Note: Occasionally, as below, I lift a post from an email to a reader. I never do this without the reader’s explicit permission. Thank you for writing, B., and for being willing to share this.

Dear B.,

I know what you mean about depression. I think we always expect suffering to be different from the way it actually is, whether that suffering is interior (like depression) or exterior (like betrayal, or physical disease, or somebody’s death). When we’re inside it, it’s no longer obvious that it’s a Trial, or a Test, or a Purging, or whatever: it’s just something that hurts, and all of our usual defenses seem to be gone.

There was a point during one of my darkest times — a time when I went through an intense 9-month depression — when I had what I think is a very important realization: that if God is allowing me to pass through something, then I don’t have to understand it in order for his purpose to be accomplished by it.

To be clearer: I used to feel like I always had to be looking for the “meaning” behind my depression, or looking really hard to see what “lesson” God was trying to teach me through it. And I felt like, if I didn’t find that “lesson”, then the depression would be wasted and I wouldn’t learn anything.

But I don’t think that’s how it works. If I was capable of understanding what the lesson was trying to teach me, then I wouldn’t need the lesson at all. And if God allowed me to go through the pain, but didn’t allow me to see what I was supposed to be getting out of it, it’s because he knew that the pain itself would be a kind of teacher for me.

The crucial thing in all of this is to maintain contact with God in whatever ways you can. This means being faithful to daily prayer, weekly Mass, and confession as often as you can (within reason). This way, we keep the lines open, even if we don’t understand why, and even if we no longer feel that we’re “doing it right” or “getting something out of it” or any of that stuff. The important thing is to stay the course. My spiritual director has frequently told me that some of the time, or maybe most of the time, the only thing God asks of us is that we keep showing up — even when our heart isn’t in it.

Peace & prayers,
Joey

7 thoughts on “Teacher

  1. Searcheress

    Nice. But you know, sometimes I am tired of giving meaning, of walking through sorrow, darkness and lonelyness. Of fighting for meaning every day of my life. Of coming to empty flat every night after work. Of seeking peace, of convicting myself that it is ok the way it is. That I don’t need my special person, not for a single day. Not at all, not never.
    Oh, yes, I am in pain and I fight it for almost 20 years. I write here because i think you’ll understand.
    The walls are my choice…but how can I be sure that behind them is something moral or good.
    Thanks for listening.

    Reply
  2. Rosie

    Thank you so much for this. I struggle with this a lot. I think “sure, suffering has a meaning because it can be redemptive, but what if I don’t take advantage of that? Then it’s wasted! And I’ve been set up to fail.” I think I don’t worry so much about understanding it so much as “participating in it” or “doing my part” to make it redemptive, or some kind of vague “responding in the right way.” When as you say, it’s like anything else from God–all you have to do is accept, and He does the rest.

    Reply
  3. Deacon Joe Pasquella

    Dear Steve,

    Thanks for sharing a well thought out and present article. Sometime we try to hard to understand; I used to be that way when I was younger, but I learned that understanding with come someday, either in this world or the next. We live by faith, hope and love; we just have to trust in Jesus.

    God bless you and all your readers through Christ our Lord, Amen +

    Reply
  4. Miriam

    Thank you Joey for being clear a lot of the time on issues that I personally cannot articulate but I feel all the same. I have made a few notes of what you say in this email and I will use them in my life as well. I do not suffer long bouts of depression, but some times I am depressed and I need to remember this right here to help me recover or move along.

    GBU

    Reply
  5. Alishia Hanson

    Consolation and desolation, that’s what I’ve learned to call it. Of course, there is such a thing as clinically depressed, as I know you know. But I’ve been in this three year study called the Disciple of Jesus and Mary and the priest who writes the formation materials, Fr. Pinto, calls these ebbs and flows consolations and desolations. It’s helpful to be able to think of them in these terms. There’s much more to it than I can write in a comment. Cheers, amigo.

    Reply

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