It’s easy this time of year in the northeast places of Ohio to be depressed. We wonder if the Sun will ever show itself for any extended period of time again. We wonder if the warmth that our skin in select moments still remembers will ever return. There seems to be a blanket of grey that hovers and weighs in on even some of the most cheerfully gifted among us. In the recent months I have noticed, though, a despair, dare I say a much deeper side of depression. It could be that I have for the first time made a choice to pay closer attention to such matters because of an honest look at these matters in my own spiritual journey, depression demands its own attention.
First a disclaimer. I recognize that this matter is complicated and no two persons’ journey through despair and depression starts, continues, nor ends in neat ways easily explainable and too often these journeys are completely incomprehensible defying simple explanation. I am attempting to gain some degree of clarity about the journey I continue to work my way through using the filters and the present context of my vocation to assist myself and others to grapple with the darkness amidst the light.
I presently serve in a suburban context where I encounter folks who have in many ways arrived. That is many of these wonderful people have believed the “dream” and possess the better part of it. When you begin to accumulate all the data that surrounds their lives every indication is that they are highly competent achievers quite capable of almost anything. The statistics prove it. Degrees, high-test scores, soaring income levels, beautiful neighborhoods, beautiful homes, beautiful attire, just beautiful people. Yet, a closer look begins to reveal the blanket of grey. No one wants to talk much about it but I’ve noticed it’s almost everywhere in suburbia. I’ve begun to wonder if depression is peculiar to the context of the competent, the overachiever, and as one of my former Pastor’s David Seamonds called it, neurotic perfectionism. I’ve wondered if depression might be the final “dis-ease” of places where the “dreams” of competency and endless achievement are peddled and sown.
Depression, being the deepest of any form of sadness, is the awareness that such “dreams” are really a lie. And that lie is what set humanity up early for a fall. It happened in a garden, at a tree, life without limits, life with no boundaries at a tree called “knowledge.” A faithful God who had created human beings in His/Her image with boundaries & limits for an abundant life. “You can eat from every tree but one,” Death is only mentioned when I imagine I could cross into a land without limits and boundaries. I am convinced that the “grey” begins to blanket our lives when we come to realize that we can’t do anything and everything. The despair and depression overwhelms us precisely at the point where I am most keenly aware that I could be exposed as a fraud, as not nearly as competent, not nearly the overachiever I offer to the outside world with my glossy self-portrait.
In the Garden that condition of human beings living within the limits set for life was called “naked.” When the first two human beings encountered each other it says they were “naked and unashamed.” They were essentially OK with that, with each other, with such conditions and we have called that Paradise. Life would be more than ample within that context. The Genesis account frames those limits of life with both the tree [internal limits] and the rivers [external limits]. But there is that one that peddles another “dream” which would become a nightmare, “You can be as God,” and she/he/we take a huge bite out of that. Suddenly our “eyes” are opened and we taste the bittersweet lie. And the next question that God throws out to those hiding among the trees is, “Who said you were naked?” Exposed!
For me, much of the deep sadness, despair, and seasons of depression come in my community from carrying that tension around internally and externally. The facade of my own endless competencies and achievements, what I believe the writers in Holy Scripture refer to as the ugliest form of “self-righteousness.” We wake in the morning carrying the heaviness of that from our earliest days as others, even those who supposedly love us the most lay on our shoulders like the books we lug in our backpacks the weight of that. Some never even get out of their teenage years living under the shame of being exposed, it becomes too terrible to endure. No we can never be as God, we have limits, and the real burden is, when “they” find out will they still love me? Mom, dad, sister, brother, family, friends, my boss, my associates, my God? No amount of gloss, mascara, or impeccable CV can finally cover up that sadness when we face that for ourselves.
As the darkness of betrayal and death descended on Jesus in the garden Mark records these words in his gospel, “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” (Mark 14:51-52) Jesus’ death on a “tree” exposes how far we will go to cover this darkness up. Eventually someone pulls on that “thread” and that beautiful glossy outfit unravels and I/we enter the darkness and depression for a season, hiding there until we realize there is One who absolutely loves us for who we are with all the limitations we have and then some. That underneath it all, the glossy facade, underneath the achievements, underneath it all is a real person that God really loves. And then we realize, its OK to come out from the darkness and from behind the trees.