I have found myself thinking about depression and what it means to live ever since. Many people do suffer depression in this country. And there is a stigma about it. People are generally uneasy admitting that they are affected by depression for fear of being seen as weak, or mentally "broken" somehow. It almost feels like people with depression are somehow held responsible for that condition whereas people with physical maladies no longer are. (Remember that in Biblical times, many diseases were considered to be just punishment either for something you did or something an ancestor did. Thanks be to God we no longer believe that!) This stigma and fear of being judged can keep people from getting the help they need when they are affected by depression. And in some cases, medicines don't help, are unable to effectively help. It is hard, really hard, to fully live when every day is a struggle and life feels pointless, meaningless, and devoid of joy.
But I also think about the rest of us. Because you don't have to kill yourself to fail to really live. Or to put it another way, many people who are alive in body are not really alive in spirit. Paul Pearsall, in his book, The Beethoven Factor, says that languishing is actually a worse problem in the United States even than depression, and that up to 75% of Americans may experience this languishing or failure to thrive. He describes languishing as a day to day walking through the motions, again without real joy or a sense of meaning or direction. It is a "shell" living rather than a real engagement in life. It doesn't mean we aren't busy. We are - horribly so. But how many of us go through life checking off days as if they were simply something else on our to do lists? "Get through today" - check. And then one day we wake up and we are 45 or 65 or 85 and we wonder where the time has gone, what we have done with our lives, and whether or not it was worth it.
We are called to live. REALLY live. To engage life with all of it's ups and downs, it's joys and its challenges, both of which are blessings and gifts. Thornton Wilder has his character Emily in the play, Our Town, put it this way, "Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. .... Just for a moment now we're all together. Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's really look at one another!....It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. ... Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every,every minute?"
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Some do. Probably not every minute, but some live life pretty fully. That is one of the things our faith can give us if we let it. God calls us into a life that is willing to sacrifice itself out of love for others. That fragility of life, that realization that love is deeper than life, can move us into real living. Looking for God in everything around us can help us to realize life. Being aware of the many, many ways in which we are blessed - again, by both the wonderfully good, and by the challenges - this can lead us into life. When we are suffering from languishing, even being aware of each breath - Ruach, Spirit, Wind, Breath (all the same word in Hebrew) - can help us be present and fully alive in this moment, in each moment. Taking a walk and looking at the trees, flowers, squirrels can help us to live life more fully. Taking time to say "I love you" not just flippantly but with real meaning can help us live life. Even crying, real true grief, can be experienced as real living.
I am glad that conversations around depression and languishing are becoming more acceptable. I believe that talking about these things is one of the important steps in trying to heal, grow, move through pain, depression and languishing into life. Opening our hearts to God's presence in and around us is also an important step. Looking for life, and committing to live - not just for ourselves but for our loved ones and to honor the God who gives us this life - these are necessary ways of answering God's call to be God's people in this place.
Thanks be to God for the life we are given, this day and every day.