This post is the first in a series of three submitted anonymously on the reality of being a christian struggling with clinical depression.
For the man who has fallen from an aeroplane and is now plummeting towards the earth, telling him to simply get it together and get back in the airplane will do little. Indeed, if he could stop twisting, spinning and flapping long enough, he would surely strangle you for making just such a suggestion.
To the man trapped in a dark, dank room, its floor being slowly sodden by sewage, its walls slowly creeping in, enveloping its occupant in cold darkness, an exit no more than a mythical concept at this point, telling him to simply leave and abide in a place of positivity will do nothing but further the gloom.
I have been both of these men in recent times. Sometimes at the same time. Whilst in a season of confusion and cold darkness, the spotlight was turned sharply onto me, as, almost in interrogation style, those around me searched for a spiritual reason for my struggle and a get out clause that allowed God to save face. Repeatedly, and with many different tones, I was confronted with the idea that somehow I had caused my suffering and that I was responsible for me restoration.
This post will not offer a theodicy – we are not going to dialogue about the different reasons we encounter suffering. Instead, I want to suggest that in our hurry to defend God and make sense of suffering and, in my case, depression, we have reduced ourselves to the same level as the friends of Job, failing to offer comfort as we stammer to offer explanations.
One of the things that has always struck me about the story of Job is how odd and perplexing the behaviour of the friends is. How many of us can imagine approaching a man who has lost his home, his wealth and his family, with words of accusation and condemnation? How many of us would think to offer an explanation to someone’s suffering rather than offering comfort and compassion? And yet, all too often, the stories of those who struggle with mental ill health, me included, unearth that with alarming regularity; this is what the church is exporting.
Much of this seems rooted in our inability to say a little, yet profound phrase: ‘I don’t know.’ It appears we are so unsettled and disturbed by the unknown that we would rather attempt to explain others’ suffering and tell them how to fix it than admit we simply don’t know. Of course, whilst we are developing our lofty theodicies and preaching at the broken, we are missing the point entirely and fail to sit with them in the ashes, bringing comfort and community to their broken place. Surely this, above all else, is our mandate for approaching mental ill health; to sit in the mud and the ash with those who suffer, and in doing so, bring comfort and community to their broken places. Enough of our ego trips and attempts to sound wise and intellectual – we are called to serve the broken and hurting with self-emptying love, meeting them in the places in which they are trapped and ensuring they do not travel the long journey alone.