"To be sure, those who believe in Jesus do not lead lives of perpetual sunshine, as though they could be spared suffering and hardship, but there is always a bright glimmer there, lighting up the path that leads to fullness of life. The eyes of those who believe in Christ see light even amid the darkest night and they already see the dawning of a new day." ~Pope Benedict XVI
(h/t to St. Francis de Sales seminarian Patrick Burns)
For four years I've been in and out of a depressive state and have put up what I thought was a valiant fight against it. I've followed all the standard advice in an attempt to reclaim my joy once and for all-I've taken antidepressants and on more than one occasion have thrown the bottle of pills across the room in disgust at their uselessness and side effects that continue to leave me trembling almost a full year since I've discontinued their use. I've exercised, sought out counseling, read a ton of books on how to be a joyful person, and, of course, prayed.
The depression and anxiety remain which has finally brought me to the belief that I should stop the valiant fight and accept my state of mind as God's will for me. This is who I am and God wants to somehow use my sorrow and stress for His glory in a way that I cannot understand in this lifetime.
At the same time, I know that the best way to draw others to God, or to anything for that matter, is through joy. After all, a sour face isn't very attractive and if the world around me knows that I am a believer but my sad facial expressions and teary eyes are all they see when they look at me, they will question my faith and not be drawn to follow suit. Why would anyone want to be a Catholic if those who claim the faith seem to be so miserable?
I recently received the book Between Heaven and Mirth, by Fr. James Martin, as a gift from the publisher in exchange for my review (which is coming up in October). In reading the book, Fr. Martin mentions again and again how unbecoming it is for Christians to be forever serious and he urges the readers to lighten up.
Of course, while I agree with his reasoning, reading books like his and listening to those who try to be helpful with simple expressions like "Just be happy" and "Smile, nothing could be that bad" only serve to make me feel guilty because I so badly want to be a happy and joyful person, but it just doesn't seem to be in my nature and a permanent joy is forever elusive to me. I used to think that if I couldn't stay true to my lenten sacrifices then it was a sign that I didn't have a sincere love of God. Not being able to reflect the joy of Christ through my sorrow leaves me feeling the same way. I wonder what might be wrong with me that I just can't "get my act together" and be happy. There are days where it is just impossible to shine the light of Christ through a joyful attitude when all I feel is emotional pain.
I often find myself looking for ways to numb all that hurts within me through overwork, overeating, overdrinking, etc. in an effort to put an end to it, to feel nothing. Recently the question was put to me, "If you don't feel the pain, you won't feel the joy and happiness either. Wouldn't you miss that?" And my response to that would be that there is no joy that isn't tinged with sorrow.
The Flip Side
Looking at that rationale, I have to admit that there also is no sorrow that isn't tinged with joy. In all of life, in every event and situation, joy and sorrow go hand in hand, they are intertwined and inseparable. Like my dad used to say "You have to take the bad with the good."
I came across this excellent post by Heather King which explains that theory very clearly:
"...That, to me, is the heart of Christ, and to also call it joy might sound strange. But joy, unlike pleasure, always seems to have suffering--and a cognizance that other people suffer--in the middle of it. You don't diminish or minimize the significance and extent of your suffering. You don't say it's okay to hurt me. You don't voluntarily put yourself in a position to be hurt. But if being hurt is inevitable (and as human beings, we are always being hurt one way or another) you are somehow able to keep a tolerant uncritical awareness of the other--whether the
other is the world, an institution or organization, a family member, or a stranger. You are able to see the other as something other than the enemy. You are able to keep the other's humanity in mind because you know that is the way to safeguard your own humanity. That a child would be capable of such a feat when all it takes for me to forget people's humanity is a red light or two humbles me to the ground.
Maybe the childlike heart, as is so often the case, is the key. Because the child, though he or she suffers, has usually not yet made his or her organizing principle fear. Fear leaches us of joy. Fear makes us humorless and one-dimensional. Fear makes a keloid scar over our heart and makes us forget how much we long for human communion. Fear makes us forget to pay attention to the beauty with which we're surrounded because it's sucked all our attention to itself."
~Heather King, Shirt of Flame (read it all-it's excellent)
So, I will continue to work at lifting the foggy veil that surrounds my life by fighting fear, not sorrow. I will learn to accept both sorrow and joy and when sadness drags me down, I will courageously search for the joy within it and cling to that as a gift from God who loves me and wants me to serve Him in all things. I will learn to smile through my tears. Like St. Paul's thorn, God is not going to take my depression away and I must learn to offer it to him as a sacrifice of love trusting that He will use it for His ultimate glory in a way that only He can understand.
"Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:7-11