It is said that in terms of its economic impact, depression, in its many forms, is the second most debilitating health condition in America, today. Its societal impact may be even greater, considering the great stress it can put on families. Depression is not an illness that cannot be treated or overcome, however. Medicines, counseling, dietary concerns, and other measures are all helpful tools when combating depression. Yet, is there an aspect of depression that is a blessing?
Consider the observation of H. Mark Abbott, whose sermon, Surviving Depression, appears in the March-April 2006 issue of Preaching magazine. In his sermon he states: Much of America “is preoccupied with therapy, with offering cures for whatever ails, including depression. But could it be that, instead of searching for cures for everything that ails us we ought to be listening for God’s voice in all the experiences of life, even in depression? Maybe there are some things we learn, some growth possible only through those low, dark times.”
He continues, “A sixteenth century monk we know as John of the Cross originated the phrase ‘the dark night of the soul.’ He described God’s work in us not through joy and light, but through sorrow and darkness. John of the Cross taught that night and darkness may be the friends, not the enemies of faith. He taught that God may lead us into a night in which our senses, that is, our usual ways of feeling and experiencing life, are emptied. Thus, we have no feeling of God’s presence.
“John of the Cross described this ‘dark night’ as a time when those persons lose all the pleasure that they once experienced in their devotional life. And there may follow a deep darkness of purifying and waiting. But that darkness ultimately leads to a dawn in which the vision of God is deepened and enriched.”
In his sermon, Abbott argues that depression may actually be “a signal of something in our lives to which we need to pay attention.” Perhaps an issue related to our health needs our attention: our eating and sleeping habits, our hormones, or other physical concerns. Perhaps some deep-seeded feeling or grief or guilt or inadequacy needs to be addressed. Perhaps it is a serious spiritual concern: a drifting away from God, or God using the time of dryness to reorientate our lives or to give us a new commission and calling in life.
Abbott includes a quote from Elizabeth Sherrill, who has struggled with depression intermittingly in her life: “A crisis, when it shows us our need for help, can be good news.”