighter too. This is the gift (in my humble opinion) that depression gives, and the deep deep sensitivity and empathy which I think can be part of it too.

God Bless

Nik

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dragonrev April 1, 2012 - 9:40 am

Yes, I know how it is, truly, deeply. I’m “there” everyday. I, too, hunger and thirst to live. Know, in your heart, that you are far from alone in this “place”. You are also loved and appreciated for speaking from your heart and soul in and in such public way. It goes so more deeply beyond the comprehension of medicine, of social expectations, so much more deeply than any human can fathom. It helps to know that God is with us in that place, even we from our view, it is very hard to tell. We will be whole again, one day. Hold onto that and that you are not alone.

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