A couple months ago on Ash Wednesday, I wrote about the surprising grace of peeing the bed. For a person who was actually quite private for most of my life, writing about peeing the bed was very much outside of my comfort zone. But when God’s grace shows up in my life, I find it hard not to share. One of the things I wrote in that entry was that “the biggest surprise in this year of change and challenge is how God’s grace has come to me in the most odd ways and means.” Now, 40 days later in the midst of Holy Week, I’m here to write about that again.
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“Though my light feels dim, it has not gone out.” When I wrote those words in my Ash Wednesday entry, my light was beginning to feel less dim. I was a few months into (what I didn’t realize then) a bout of seasonal depression. I had experienced a challenging autumn with a death in my family and the decision to quit my job, followed by two months of unemployment and uncertainty and a few other personal events which made life feel quite discouraging. I chalked up my daily tears, fatigue, trouble waking up, lack of energy, spiritual apathy, difficulty concentrating, and disinterest in social engagement to purely the circumstances. And a good bit of it was. When I was home for Christmas and telling my mom about some of what I was experiencing, she asked me if I thought I had seasonal depression. I dismissed her quickly. At the time, I was reading a book about clinical depression and listening to any reliable podcasts on the topic in an effort to better understand and try to support some friends experiencing an onset of symptoms of their own. Since I knew others were experiencing such pain, it felt inconsiderate, insensitive, and wrong to even think that I could be experiencing (albeit mild) some of what they were going through. It couldn’t be.
But by the end of January, my light had gotten so dim that I realized I could not continue in the same vein. I felt like a different person. Life felt overwhelming and underwhelming simultaneously. I finally came around to the idea that maybe it actually could be seasonal depression and that I was allowed to name it, even if what was happening to me was not the same as a major mental illness that others I knew suffered with chronically. Past journal entries from the winter of 2017 showed that patterns of this had shown up before, too. Perhaps it was not impossible that I needed help; I finally admitted that to myself and others…
I started going to counseling in order to work through a lot of the challenges that were already there, but needed more attention. I changed my daily routine and rhythms. I switched my running to only occur in the daylight instead of in the early mornings where they’d be done totally in the dark. I made an effort to sit by windows and walk outside as much as possible. I went to social events even when I didn’t want to, and started getting more honest with my small group and friends. By the beginning of March, the snow cleared out of Kent and the days began to get much longer. Thankfully, this all really seemed to help.
Oddly enough, this is exactly when the news of COVID-19 and cancellations came, too. The seasonal depression that had come in the fall held a firm grip until, surprisingly, a global pandemic hit. Just as everyone else began to feel much worse about life, I strangely started to feel much better. I felt like myself again for probably the first time since late October. I didn’t have trouble waking up anymore. I had energy when I went for a run and walks. My body felt less exhausted. I felt less apathetic and while I still cried (I’m a crier, y’all), the tears felt less like that of total despair than just part of a grieving process, one that I wanted to engage in because I had hope that doing so would bring about healing. Counseling is helping me work through things I’ve needed to work through for years but probably never would have because of my self-reliant and willful spirit. A surprising grace for me, a surprised person named Grace.
I pause here to say that I do not share these updates to further discourage those for whom this is a very hard season of life. My heart goes out to people for whom relief has not come. Everything in me grieves that depression is a chronic thing for people I care about. I pray for those for whom this is not a new thing and for those for whom it is a new thing. As pain becomes a reality for more and more folks, I share my story because I don’t want you to feel alone. I know what it feels like to think that God disappeared, to feel terribly lonely, to desperately want to know what the future holds but simultaneously feel terrified by it, too. In my short season of darkness, my light felt quite dim. But friends, my light did not go out. And because of the faith I have in God, I say to you that I do not believe that yours will either.
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A poem by Malcom Guite comes to mind called “Because We Hunkered Down.” A professor of mine shared it before this pandemic happened, but the phrase “hunkered down” gives this poem an especially rich, new meaning as we all learn what it means to “shelter-in-place.”
These bleak and freezing seasons may mean grace
When they are memory. In time to come
When we speak truth, then they will have their place,
Telling the story of our journey home,
Through dark December and stark January
With all its disappointments, through the murk
And dreariness of frozen February,
When even breathing seemed unwelcome work.
Because through all of these we held together,
Because we shunned the impulse to let go,
Because we hunkered down through our dark weather,
And trusted to the soil beneath the snow,
Slowly, slowly, turning a cold key,
Spring will unlock our hearts and set us free.
Winter may have passed, but in many ways, our lives can feel its darkness any time of year. It is Holy Week—a week when the greatest sort of darkness overcame the Earth, when the Lord did turn his face away from Christ as he hung on the cross. Let us not skip over the severe mercies of this week, the injustice and betrayal, the doubt and denial, the severity of the cross. But as Guite and other poets remind us and as the pattern of Lent points us to, these 40 days give way to a new dawn. It doesn’t mean despair has been extinguished from this Earth quite yet, but it does point us to a day when Easter hope will become a full, embodied, tangible reality. As Guite writes, “Spring will unlock our hearts and set us free.” A surprising grace, a glorious mercy.
I will end with a song that has been a source of great hope for me these last few months. It’s called Springtime by an artist named Chris Renzema. I hope it encourages you as well.
“You’re the resurrection / That we’ve waited for / You buried the night / And came with the morning / You’re the King of Heaven / The praise is Yours / The longer the quiet / The louder the chorus.
We will sing a new song / ‘Cause death is dead and gone with the winter / We will sing a new song / Let hallelujahs flow like a river / We’re coming back to life / Reaching toward the light // Your love is like springtime.
You’re the living water / God we thirst for You / The dry and the barren / Will flower and bloom / You’re the sun that’s shining / You restore my soul / The deeper You call us / Oh the deeper we’ll go / Come tend the soil / Come tend the soil of my soul / And like a garden / And like a garden I will grow.”