What Do You Think?   6 comments

In a message to a friend I wrote the following some time back.  I would love to get everyone’s thoughts, to get a dialogue going.  Are you game?

When I said that different folks are helped in different ways (and by different kinds of people), I meant that even the downcast are each sad in his or her own way, with unique history, issues, perspectives, coping strategies, resources and the like.  When I was struggling in Calcutta with deep depression, a well-wisher sent me a copy of “Spiritual Depression” by a noted evangelical writer.  The author’s premise was that depression always arises from a lack of faith.  I have discovered in my own life that depression and sadness may be a demonstration of a much deeper faith.  Many people are too afraid (i.e. lack the faith) to allow themselves any unpleasant feelings.  They constantly keep such feelings at bay by various means of escape (entertainment, overwork, even reading the Bible).  It often takes a great deal of courage (i.e. faith) to acknowledge one’s unpleasant feelings, and if we push those feelings away, we will never discover what they are trying to tell us about ourselves.

So many folks are also afraid that not challenging their friend’s moodiness will encourage him either to mope and cling to his depression (a “pity party”) or to use his depression to manipulate others.  These two unhealthy responses do occur.  On the one hand, no one is completely honest, even with themselves, about their feelings.  So some folks use depression to avoid their true feelings because of fear of acknowledging their anger or sadness or pain (just as other folks use cheerfulness to avoid their genuine emotions).  On the other hand, they may use their depression to try to control others.  The solution for both types of folks is not to push them out of feeling sad, however, but to help them discover their true feelings beneath their depression while maintaining good boundaries relationally and emotionally (i.e. not yielding to manipulation).

Some folks want you to cheer them up from their sadness, either because they are not ready to face their deep unpleasant feelings or because their sadness is superficial and probably only circumstantial.  (After all, no one likes to feel depressed—everyone would rather always be genuinely cheerful if it came with no negative side effects.)  They may in fact need “cheering up,” though in my perspective even these folks are usually more benefited by an expression of sympathy for their sadness, at least initially and tentatively: an offer to be with them in their pain, if they wish, instead of helping them to avoid it.


Posted July 10, 2011 by janathangrace in thoughts

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6 responses to “What Do You Think?

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  1. Don’t know where the deep sadness I have had really came from since it’s beginning, or where it stems from just know I have always wanted it to go away and have attempted to compensate by escaping, covering, and denying. Remember as a child when this sadness would appear I had an overwhelming fear I would be consumed by these feelings. Have matured and shared what life experiences I have had both in things I have done and things that were done to me out of my control to explain these horrible emotions. Believe choices I have made based on this pain has only justified more of the same. Have received freedom in confessing what I have found, but not total release as of yet. My deepest hope is yet to be completely fulfilled.

    • Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry for your pain and sadness. I hope you have a close friend or two with whom to share and find support, and I hope you find a way to embrace God’s love for you that fills his heart.

  2. It seems to me that even if we granted said-evangelical-author that depression did indicate a lack of faith, your point would still stand. If I don’t believe that God is good (which I often don’t) and thus the world looks bleak, I’m not going to get anywhere by trying to look on the bright side. If my emotions are indicating that something is awry, I’m not going to address the issue by trying to change emotions. In that case, it seems that (like you said) the most courageous thing to do is to face the issues. I’m sort of okay with calling the issue a lack of faith if there is no guilt associated with it (which seems only to add insult to injury). Perhaps the world looks dark when I don’t believe in God’s goodness; the only way to fight for my faith then is to enter into that darkness and find him there.

    • Em, I like your last sentence, though it could be interpreted differently by different folks. You seem to have opened up an entirely new issue: “I’m sort of okay with calling the issue a lack of faith if there is no guilt associated with it.” I think many conservative Christians would automatically associate lack of faith with sin/guilt. What kind of unbelief is innocent and what kind is guilty; how and why do you distinguish? I’m intrigued.

  3. Perhaps the tendency to associate guilt with lack of faith comes from a faulty understanding of faith. From what I can tell, faith is not an emotion, an intellectual assent, or an action, though it often involves all those things. I think faith is a gift, something God gives us, and we can prepare places for it but not create it. If that’s true, then it makes no sense to heap guilt on someone for not having it, or to urge someone to create it. If it’s true that all we can do is to prepare places for faith, then perhaps that involves entering into those places and asking God to join us there. That often seems the best way to say “Lord I believe; help me with my unbelief!” that I can muster.

  4. I also loved Em’s comment. It so resonates with my own life experience. And your concluding sentence: “Perhaps the world looks dark when I don’t believe in God’s goodness; the only way to fight for my faith then is to enter into that darkness and find him ” is just breathtakingly beautiful! I would add that I often cannot find God in my darkness. And in my darkness I find it hard to believe that he really cares or even notices my experience of my life. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting through the darkness, waiting it out, hunkering down and counting off the minutes and days, not knowing how long it will last this time. When my mind gets a bit lighter, but still painfully dark, I am able to begin creating thoughts about God being there with me in the darkness. Creating these thoughts is my grasping onto God and as my mind lightens I think more and more of God and his goodness and care. When my mind is light I can believe and hope and see and recognize God. It is the distant memory of that that I hold onto in the darkness as I wait for enough light to return that I can hold onto God again.

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