This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. During Advent we look forward to the Word of God, incarnate, coming into the world—to the True Light coming into the darkness. Like John the Baptist, we “bear witness to the light, that all might believe” through us. So during these weeks Crossings will share stories of lives in which light of Jesus has shined in dark places.
My teen years were not all that they might have been. My normal everyday disposition was marred by a sense of melancholy, a kind of depression—unless I had a particular reason not to live under their weight. Even then the joy would be fleeting and would still feel less real than the heaviness of my depression.
Part of what made it so difficult (and confusing) was that I could not put my finger on any one particular cause. I simply had a deep sense of inadequacy and a nagging feeling of self-consciousness that were both impossible to shake.
My parents wanted to help. My mother would ask what was wrong; after all, I had been such a happy baby and toddler. I so wished I could give her a meaningful answer, but I would instead sit, stumped, whenever she would try to venture into a conversation about these things. My father tried to get me to see that God did not want me to be unhappy, but that had the unintended consequence of adding a sense of guilt to my existing anxiety.
Certainly I was taught that God loved me. I could even see the fruit of that love in some real and wonderful ways in the lives of people in our church. The idea of God’s love in my life, however, seemed removed.
Gradually, without my even realizing it, my despair became a kind of personal, private place. It was something that was mine and needed to be respected as such: unassailable, an escape and a right. It had become, if only in part, my identity.
Later, in an undergraduate literature class in college, I was a bit taken aback to discover Lord Byron actually giving ode to the darkness. I believe the Spirit of God used that moment to prod me awake a bit more than I had been to that point, for the first time waking up to the fact that I had treated my despair as a retreat—even as I protested that I would rather be joyful.
Depression has to be handled carefully. It has a range of causes and, while we know more about it now than we did when I was a teenager, there is still much we do not know.
My journey toward wholeness has been long. But the Lord has been faithful in shining his light in my life in good and consistent ways, and also in using various people along the way:
– I had Young Life leaders who were able to be silly and live above the emphasis on coolness that can so dominate youth culture, and through whom God’s love somehow got root inside me in a new way.
– My high school soccer team, which required a common effort and asked continual hard work of me, helped pull me a bit out of myself.
– The Lord helped me rediscover the beauty of nature and the gift that it is.
– I opened myself up to prayer—especially listening prayer—and to the work of the Holy Spirit.
– I began studying good Christian writers and studying the Bible itself.
– Community with other believers helped me learn to accept challenges and criticism, and embrace humility instead of fear it.
– Probably most deeply of all, various speakers and conferences with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship during my undergraduate years placed a repeated emphasis on Jesus’ sacrifice of himself for me, and the call to surrender myself as a reasonable response and take up his mission.
A few years after my college literature class experience, I discovered the music and the journey to Christian faith of Van Morrison (still my favorite musical artist). I was amazed to find he actually has a song about discovering faith that includes something about being lifted up by study and prayer above what had been “since Lord Byron loved despair.” By that point the Lord had lifted me up to a place such that I could laugh and sing along.
I can now find a special delight in passages such as Paul’s call to us to rejoice, to give thanks, to pray without ceasing. I now delight to be alive. I now realize life is a profound gift; now I would never trade it.