“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:9
“Such is the message of the Cross to each one of us. However far I have to travel through that valley of the shadow of death, I am never alone.”
+Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
Much of my young adult life has been a deep struggle with depression. One wouldn’t be too far amiss to say it is virtually a plague in today’s world; in fact, most people I know suffer from some form of anxiety, depression or other form of mental anguish. Many take medication just to be able to feel like they can function in daily life, if even for only a few hours. I remember reading somewhere that my own generation, “Generation Y”, was known for its pervasive sense of meaningless, depression and the like.
Not long ago, someone asked me why someone would choose to be depressed, what benefits could ever result from deciding to give up in some sense, and I know from experience that there are tremendous benefits. Allowing oneself to give up and give in, to succumb to the demon of despair, melancholy, depression and all the rest is like sinking into a cavern, like hiding away under an immense grey blanket where nothing can touch you or hurt you except yourself.
The problem is, life doesn’t stop happening. The world keeps turning, and time keeps slipping away, and oftentimes, the person suffering from depression can only see themselves sliding into a blackness that seems inescapable. Blessed Fr. Seraphim Rose noted that “young people in our times have ‘burned themselves out’ trying to find reality, and either die young or drag out a dreary existence at a fraction of their potential of mind and soul.”1
Giving up and giving in can mean a multitude of different things – succumbing to depression and despair is just one of them. Succumbing to the cheap hedonisms of our times; feeding into empty rebellions through various mediums of music, art and subculture that are before long co-opted by the culture at large and turned into big-business; feeding an addiction that fills the void that only the eternal can fill. All of these equal giving up.
The Christian life, on any level at all, I feel is a struggle. It is a struggle to deny oneself in any fashion, to not do what thou wilt as the whole of the law, to live for something higher, something eternal, something beyond what we can see or even fully know.
I have found, in my own life, that the wages of living only for oneself, living in the pursuit of pleasure or burning out oneself on the things of this world, are ones of unrest. Just when one thinks they have found peace in something, just when one is comfortable or feels contentment of a kind, the transient nature of all things is revealed. We lose our favourite things, we lose our jobs we thought were secure, our friends and family turn on us, pass away, forget about us; nothing ever seems to last. As one looks closer and closer at the world, it seems to me to be only a transient thing, a signpost that points somewhere else.
Desperately, many of us search for happiness anywhere we can find it – especially those who suffer from despair. We claw and grasp at nearly anything that can give us a fix and alleviate the pain of soul that we feel, and yet how hard it is for us when the thought comes to us that we should turn to God, Who alone can satisfy us? Suddenly, when one is inclined to pray and turn to God for comfort, it is as though the soul and body become deadlocked. Anything and everything comes to mind, offering a multitude of distractions, quick fixes, and easy solutions. If these do not work, despair and frustration set in again, gripping the soul in a kind of frozen grasp, rendering it nearly incapable of doing anything but giving up. How easy it is for the dog to return to its vomit (cf. Prov. 26:11).
The Christian life is one of not giving up, of not giving in. It is one in which we rely on Christ for our strength, and not ourselves. It is one where we are never alone. This is something we must all take heart in and realize to the very depths of our being. We are not alone in our struggle.
1 – God’s Revelation to the Human Heart, 152