For several years of my life, the final words of Jesus before his death on the Cross puzzled me. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). The word forsaken has many synonyms.The two that stand out to me are quit and desert. Let’s insert these words into the previous quote and read it again. On the Cross Jesus cries out, “My God, my God why have you quit on me and deserted me?” I think that everyone relate to Christ’s words. Within my own life I feel God has quit on me too many times to count and I believe I may be experiencing a period of abandonment and loneliness currently.
Why am I telling you this? Is my accusation of God’s commitment to me a grave danger to my Catholic faith? Is my feeling of abandonment caused by outside factors such as my work, stress, the winter weather? Perhaps. However, I felt compelled to journal about my inner struggles as a Catholic man as a type of prayer to God Himself.
A few years ago, I took graduate theology courses. There was a particular class where I was required to read St. John of the Cross’s A Dark Night of the Soul– a spiritual grace that flowed from his period of spiritual loneliness. During this time of my life, I starting reading the Diary of St. Maria Faustina and she expressed similar sentiment. The Polish saint writes, “O Jesus, today my soul is as though darkened by suffering. Not a single ray of light” (Diary 195), Her words express my exact thoughts today.
When I read Faustina’s words, I felt provoked to learn more about the words of the dying Christ: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It turns out that the Gospels writers were making an allusion to Psalm 22- a prayer the psalmist wrote as a lament to God. I believe that the Holy Spirit was teaching me by fusing my theological background of the Scriptures with my current life experience.
Maybe God is allowing me to suffer loneliness because He knows that this will direct me on the path of prayer again. See I have not been the best Catholic. I have been impatient at work and home. I allow doubt to creep into my life. Perhaps this spiritual abandonment is the greatest gift God can grant to me now. Perhaps God is doing the same thing in your life now. Let’s embrace this loneliness together and continue to hope in God’s Providence. Amen.
The beginning of this week continued my struggle with depression. Over the past several weeks, I lacked both the physical, mental, and emotional mettle to write. Journaling and blogging used to come more natural to me, however, lately I ran into a seemingly impenetrable mental wall of writer’s block. During periods of depression, you may feel utterly helpless and lack the motivation to implement means to overcome this vile force. Trust me this feeling is real and appears to be inescapable. I felt the same way to start the week. Please know that hope is always on the horizon—the problem is that you may need to remind yourself of this fact!
Hope arrived on the scene in a unique manner this week—through reading the classic children’s bedtime book Goodnight Moon to my youngest son. Currently he is going through a language explosion—he was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder—he development was delayed but through frequent therapies we are seeing the fruit of his hard work. The story involves saying goodnight to an array of items and characters in a bedroom. Upon getting to the page about the red balloon, my son shouted “Ah a balloon!” This image of a fully inflated balloon stuck with me throughout the night and into the morning. I viewed my current emotional state as a metaphorical depressed balloon unable to lift off the ground due to lack of the energy, gratitude, and hope.
It took a simple image of a balloon to jumpstart my creative juices about what to write about today. I wish to provide three tactics to take the wind out of the storm of depression you may be facing now—or will be facing in the future!
Shield Yourself with Thanksgiving: Before going into battle, a solider needs to wear armor and acquire the appropriate defensive tool. Just like physical war, fighting depression involves taking the necessary steps to defend against the continued barrage of negative self-depreciating thoughts. The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden once stated, “If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” Adopting this mindset today defended me against depression’s attack.
Start this defensive tactic to keep depression at bay. For example, at lunch I made a mental list of three specific things I was thankful for today. Strawberries, my comic books, and the ability to write freely immediately popped into my mind as things I feel blessed to possess. Try this simple exercise as a way to easily remind yourself of the various blessings in your life. You may be pleasantly surprised that things may not be as bad as you would think!
Miniature Victories Win the War: A second tactic to weaken depression’s grip is to focus on minor victories throughout the day. Recognizing that the battle against depression is not necessarily achieved through a once-size-fits-all solution became an important step in my battle. Viewing any positive thing that occurred to me over the course of a day as a win is essential. Fitness trainers tell us the importance of focusing on small incremental goals and the same and spiritual directors remind of the importance of praying consistently in short periods of time first before proceeding to long sessions of meditation—why would it be any different for people who suffer from bouts of depression?
The relief that arrives when I realize that small triumphs over depression are just as successful and valid as large victories. According to Andrew Carnegie, “If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” Naming your goal and setting forth a plan is a concrete tactic to combat depression. However, in implementing any plan towards your ultimate goal keep in mind that it is important to celebrate the little victories along with the end result.
Fellowship not Forlornness: The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov stated, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” When I strive away from a purposeful life that is when depression seems to infiltrate. Sure life has its natural ups and downs. However, for someone with chronic depression it is vital to journey throughout life in fellowship rather than tackle your struggles alone.
The best literary example that comes to mind when thinking about the importance of communion to fight off despair and depression is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. His first installment of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy involves the formation of a Middle Earth menagerie composed of four hobbits, two humans, an elf, a dwarf, and the wizard Gandalf. Similar to depression, the power of the One Ring involved the ability to gain control of its bearer over the course of time. The Fellowship’s singular purpose was to provide aid and companionship to aid Frodo in his journey to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. I found this excerpt that exhibits the importance of friendship during moments of doubt,
But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo. Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.
Are you experiencing moments of doubt now? Does it appear that there is no one around you to trust? Please know that this is a false belief—there is always someone who is willing to help. During times of deep depression I too struggle immensely with doubt. I doubt that I am worthy of friendship. I sometimes even doubt that my beloved Father in Heaven care for me.
Surrounding myself with good and holy people help pull myself out of this tendency to self-doubt. Last week, my manager at work provided much needed words of consolation when I struggled with depression in the workplace. Each week I attend the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass where I am united in communion with other fellow Catholics. Through reception of the Eucharist I am nourished by the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ to journey out into the world for the next week. Thanksgiving, recognizing the small achievements, and seeking fellowship with others allow you to gain an upper hand in your daily battle against depression. Thank you all for reading my articles and continue to fight the good fight!