I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
I’m a big fan of seasons, and I’m wholeheartedly supportive of marking them in ways that bring remembrance, depth, and growth. I’m also continually torn between enjoying our world’s cultural markers and the signposts that guide us through the Story of God. And so Advent arrives, and the J.Crew Holiday Gift Guide also arrives in my mailbox. Yes, I confess, I love both of them. I am also one of those people that listen to Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day – from Mariah Carey to Mannheim Steamroller. And I simultaneously anticipate the richness that the Advent wreath’s symbolism will bring to my family’s experience of Advent.
Seasons. They help us mark rhythms – in our culture, and in the Kingdom in which we dwell, already, but not yet.
But the thing is, I have seasonal depression. And by this, I don’t mean that I just get a little down when the weather turns cold and gray (though this is also a legitimate struggle for many). One of the most difficult periods of my life with depression was actually a bright summer just after college graduation. This depression feels like turning inward, but not in a grace-filled introspective sort-of way. It is not peaceful or patient. It is anxious, fearful, irrational, and erratic. And it is lethargic and apathetic. It is confining to the point of panic. And that is why many people struggle with depression and anxiety in tandem. To boot, the apathy makes it difficult to pull yourself out.
Depression & Blame
By God’s grace, I have learned to identify depression when it creeps in, and in many ways, this helps nullify its power in my life, but this does not necessarily eliminate its presence. It comes back around again, routinely, like the seasons. This predicitability has, in some ways, become a comfort to me because I can realize: this isn’t me, it’s the depression. This irrational fear for losing my husband or child, this negative thought pattern about my job, this anxiety tacked on to social situations – these things are not mine. They do not belong to me. And they are not from God. Contrary to some belief systems, in most cases a person’s struggle with depression is not his or her fault. It is not the result of sin. It is not brought about by God. In my case, it appears that my struggle is genetic – a combination of personality characteristics and biological chemical imbalances passed down from the women on my father’s side of the family. I will admit though, it has taken several years to put the puzzle pieces of doctor’s visits and family research together, and to quit blaming myself.
Depression & Advent
This year my depression returned, ironically, with the beginning of Advent. Oftentimes, it is much easier to gravitate toward cultural ways of dealing with this heaviness. It is easier to be hypnotized by saccharine Christmas movies, go shopping, or have one too many glasses of wine. This is easier, but it doesn’t help in the long run. As I was talking with my husband about the struggle one evening last week, he graciously brought up the idea of reading Psalm 27, which ends with the verses scripted at the beginning of this post, as I journey through Advent.
The words of these final verses ring in my ears and resonate in my heart. I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. In the land of the living. The already of Christ’s “already but not yet” promise to us is already among us. He has come once as a baby, and he began the work of the redemption of our world. I can be confident of seeing God’s goodness in this life – today. In my son’s goofy impersonations of the lead singer of Wilco, in the snow that coats our front yard with a billion delicate sparkles, in the kindness of my friends, or in a good laugh.
The second part of the verse says: Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. And so we are given the confidence to grasp his goodness now…as we simultaneously wait for him to come again. And isn’t this what Advent is about?
Depression & the Kingdom
Much of my struggle of depression leaves me with one particular idea swirling in my head: that I should be resolved to just get through life so that later Jesus can fix everything. Later. One day. But certainly not today. Today is too dark, too difficult, and why bother? So I simply focus on the coming Kingdom at the expense of looking for God’s grace now.
The Psalmist David did not yet know about Christ’s coming redemption. Although there is a sense of prophecy in his words, he did not yet grasp the fullness of a savior. But David was confident of the goodness of the Lord in his lifetime and in his concrete circumstances. David’s faith in the “already” offers hope to me in my struggle with depression. When it is just too difficult or distant to imagine the return of Christ and the hope of the Kingdom, I can trust that the Kingdom is already working its way into my everyday life now, and I can look for these little beacons. The confidence of God’s goodness in the land of the living gives me the strength of heart to wait for Him. In many ways my struggle with depression helps me to embrace the paradox of Advent. Embracing grace gives me the strength to anticipate grace. To anticipate a life free from depression, to anticipate consistency, beauty, and goodness in their fullness in every season.
The writer of this post has chosen to remain anonymous, but is a member of the BeADisciple community. If you would like to contact the author or have questions about depression, please send an email to Lisa Buffum at firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will put you in contact with the author. The author will also interact with questions in the comments section below.