I had a chat with a friend last week about depression and the holidays. We have mutual friends who are so down on life right now that they can not find anything to be grateful about. Nothing. Nada. Not even a parking space!
It’s not that I don’t understand where these folks are right now. I do identify with them. I have lived through some lousy holidays. The Christmas we ALL got the flu (serially – stretching out over 2 weeks. Nice!) or strep throat. The season that my father-in-law was terminally ill with lung cancer. The time when I was out of regular work and temping for various companies and money was beyond tight. The year that the guy I thought I was marrying broke our engagement. The months that followed after I resigned from a church ministry position and felt like an utter and total failure because I did not “fit the mold” that was wanted. Not to mention some really sucky moments in high school and college…
My friend asked me, “well what do you do or say when someone IS depressed and tells you all about it during the holidays? Do you just say – ‘life sucks and sometimes you get past it?’ “
Good question. I think it would be more honest to say, “Life sucks and EVENTUALLY you get past it.” I worry less about the verbally expressive, and more about the one who looks like they are scraping along by the bottom of life. At least the person who tells me he or she is depressed can muster up enough energy to express anger. Or sadness. Or worry. Or discouragement. But the last thing I do is tell them to “CHEER UP!”
I try to remember what it felt like to be in “that place” and how hard it was to be aware of God’s goodness when everything was so… sad.
What helped me? Genuine caring hugs. Doing something for someone else (the best way I found to struggle out of the funk of the broken engagement was helping each month at a soup kitchen.) Crying out to God and pouring out my heart in my music and my writing. Avoiding the things which gave me the most pain (for instance, one church I attended asked all of the “singles” to babysit during the “family” Christmas Eve service. I only did it once… and refused after serving one year. I saw all these couples come to pick up their kids… and they were younger than I was! That just truly hurt too much.)
I made it through some pretty difficult days. Sometimes I didn’t have the energy to shop. Or to bake. Or to go to parties. Sometimes my heart was too sore for feeling joy. Or for feeling anything, for that matter. Sometimes I felt like the problems were all because of me. Mea culpa…
And then, sometimes, I realized that it was not me — it was life. In all of its imperfections, inconsistencies, and sin. People with their own problems, challenges and downright meanness. Many times it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with simple “bad timing.” Eventually, and in my own time, I moved past the pain.
I saw beauty crop up in the raw places of my heart… in the hard places of my life… in fact, I found joy in the places that one does not expect to find it. I saw order in seeming crazy disorder. I found peace in total chaos and fruitfulness in complete barrenness. But none of this was my doing. It was all God’s.
Out of more guilt than desire, I kept reading my Bible. One of those dark December days, the words from Deuteronomy took on new meaning…
filled with howling winds.
God became your fortress, protecting you
as though you were His own eyes.
The LORD was like an eagle teaching its young to fly,
always ready to swoop down and catch them on its back.
Israel, the LORD led you, and without the aid
of a foreign god, He helped you capture the land.
Your fields were rich with grain.
Olive trees grew in your stony soil,
and honey was found among the rocks.
Life in those rocky times – ones of “stony soil” and “honey from the rocks” – those difficult times in my life made it clearer than ever that God’s love for me went past my pain, my failures or achievements, my relationships or lack of them… I was just – completely and totally – loved!
I’ve never forgotten it. Hard times come and go. People disappoint. Physical bodies do strange and painful things… God remains constant. And that’s all that I can tell anyone who knows the truth of “life sucks… and then eventually you get past it.”
Often I stand on the edge of the light, afraid to believe, afraid to act, afraid that this story is too good to be true. But then in my better moments, when I listen closely to the story, move closer to the light, my fears seem to evaporate like an early morning mist, and I can believe again. I can believe that God who made all that is became clothed in our human flesh so that we might become clothed in God. I can believe that God claims me as a beloved child. I can believe that my days are in God’s strong and tender hands. I can believe that life is good, beautiful, and eternal. I can believe that not only my days but all days are in God’s good and able hands. I can believe, rejoice, and wait trustingly and expectantly for the unfolding of God’s promise given so many ways and most clearly in the Advent story. Thanks be to God!
From our home to yours…