I confront the realities of anxiety and depression every day, both personally and pastorally.
That is not to say I have some clinical diagnosis of these conditions myself. Nor am I an expert or even in any way well versed in the field of mental health or caring for those with clinically diagnosed conditions. It's just a confession of my growing awareness of my own inner world and the deep, dark struggles that so many people face each day because of the thoughts and feelings that overwhelm them.
I have a bent toward melancholy. I always have. Sadness is far more accessible than happiness to me. I see the brokenness in everything. My natural interpretive filter is to identify what is lacking. I'm overly competitive and Betsy always laughs about how I don't even enjoy winning, I just hate losing. She's not wrong.
This disposition like repellant to joy. Just as soon as you find something beautiful, fun, satisfying or thrilling, your thoughts start to identify what is missing, still needed, deficient or the doom around the corner. Contentment is very elusive in my soul. That's not unique to me and I don't even necessarily believe it's inordinately strong in me. The more I get to know myself and others, the more I see this thread running through the interiority of humanity, just to varying degrees.
This is why gratitude and joy are difficult to sustain, because we're naturally given to a thoughtless and effortless identification with the discordant realities of our world, the things that don't fit, don't reconcile, don't resolve, and don't relent. For some of us, there is a dibilitating degree to which these things swirl in our hearts and minds. They rule our lives in a deeply discouraging way.
If you relate to this in any way, I am deeply sympathetic. For some, you are thinking of how I'm barely scratching the surface and how I can't even imagine how disoriented your inner life is or how powerfully it governs your day to day existence. I won't argue you. I'm probably not and can't.
But I am walking with so many people who express degrees of struggle and enslavement to anxiety and depression and my heart is burdened for them. Pastorally, I am positioned to encourage, comfort, counsel, support and walk with many through these things helping to bear their burdens. Personally, I bear some of this burden myself as well, and others are positioned to help carry that with me, for which I'm grateful.
All this is to say that mental health is a real category and a real concern for me. So, I was reading a personal anecdote from John Piper's life today, in which he quoted a former literature professor of his, Clyde Kilby. The quote caught my attention and I had to trace it to it's origins. I discovered that in 1976, Kilby gave a lecture appealing to his hearers "to stop seeking mental health in the mirror of self-analysis, but instead to drink in the remedies of God in nature."
What followed was pure gold. Kilby offered 10 Resolutions for cultivating and sustaining mental health. (The quote from Piper was #6). They ministered to my own soul and gave me some sense of how I might minimize my own struggles with anxiety and depression today and tomorrow, not by shrinking my world and turning inward, but by enlarging the world and turning upward. While the current of my own heart and mind pulls me toward mental dysfunction and emotional affliction, these resolutions offer a means of paddling up stream. If your own soul is powerfully pulled into a sea of depression and anxiety, I share these with you in order to help you swim against that tide.
At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.
Instead of the accustomed idea of a mindless and endless evolutionary change to which we can neither add nor subtract, I shall suppose the universe guided by an Intelligence which, as Aristotle said of Greek drama, requires a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think this will save me from the cynicism expressed by Bertrand Russell before his death when he said: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.”
I shall not fall into the falsehood that this day, or any day, is merely another ambiguous and plodding twenty-four hours, but rather a unique event, filled, if I so wish, with worthy potentialities. I shall not be fool enough to suppose that trouble and pain are wholly evil parentheses in my existence, but just as likely ladders to be climbed toward moral and spiritual manhood.
I shall not turn my life into a thin, straight line which prefers abstractions to reality. I shall know what I am doing when I abstract, which of course I shall often have to do.
I shall not demean my own uniqueness by envy of others. I shall stop boring into myself to discover what psychological or social categories I might belong to. Mostly I shall simply forget about myself and do my work.
I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
I shall sometimes look back at the freshness of vision I had in childhood and try, at least for a little while, to be, in the words of Lewis Carroll, the “child of the pure unclouded brow, and dreaming eyes of wonder.”
I shall follow Darwin’s advice and turn frequently to imaginative things such as good literature and good music, preferably, as Lewis suggests, an old book and timeless music.
I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, as Charles Williams suggested, “fulfill the moment as the moment.” I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.
Even if I turn out to be wrong, I shall bet my life on the assumption that this world is not idiotic, neither run by an absentee landlord, but that today, this very day, some stroke is being added to the cosmic canvas that in due course I shall understand with joy as a stroke made by the architect who calls himself Alpha and Omega.
These are really specific application of Paul's Spirit-wrought strategy for fighting internal oppression in 2 Corinthians 10:5, where he tells us to "take every thought captive, and make it obedient to Christ." We will not stumble into joy and contentment. We will not inadvertantly happen upon peace and rest. We must nurture these things, knowing that our natural habit is to nurture their opposite.
Brothers and sisters, may you mount an offensive against the torrent of anxious thoughts and tidal waves of depressed emotions that come at you with such relentlessness. And may God grant you the strength and fortitude to arrest every errant thought that comes through your mind, and every wayward emotion that chokes your heart, to be refiltered through the truth of the gospel, God's steadfast love and mercy toward us in Christ, and the eternal riches that are ours through our union with Him - not the least of which is the internal rest your soul longs for and is made to enjoy.