Depression feels like falling into a well. We’re trapped at the bottom with no way out. We look up and see light at the well’s entrance, but it’s so far away. It turns the soupy darkness surrounding us into a sluggish grey.
We long to feel the sun’s vitality again, a sense of motion in the rhythm of life. It becomes clear that we won’t get out of the well by our own efforts. We’ll need help – serious help.
Out of the darkness above, a ladder appears. Others might not see it, but we do. It’s a ladder meant only for us, as if it were crafted with knowing hands. Its railings and steps bring hope, a passage to another place above us. Yet, we must climb each step ourselves, one at a time.
God drops ladders into our wells all the time, but we’re often not aware of them. Sometimes they’re big, sometimes they’re small. Sometimes they’re a new medication that brings solace to our pained bodies; sometimes they’re in moments of mercy like when we share the shy smile of a stranger on the street.
We often can’t see these ladders because we’re on our hands and knees looking for a key to get us out. But a key won’t work. We don’t need to turn a lock so much as to rise from our knees. We can surrender our sadness, our weight as we go aloft. “Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest” said Jesus. And in the depths of our depressed souls, that’s what we deeply thirst for – rest.
People with depression feel like it’s their constant companion. In such a relationship, and it’s a relationship of sorts, we need not destroy depression. We need to transcend it. We do so by letting go of our relationship with depression and embracing another sort of relationship.
Yesterday, I went to Mass. Often, I feel like such a dullard in those worn wooden pews. I understand some of the readings, but much of it I don’t. But, I often feel a quality of peace. Maybe, on occasion, even a peace that “passeth understanding.” I can’t explain this experience, but I appreciate it. It’s a Mystery which calls to all of us by name. It seeks to give us a new identity and loosen our grip on an old one. It asks us to let go of all the ways we limit our daily lives because of depression.
Jesus once asked Peter, as he asks each one of us, “Who do you say I am?” I always understood this question one way: it doesn’t matter what others say about “who” Jesus is; it only matters who we say he is to us.
I now see another way of understanding this passage.
It’s just as important for us to ask Jesus, “Who do you say I am?”
For those suffering from depression, the illness usually responds to this question. It tries to tell us who we are: worthless, weak and undeserving.
Are we willing to turn away from depression’s voice? Can we surrender it to find our true value as seen through the eyes of God? He sees us as worthy and precious beyond measure.
Are we willing to trade the noxious tirades of depression for the soothing and life offering voice of God?
As we climb the ladder, let’s leave the voice of depression at the bottom of the well. It’s voice becomes faint as we leave it behind. As we near the light, it infuses us with a true sense of our true value. We are precious in His sight. We can finally rest.
When we leave the well of depression behind, perhaps we find a different sort of well and a different kind of falling. Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun and author of the little book, “The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer”, writes:
“The purpose of prayer is the process of falling into God. As the mystics say, we are beginning to learn that God alone is enough. The truth is that none of us really knows where we are going and must never take it for granted that we do. We can plan our lives but we cannot guarantee them.
When our prayers are not answered, we know one thing for sure: The challenge of life now is to live it differently. And it will be through prayer that we discover how to do that. Seeing Jesus being driven out of town, we come to understand that we cannot expect more. Seeing Jesus depressed is not the loss of faith, it is the moment of faith. Seeing Jesus lose favor with the authorities, we learn that authorities are not the final measure of our lives.
Then we come to prayer free of the desires that bind us, free to live life in God, free to choose trust over certainty — which really means free to choose God over self.