Our experience and understanding of God is not “one size fits all.” Several years ago one of my favorite seminary professors suffered the sudden death of his beloved wife of many years. He went to the student body and announced that he had lost all faith. Rather than discredit him for his loss of faith a fellow professor said, “It’s OK; we will have faith for you.”
In time the grieving professor learned from his fellow teachers and students of the gift of their faith drawing him back to God and to the people who loved him.
As the days grow shorter and Juneau returns to its normal population, it is not uncommon for people to make reference to depression and some of the “SAD” realities of darkness. Too often people living with such realities isolate themselves or seek solutions that only deepen the pain. Ideally we seek out people who are resources of compassion and understanding to us. We bring our unique realities both individually and as a community to those times of brokenness.
Depression is one of many forms of mental illness that affects one in four families. It can cloud reality, and disconnect us. It causes disruption in our family life, in our work environment, in our relationships, in our leisure and in our worship life and faith journey.
For many of us, a sign of spirituality is the joy we feel in our life. Faith is interpreted as including internal tranquility and closeness with God. But depression limits ones ability to experience joy. Life becomes gray like so many days in Juneau. There is emotional distancing. Even our relationship with God can seem lacking. For example, we might ask, “What’s wrong with me if I am not experiencing joy in my relationship with God?”
People living with a mental illness may not be particularly easy to be around. Positive feedback cannot be freely given. Distancing ourselves from them may seem to be the easy solution, but it is not the right solution! During those journeys through despair the need is greatest to be able to lean on the faith of others so that one’s own faith may survive.
If joy is our measure of spirituality, or if peace and harmony are seen as requirements for a relationship with God, than we are excluding many people from feeling “in touch with God.” Unfortunately, there are times when faith communities exclude people by not making it safe to be in despair. I was saddened and angry when a distraught young woman came to me in tears. Her pastor had just told her if she only had more faith, she would not be suffering from mentally illness. She was a person of faith who needed words of encouragement and acceptance — not judgment.
We need to enter into the darkness that we and others experience. God is a part of our dark moments. God’s unconditional love is a light in that darkness. When we, or others, are not aware of disconnectedness, we can “carry one another in faith.”
Brokenness is very painful and offers nothing to celebrate at all. Brokenness arouses our sense of being incomplete, guilty, and angry. But if we accompany one another through the messy realities we face, opportunities for profound healing and wisdom take place in our lives.
May we all discover that our journeys together, with all there messiness, can bring us closer to our deepest selves and to God.
Life is filled with many paradoxes. Even in our spiritual lives there is a mixture of joy, light, darkness, grayness, hope, peace, harmony despair, and depression. It is precisely through both our joy and brokenness that we touch God and one another. May we not reject people based upon their difficult realities, but rather be ready and willing to “lean upon” the faith of others.
• Pastor Larry Rorem is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor living in Juneau.