Thursday, February 07, 2008

Despair

One of the tenets of the Catholic faith is that suicide is a mortal sin. It typically comes from a feeling of despair, a loss of hope. It is also preceded by a feeling of isolation and unconnectedness. I personally think it can be the act of a selfish coward. There are exceptions. I would find it very hard to condemn someone who took their own life due to the ceaseless pain of a terminal illness. I still think that would be wrong, but I understand and empathize.

Pride is considered by Dante to be the worst of sins, but I have always found despair the most dangerous. All of the actions I truly regret, the ones I still wince at even today, were brought about by despair.

I think John Bunyan well knew the soul destroying qualities of despair. The most engaging portion of "Pilgrims Progress" is when Christian is in the castle of the Giant Despair. The image of Christian locked in the dungeon has rung true for me since I first read it more than three decades ago. What also hits very powerfully home is that the entire time that he is in the vile cell, he has the key to his release. He is just so distracted by his plight that he forgets about it.

Most of us get locked in the downward spiral of depression and despair from time to time. Some of us it hits worse than others. But unless your life is one of endless sunshine and twittering birds, you have been depressed.

Some people have predispositions to the state. Others grow depressed due to external circumstances. True love leaves, your business fails, a parent dies, or any number of other reasons. Depression's companions are usually failure, exhaustion and isolation. It can be very hard to fight it off. It is always hard when depressed or despairing to think that one will get out of it. I have learned never to try to cheer up a sad friend with "Things will get better". They won't necessarily get better. Oddly enough the single best remedy I know is a Monty Python song. Laughter can truly be the best medicine. Music, especially the blues or country music, can be a genuine Godsend.

But even deeper, as Christians, we must have faith. Life can truly suck. There is a good chance that our lives will, in fact, never get better. Life is often a slow, long, painful trek to the grave. But that is not the end of it for us as Christians. That is the hope that we must cling to. Our life is a gift, not only to ourselves, but also to those we come into contact with. That is why the sense of isolation that accompanies depression is so lethal. We forget our duties and responsibilities to others and grow self centered.

Society is prone to telling us that we can do it all, we can have it all, we do not need anyone. There are any number of books available on the subject at any given time. Reality knocks a good bit of that nonsense out of us relatively early. We need each other. As Christians we are called to model the good life, the life lived well for the rest of fallen humanity. That is why it is vitally important that we not treat the gift of life lightly.

It is not in being jolly and perky that we win souls to Christ. It is in enduring through pain, in remaining hopeful against horrible odds that the love of God shines through. We often fail at that. I know that I do. But our fellowship with other redeemed sinners can literally be the difference between life and death.

Being a Christian does not mean that you will not be cast into the dungeon of Despair. It does mean that you have the key to leaving, assuming that you remember it. Sometimes we need to remind each other of that.

/rambling

5 comments:

Rachael Storm said...

It is true that things might not get better. But THIS is true...

"This too shall pass."

Of course, it may not always pass the way you think it will, but it will pass.

Thank you for the post.

The Divine Miss Rachael Storm

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful and, for me, timely reminder.
Oscewicee

Matthew said...

You are both welcome

Your fellow N. Ga. blogger said...

"God works all things together for good" sounds like a cruel and hollow taunt for the person who sees no escape from his depression, who sees no good at all coming from what are terrible circumstances. But when we realize that God uses US to create that good, and demands that we be his instruments for tranforming the hopeless into hope, we suddenly find ourselves lifted from our self-pity, however justified it may be, and pouring ourselves into that beyond ourselves. As Christians we are not passive onlookers to God's love: we are the mirrors reflecting it to the world around us.

Your posting was profound and true, Matthew. I will return to it whenever I'm a bit blue (and not just for the Monty Python link).

Andrew said...

It's been a loooonnng time since I read Pilgrim's Progress. But somehow the Dungeon of Despair came back vividly.

I sometimes think that I may have been lucky to have been introduced to Dame Misfortune (and married to her once). It taught me to deal with adversity and despair. Those who have had things go pretty well for a long time can be brought to a great deal of despair because they have not had the intimate acquaintance with misfortune. They can shatter under pressure.

Thank you for your post. It was well done.