By Erin Jean Warde
I take Mondays off as my Sabbath. In many ways, it is perfect. It places rest at the beginning of my week, and it offers a chance to take a deep breath and reflect on a rich Sunday of worship, teaching, and learning. However, it has a shadow side. Because I intentionally don’t set work appointments on this day, I have nothing waiting on me in the morning to encourage me out of bed. I have chronic depression, and sometimes placing an appointment at 9 a.m. is the best way to ensure I will make it out of my house. I tend to need something to draw me out of myself.
Recently, I had one of those Sabbaths, when I struggle to find a way out of bed, out of my head. It was overcast, chilly. I felt clouded, cold. On that day, I struggled to find any appetite, and found that it was well past noon before I ate. I felt a knot in my stomach that was not hunger, and I searched to try to find its source.
If it is hunger, it is a hunger for freedom from depression. Some Mondays, I am smart, and I set purposeful tasks for myself early in the morning like “do laundry” or “go get your groceries,” or even a thrilling appointment with my doctor. Other Mondays, I forget myself, and think that it will go well if I simply have nothing to do.
On my blog, I described depression like this:
Depression is, for me, like a rip current in the tide. A rip current is a natural part of the sea, but if it catches you just right, it can become hazardous. It drags you down, pulls you under. If you fight, you just exhaust yourself, and you are further submerged. The only way to be released and breathe the air again is to let your body go limp, lean in, and let it be. My depression is daily, but if it catches me just right, it drags me down, pulls me under. If I try to ignore it, if I shove it down deep into my bones, I just exhaust myself. I am only more submerged. The only way to be released is to let my mind go limp, to lean in, to let it be, to pray, to write. When I eventually float to the top, I’m still not done. I’m not in familiar territory, and I always have to find my way back to the shoreline.
Depression feels like a demonic parody of God. It knows me so, so very well, as if it could knit me in a womb. It can access my most interior thoughts, even the ones I’ve not acknowledged within myself, much less with any other person. It knows how to replay the day’s events, but through the lens of scarcity and not gratitude. It can pull the files of my past, but instead of bringing me to a reminder of belonging, it will show me a memory of why I should remain submerged.
Depression is a highly skilled liar. It will always tell me I can go back and change the past if I just think harder about it. It will assure me that grace is real, but not for me. If I ever count my blessings, it will bid me to see that I should never have received them. When people reach out, it will tell me I am alone. It will tell me I am unloved, when love is what surrounds me.
We are in the third week of Advent, and I am reminded that the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus promises truth that can overcome all of depression’s lies. Jesus arrives to be the truth made flesh, to dwell among us. Jesus shows us — in his life, in his body — that the truth of love is real.
When I come up from the riptide of depression, in unfamiliar territory, the Church is always the guiding light to get me back home. When submerged, I am often angry with God, but the Church always brings me back to the prie-dieu. I may struggle with God, but it is hard to look out at my congregation and not feel the power of God’s love. Sometimes there will be a certain note in a hymn or organ prelude, and it will be just tender enough to paint a picture of my family in my mind’s eye, reminding me of their love. I will find myself surrounded by friends, or cooking dinner for a friend, or sitting at a friend’s house reading poetry and realize that the incarnate truth of God is within these moments — the moments of love — not the clouded morning of depression.
The in-breaking of the kingdom of God comes to us not with might and power, but in the small, vulnerable body of a child. The in-breaking of the kingdom of God shows up to me rarely in the grand gestures of life, but instead in the tender moments when God slows me down long enough to see the truth of God’s love, which silences — even just for a second — the lies of depression.
Monday, when I wrote, a gentle rain began outside my home. A sacred washing of this day, a cleansing from the morning. When lies speak, God cries all the louder the truth we hear from John the Baptist: “The kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 3:2). The kingdom of heaven has come near to me in the sacred washing of the morning, like the day of my baptism.
I feel God in the balm of chrism on my forehead. The kingdom of heaven holds me close within the embrace of friends, and as I pass the peace. God does not show up to me with might and power, but with the nourishing words, “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life.”
If there is a single prayer that I empathize with most clearly, it is I believe, help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24) I am the Christian who believes, and who also needs help with her unbelief. I am the lover of truth, who is quick to listen to lies. Jesus is born as the truth of love made flesh, to dwell among us.
Truth that could dwell even within me.
The Rev. Erin Jean Warde is associate rector for Christian formation at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas. Erin is a native Alabamian who loves Texas. Her MDiv is from Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, and her undergraduate degree in English and creative writing was earned at Troy University in Alabama. She enjoys writing, reading, learning how to cook, and all things comedic.