Question: What do depression and lust have in common? Quick answer: everything.
But wait, lust is fun, and depression isn’t! Lust is when there’s something you want to think about but shouldn’t, and depression is when there’s something you don’t want to think about but can’t help it. Right?
Sort of. I remember being sixteen1 and wondering, already for the squillionth time, how I could get out of the impossible hole I was in. Everybody else seemed already to know who they were, and to be more or less happy about it. Whereas I was constantly in flux, because any time I’d see somebody who seemed happy, I’d try and figure out a way to remap my life to make it more like theirs.
It’s exhausting, reinventing yourself every day or two, and it’s depressing, because you’re always years behind: I want to be like X, but X has been himself for sixteen years already. And, of course, it never worked.
So I tried an experiment. I’d give myself two weeks without plans, stratagems, maps, or plots. Two weeks in which, to quote Thurber, I would Let My Mind Alone. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, back to strategizing.
What a relief it was! I think I lasted all of three hours.
But it was a pretty good three hours. Looking back on it, I see one reason it didn’t last: trust. I trusted God about as far as I could spit a rat. I was certain that if I lost focus on my own happiness, disaster would strike. I knew he wasn’t going to take care of me, so I’d damn well better, the only way I knew how.
★ ★ ★
Present day, I’m sitting in the chapel and thinking about how I haven’t looked at porn in just over six months, and haven’t done the Other Thing in about four. I remembered what got me here, and that it wasn’t willpower or cleverness or strength. It went like this.
- On a daily basis: meditation on chastity from Clean of Heart
- On a weekly basis: accountability to Father T., and most importantly,
- On an hourly, or minute-ly, or second-ly basis: Ask for my Mother’s help the moment temptation shows up, before I have time to think about whether it’s a good idea.
That’s the gist of it, but the whole thing is here. What amazed me then and now was how quickly and utterly each and every temptation vanished — if I asked for help right at the beginning, instead of waiting for the hurricane to build.
So it occurred to me, Why not try the same thing here? Because lust and depression tell the same lie: Grab it now or you will never have it. Whether it is happiness or sex,2 the principle is the same.
It’s paradoxical but it’s true: some of us hold on depression because we want desperately to be happy, and the only way we [think we] can get there is to force the issue.3 God won’t take care of you, says the enemy, the liar. He only cares about spiritual things; he doesn’t give two sh★ts if you’re miserable, so long as you’re holy — whatever that means. So if you want to be happy, you better see to it yourself.
So, like suckers, we give in to worry time and again, until that mental fissure is worn so deep that we’re trapped in our own habits as surely as any addict.4
So I’m trying a new strategy. I got ahold of a book of 50 meditations designed for the purpose. I don’t care if they’re corny, I don’t care if they’re poorly written — Clean of Heart was both — I’m gonna read them all. And most importantly, every time some worry suggests itself, I won’t give it a fighting chance. Doesn’t matter what it is: You’re too far behind to ever catch up, or You’ll never shake this, or You need to rethink your entire life, right now — the answer will be the same.
The answer: “Mo-ommm! He won’t leave me alone!” And she’ll arrive, just like she promised, just like she did last time.
Will the pain go away all at once, and will it go away forever? So far, no. But, like the AA-ers say, One Day at a Time, one prayer at a time: taking every thought captive for Christ,5 and giving myself a little room to breathe.
1 Prime season for both lust and depression! Whee, good times.
2 Which usually boils down to the desire for love — so, happiness again.
3 I owe this insight to a good friend, whose shoulder I have not only cried on but actually gotten snot on more than once in the last month. Thanks, dude, and sorry about the snot.
4 I mean, any other kind of addict. I do think depression can be a kind of addiction.
5 Thanks for @neillvspage for that one.
It’s spring, and I am rediscovering the pleasures of the coffee shop patio.
A table over, three old Russians scratch lottery tickets. Two tables over, a man enthusiastically discusses his plans for a new kind of porn website (“classy; not like Hustler. That’s just how I was raised…how do you feel about photography?”). A group of Jews goes by, then a group of Quakers, passing in different directions and wearing different kinds of hats. Just behind me, an old man reads Michael Flynn’s1 Eifelheim: I make conversation about it, but the man gets spooked when I ask to read the back cover, and leaves quickly.
As for me, I came here to smoke, drink espresso, read True Grit, and generally do what I can to avoid triggering the old chain of dark thoughts that’s been dogging me all month, till my friends arrive later tonight and I’m safe. But I end up calling an old friend instead, who has also got it bad, worse than me, whatever it is: panic attacks, relentless insomnia, waking up crying, the whole nine yards. I hang up, pray for her, and smile: there’s nothing to be done for either of us at the moment, but it feels good to understand and be understood.
Probably that’s why the old guy was spooked: I have apparently become one of those people who has loud, intensely personal, not to mention profane, phone conversations in front of strangers. Probably there is someone a few tables over, laughing at the guy who drops an f-bomb in one sentence and suggests a particularly good novena in the next. Probably he is planning to blog about it when he gets home.
But it’s a beautiful day. Why I live in New England: winter may be enough to make you curse and spit, but every spring feels like Resurrection. The motorcycles are all out, and despite my bike’s third breakdown in as many weeks, my heart is not troubled — not like earlier, when my ride broke down at the very inspection station and it took me a full two hours to recover from the disappointment. When I complain about it on facebook, my niece comments that how I feel about my motorcycle might be how God feels about us: decrepit old machines, sputtering and complaining and breaking down at the worst times, but inspiring an unaccountable fondness in their Owner.
The rhythms of my life have been changing, and I’m still adjusting. Having roommates again is good, but brings complications. Kung Fu remains a huge blessing, but two weeks ago I pulled a muscle pretty badly, and have had to sit out; that leaves a big hole. And always the writing, a pleasure and a continuous adjustment: will I have an idea, something worth saying, or have I dried up permanently this time? In writing, more than anywhere else in life, I am like the sparrows, totally dependent on Providence, on the muse that descends on her own times, her own terms.
Time to get home and set this down; set up the house for the poker game I’m hosting; set aside my preoccupations as much as I can, take solace in the company of friends, and keep learning to sit still for the long, slow work of Providence.
When the Apostles learned of the Resurrection, they were overjoyed.
They were also confused and scared and had no idea what was going on. Nor did they know about the blessings and the tremendous new works of God that were heading in their direction.
“My Father is working still,” says Jesus; “and I am working.” Easter is the beginning, not the end.
Just in case your Easter is not proceeding according to plan. Let us rejoice and continue to work, and most of all, pray: Come, Holy Spirit.
Happy Easter! One thing I like about Easter: everything. But besides that, there’s the fact that we get what amounts to a week full of Sundays. No good excuse not to rejoice.1
I’m just coming out of a three-week funk, and that’s an awfully long time for me. I tried all my best tricks, but still didn’t feel like it was ever going to stop. That it did stop — thanks, by the way, for all your prayers — had a lot to do with Easter and the Deep Magic from Before the Dawn of Time, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about it one day; but for now it just needs to sit and marinate.2
Meanwhile, I have been reading some pretty good stuff. I made use of some of my store credit at a worthy institution and got a hold of Jacques Philippe’s Searching For and Maintaining Peace. It was just exactly what I needed. This is one of the passages that got underlined and double-starred.
We must put everything, without exception, into the hands of God, not seeking any longer to manage or ‘to save’ ourselves by our own means: not in the material domain, nor the emotional, nor the spiritual. We cannot divide human existence into various sectors: certain sectors where it would be legitimate to surrender ourselves to God with confidence and others where, on the contrary, we feel we must manage exclusively on our own.3
What was particularly helpful for me was the insistence that we need to put our emotional needs in God’s hands, too. I’ve always been pretty good about putting my material needs in his hands, but only because I’ve never been poor, and it’s easy to trust that you’ll keep having what you’ve always had.
What I find difficult is the idea that he’ll take care of me on the inside, too. This book is helping with that.
Okay, that’s all from Lake Wobegon. Keep soldiering on, keep praying, and remember that, thank God, it’s not all up to you. These days I’m wondering if any of it is.
1 And if you can’t rejoice with your feelings, rejoice with your will. Not as much fun but it gets the job done.
2 Till it’s nice and tasty.
3 p. 37.
…DEATH SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY
Details to follow. Just now I am at the bar, post-vigil, celebrating (1) the victory of Jesus over death and all of his friends, and (2) the reception into the Church of a very dear old friend.
Alleluia, I say!
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.1
When I was in college and going through the worst of it, I got tired of praying that the sadness would go away and that things would be easy. I got tired of it because it was a prayer that was never answered. Or maybe it was, since it’s said that every prayer has only three possible answers: Yes, Later, and Something Better. If this prayer was answered at that time, the answer was certainly one of the latter two.
I wondered, then, if there was a prayer that God would always say Yes to, to spare me the suspense of wondering what his response would be. I came up with this one: Lord, let this day be good. I’d say it on the mornings when I woke up and felt the pain settle in, and I’d say it in the evenings when I saw another night of difficulty coming.
The whole trick was not to bother myself about what “good” might mean. All the problems came from bothering: Why me, why this? What’s the use, what’s the point, what’s this for? How did this happen; when will it be over? Questions that tied my stomach into knots. And again, if God answered those questions, I couldn’t hear him — as C. S. Lewis says somewhere2 — over the din of my own grief. Better not to ask till the noise died down.
But “Let this day be good” — this was always answered. Years later I began to have glimpses of how it was answered, but never completely, and never steadily. Others could see it, no doubt, better than I could. I was too close.
It’s an easy prayer to pray. It requires quiet, and it brings quiet. Sometimes it’s the only prayer possible.
It’s the sort of prayer Jesus might have prayed on the Friday which is, after all, called Good.
1 From T. S. Eliot’s East Coker.
2 Either in The Problem of Pain or A Grief Observed.
The Mass is like a huge electromagnet that gets switched on at the beginning of the offertory. Before that point, you should have gone through your pockets for your cell phone, spare change, and any spare paper clips, and maybe your belt if it’s got a metal buckle. Then you throw it all up in the air and it goes flying towards the altar — ZHUMPF, better duck, with all that stuff flying past, or you are going to get clocked in the back of the head with somebody’s adultery or petty rancor — and becomes charged with the magnetism of the mystical body of Christ: all those bits of metal fused into one, one electro-/pneumomagnetic field flowing through all of it.
It’s the Fifth Force, the invisible field of Sanctifying Grace. Kapow!
Except instead of bits of metal you can throw these things into the air:
- Your sins, the ones you remember
- Your sins, the ones you don’t remember
- Your sorrow for the sins you remember
- Your agitation at not being very sorry for the sins you remember
- Your frustration at God’s silence
- Your unease at your frustration at God’s silence
- Your awareness that you are not very good at any of this
- Your confusion as to whether being any good at any of this is the point
- Your being at an utter loss as to what the point is, if not that
- …And, finally, your willful trust, however faint, that God does in fact love you and is in fact taking care of you.
Oh, to have a nice neat offering wrapped up for the altar, fragrant with faith and full of good works and happy feelings! Not these stinking bundles from the foul rag & bone shop of the heart.
But the lovely thing about the offertory and the consecration is that the stinkingest bundles are somehow transformed, mirabile dictu, into the very body of Christ: killed with him, buried with him, burst open like seeds and risen again on Easter morning: every stinking seed yielding its secret sweetness to the open air.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus, and give us the strength to endure till Easter.