Friday, October 30, 2009

a year in london

When I got really depressed a few years ago, I figured out that I was a pretty disengaged person. Actually, I finally realized that when I started to get better. When I was really depressed, I was mostly worried about revving myself up for my daily routine of getting out of bed, eating, working, and sleeping.

Meaningful conversation didn't usually happen. I didn't usually get past navel lint or comparing baths to showers. I tried talking about historical theology with someone once. It wasn't pretty.

When I wasn't stumbling around doing these things, I was always worried. Worried I was going to make big mistakes, that people wouldn't like me, those kinds of things.

More than anything, I was worried I had lost God's presence forever. I felt nothing. There is nothing as depressing as feeling abandoned by God.

Now don't go quoting verses telling me God doesn't forsake His own and that sort of thing. I know those verses. They're little help to someone in the middle of depression. Don't try to get depressed people to snap out of it, especially with Bible verses.

Come to think of it, I think what did it was that I lost an awareness of God's presence. I had it once, but then I lost it. I know God never left, but my perception told me otherwise.

I know what Ron Burgundy was talking about when he was "in a glass case of emotion." I was there. Except it was dark, so either my case wasn't glass or it was nighttime. One of the two. Or maybe fog. It doesn't really matter.

So now I'm not depressed anymore. And I have mostly recovered my feeling of God's presence. Now, those verses about God not leaving or forsaking really mean something to me.

And I have to learn to engage with reality. I don't know exactly why I didn't before, but I imagine it had a lot to do with my living within my own critical and judgmental thoughts. This was my favorite place to be. That and Whataburger.

God can't really make an appearance until you get out of yourself and into reality. That's when the fog really starts to burn off.


shallowfrozenwater said...

great comments. i've been in some of those dark spaces myself and found my way back with a lotta help.

E. A. Harvey said...

This is a very timely post for me. Depression is something that I've dealt with personally as well as with members of my family. I think going through serious times of depression is what made me lose my "God is just sooo good and life is all cupcakes and rainbows" persona that I tried to keep up for other Christians. I've been mulling over writing about mental illness and the church's approach to dealing with it for several weeks. Then this past week, life threw some curve balls directly related to this subject. I've got to process it some more, but I'll be blogging about depression soon. :-)

jaigner said...

Thanks for the comments, both of you. E., I'll be looking for that post.

Dan Martin said...

So Jonathan, just to look at it from a different side, what do you think of a person who's not particularly depressed, never has reached (or only barely reached) that clinical level of darkness, but has spent a lifetime unable to sense or detect the presence of God? That would be my experience. From the best times of life to the worst I have experienced, despite my most desperate searching, pleading, etc., the clear sense of God's hand--that "this is most definitely not me" knowledge of his work and presence, has completely eluded me. I can't feel "abandoned" by God, as I've never actually met him...

I get outraged by the "cupcakes and rainbows" stuff Leesha mentioned, largely because I think the church is selling people a bill of goods, which results in them trying to gin up those feelings through the hyper-emotional stuff they call "worship." I wonder how many other Christians are depressed, or driven from faith, when they realize their own lives don't measure up to that artificial standard they see flogged in "holy" circles.

Maybe the reality is more like the proportion between all the godly people described in the Bible, and that subset who are actually shown as having a relationship with God (hint: it's very few)???

jaigner said...

Dan, that's a tough one for me. I think as far as the sensory perception of God goes, that's pretty relative, seeing as how we all perceive things differently.

I think you have a valid point when you mention the biblical precedent for this issue. I think, ultimately, our not being able to perceive God's presence is due to the haze and numbness that the presence of sin, even for the converted, masks those kinds of feelings.

Other than that, what has been true for me, especially in the worst times, is that I have to have faith that God is there, even if I can't feel it.

That's possibly one of the biggest acts of faith. I found the strength to do that by participating in liturgical services, even though I didn't really have the strength.

Of course, you have the contemporary "worship" phenomenon in which we phony up as much emotion and excitement as possible so that we feel something and dupe ourselves into feeling as if it's God.

Okay, that was more harsh than I meant it to be, and certainly it's not universally true or exclusive to the movement. To me, there's something at least partially dishonest (with ourselves, each other and God) about that whole movement. If nothing else, there is something intrinsically partial about it because it does not express the whole of human emotion or experience (you don't get people all riled up by reading Psalm 88).

Hmmm...any of that make sense? My sweet wife often reminds me to be more practical, but I still miss a lot.

For myself, I do my best to keep myself empty and still enough at certain points in the day so that I have a chance to "meet" God. I actually would highly recommend a lecture by a L'Abri England teacher (who has admittedly struggled with this issue himself). The lecture is called "The Sacrament of the Present" and the speaker is Andrew Fellows. You can get it here:

Karin said...

Came here to check a review on a book I want to review. Interesting blog! So glad you are living in the Sonshine again! Blessings on you!

jaigner said...

Thank you, Karin. You're welcome back anytime.