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The Truth about the Dark

I wrote this blog post largely because I need to address what has happened in recent days related to suicide. I grew up in church and so my worldview is shaped by religious culture. If you can't relate to my view, I understand but I want you to read on anyway. There is always good to be gained.


Within the church world, it saddens me to know there are still large pockets of misunderstanding related to mental illness. And so, whenever I hear it, I feel I must address it. If we contrast the lives of those visited by the deep darkness we call depression, we will find the common threads not rooted in religious belief. It’s most unfortunate that Christian culture often misses the truth related to mental health. Afraid of having no answers, they become desperate to define so as to perhaps quell their own questions. But depression is no respecter of persons or religions. Throughout history we find it has visited the most righteous to the most degenerate; both knew it’s sting. Men of God wrote they faced what they called the dark night of the soul. Biblical characters such as the Psalmist David wrote often of their depressive struggle, and in spite of his terrible sins, he was considered a man after God’s own heart.


 
I submit that depression is not a result of godlessness or sin but it must be something deeper that binds both the sinner and saint together. What is it that we all share? Humanity! Living in what is called, by the Church, a fallen world. Society may call it an imperfect world: it is both. There is none so righteous that he can’t be touched by darkness. There is none so perfect that he can say my life shall be spared sorrow or sadness. Who are you to tell the Lord God Almighty that your life will never be marred by disease of any kind? How wonderful it would be if Christianity inoculated us from the effects of an imperfect world. It does not! Some are desperate to say that mental illness is still the result of lack of faith, lack of being more god fearing, lack of being kind enough...desperate to say you possess some deep character flaw. Ultimately convinced that you brought this on yourself. There must be some reason why!

The church has been desperate to define why mental ailments happens all the while ignoring the lives of biblical characters and saints who share this common darkness we call depression. If honest, we would see we still don’t know the reason why, so why not focus on how to help instead of who’s to blame. Compassion is so desperately needed and yet as I read the response from church people this past week who conjectured why Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain would take their lives, I read their desperate attempts to blame it on how godless they were. All the while they are ignoring the deep need for a compassionate response.

(Picture of my bow bracelet design inspired by Kate Spade)




Let’s not forget the young man, Matthew Warren, son of prominent pastor Rick Warren. Here’s an example of a young man who loved God deeply. I would contrast his life and say the root cause of his death was not godlessness. And just weeks ago, a young man that my daughters knew well, who had everything going his way, and who had suffered from the darkness, took his life. From all that I know of this young man and his family, he loved God deeply.

It is sufficient to say that the common thread in death by suicide is not how saintly or sinful you are. I believe the cause is much deeper. It has to lie within the common threads which we all share because we are bound together in this discussion. Like it or not, depression visits so many and while I am concerned as to why it is on the rise, I am not naive enough to believe that it is due to spirituality or lack thereof. 
 
I’m concerned that I find Christians are still lacking deep respectful compassion. The church’s response to loss should always be compassion. Whatever the loss, I have found when the loss is not understood, the church condemns. This is where the mission to speak out and to clear the misconceptions becomes a burning passion. I can’t sit by quietly and let people spout off their mouths. They hurt the cause. They broaden the divide. There is no redemption and certainly no compassion when we judge all hearts as godless who have given up the will to live. I know it’s an easy answer. 

But my husband says you have no right to speak to this issue until you have faced the darkness yourself. I think he’s right. I’ve heard him describe that depression feels like an elephant sitting on your chest. God knows the hours he’s cried and prayed and read Psalms but the darkness did not respond. It’s not just men like Glen who have begged God to break through and dispel the clouds of despair. The list is comprised of both saint and sinner desperate for the darkness to lift yet who found it responded to its own whims.

I’m not so far from understanding myself. I’ve come to know that depression seems to limit one's ability to feel; to tangibly reach out and trust God in the midst of the darkness. Depression lifts on its own in almost every case. One can cry, pray, read, meditate, rest; do all these good and meaningful things, only to find it’s still hanging around. It’s more a test of endurance than anything. The only thing I can say that strong beliefs provide is that it provides us the ability to hold on longer, to believe God will sustain you one more time and to know that you want to hang on to life because you don’t want to disappoint God. That is all that Christian belief provides and that is much! But to say it prevents this dark pain is nothing but a lie!

Unless you’ve felt this creep over you, you have little right to speak of it. For to truly understand depression, you have to have faced it. And so, I believe you can conjecture and preach; you can surmise all you want, but you’re doing little to help the cause. Moreover, this attitude which causes the judgment to spew is more about maligning the precious souls than mourning their and the families loss. If you have taken the time to mourn these suicides, your heart would feel the agonizing pain more acutely and would jettison your cavalier words. I also highly doubt your mind or body has ever felt or experienced the beyond hopelessness of depression or it would be impossible for your words to lack such compassion. Furthermore, I doubt much time has been spent researching the many mental illness diagnoses in order to sit with those like Kate and Anthony. This probably would aid you in approaching these complex subjects with much less ignorance and arrogance. 

I’m deeply saddened when someone takes their life. There’s nothing in me that rejoices and leaps for joy. I am aware that the depth of their despair must be far deeper than what I may ever understand. With the ever growing complexities of our world, comes increasing stress. Life is not longer simple for any of us. Navigating mental health issues in conjunction with the frenetic pace of life is deeply complex and mysterious, complicated and anything but a simple problem. Compassion must reach deeper than she has reached before. Research must extend further than ever before. And you must love harder and longer that troubled soul than you have ever loved before.

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