Tag Archives: depression

Making Sense of Suffering

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

Why do we suffer?

I’ve wrestled with this question and with God for a long, long time. It’s still a struggle sometimes, more often than I’d like to admit.

If God is so good, and if God loves me like He says He does, then WHY do I have to fight a chronic illness? Why do I have to watch my family members suffer? Why did my grandfather have to die a slow death from cancer? Why did my grandmother have to suffer so much with loneliness and illness? Why did her death have to be slow and painful, too?

I’ve never understood suffering. The first time I came face to face with people telling me that suffering is redemptive is when my husband (who was at that time my boyfriend) lost his mother unexpectedly. I read things about suffering. Catholic things. Things written by literal saints.  They told me that suffering — the pain of losing someone, the pain of seeing someone else hurt, and your own hurt be it physical or emotional — can bring you closer to God. It’s redemptive and salvific.

But suffering didn’t do that for me — it didn’t bring me closer to God. Instead, it made me quite frustrated, and even mad at Him.

This was not just a battle I faced every so often, when a big life event like someone becoming sick, hurt, or dying occurred. No, this was something I faced every month for the past several years as I battled the effects of endometriosis and severe PMS (medically diagnosed as PMDD, which goes WAY beyond typical premenstrual mood swings) plaguing me every four weeks and many, many days in between.

Relentless pain, emotional turmoil, and at times, the feeling of being incredibly depressed for days that interrupted almost every facet of my life and relationships. It made me constantly say WHY, God, WHY do I have to deal with this, when you could so easily will it away? Is this fun to you? Am I just not faithful enough, tough enough, strong enough to deal with this, because this sucks so much?

My dislike — no, loathing — of suffering went on until a few months ago when after it looked like just about every feasible medical option for treating the ridiculous effects of this awful illness had been tried and found wanting. That’s when, by God’s grace, I finally relented in my anger and took this struggle to the foot of the Cross. I prayed that if this was a struggle I had to deal with, that God would give me the grace to carry it better. That He would help me understand this Cross and have peace with why I had to carry it. Just as with St. Paul wrote, that God won’t take away the thorn in our side, but He’ll give us the grace to deal with it: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My answer, my help in understanding this suffering and all others came in the form of a talk by none other than Fulton Sheen.

I watched a clip of him giving a talk, in his lofty, articulate, awesome voice about a time he had a toothache as a child. To paraphrase, he was a young boy and he HATED going to the dentist. But he developed a severe toothache — an abscess, even. He hid it from his father as long as he possibly could to put off going to the dentist, which he HATED and wanted to avoid at all costs. But his father eventually found out. And took him to the dentist.

Now, mind you, this was the dentist’s office in like the early 1900s. So you can imagine the kind of suffering that went on in there when you came in with an abscessed tooth. Fulton Sheen talked about how, as the dentist began to work on fixing his tooth, Sheen became so upset at his father, wondering why he wasn’t helping him, protecting him, sheltering him from this immense suffering of the dentist treating his tooth.

At the time, as a child, it didn’t make sense to him. But his father knew that ultimately, even if he protected his son from this momentary suffering of going to the dentist, which he really hated and didn’t want to do, it would be very bad, would result in even more suffering, and at that point in time could eventually have caused serious illness or death if left untreated.

Fulton Sheen’s father allowed him temporary suffering for his ultimate good.

And it sort of clicked after I listened to this story. God doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer no more than Fulton Sheen’s father enjoyed watching his little boy writhe in pain in the dentist’s chair. For Fulton Sheen, his father allowed suffering because it was for the good of his ultimate health. For us, God allows suffering because it’s for the good of our souls.

When I heard suffering presented in this way, I was able to finally pray, Lord I don’t like this suffering. In fact, I HATE IT. But if this is for the betterment of my soul, I trust in you, I trust that you, the loving Father that you are, know what is best for me, and that you’ll give me the grace to bear it.

It became so much easier to carry that cross.

Peter Kreeft wrote, in Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, that “Nothing more powerfully helps us to bear pain than the realization that God wills it.” And I can say that in my own life I have experienced that this is true.

Not more fun — as the struggle was and still is definitely there. And I. don’t. like. it. But seeing it as something God allows for my ultimate good — something that can help me grow in faith for the sake of my eternal salvation — helped make me less bitter and more at peace.

I was challenged again by this as I watched my grandmother suffer in her last few weeks of life. And in watching my family members suffer, too, as they experienced her suffering at her side. Those questions crept back: Why, God, why do you allow her to suffer so much? Why can’t you just take the pain away?

But I am not God. So I don’t know why these things happen. But He does know why. And His ways are higher than mine. And just as Christ’s suffering led to the resurrection and the promise of eternal life, God allows our suffering to bear the fruit of our redemption — even though we probably can’t see it now or even until after our own death.

Our sufferings here on Earth make sense if we trust that there is something after this earthly life. If there’s nothing after that, then suffering means nothing. It is just endless pain and sadness and sorrow and heartbreak. But if there is something beyond this, as Jesus promised and as the Church teaches, then our suffering has so much meaning. Because God wills it for sake of our eternal salvation.

Peter Kreeft also wrote, “… God in His wisdom wills that we suffer because He sees that we need it for our own deepest, truest, most lasting good, or the good of someone else.” For our own deepest, truest, and most lasting good. May this truth help us to take suffering to the cross, and say Lord, use this to mold my heart even more into Yours so that I may spend eternity with You.

_____

Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

Sarah Coffey is a convert to Catholicism who enjoys delving into Church history and the Theology of the Body. She is blessed with a wonderful family, husband, and a cat named Stella (as in “Ave Maris Stella”, of course).

Divorce Affected Me, Even Though It Wasn’t Supposed To

Guest post by Anonymous

I was seven when my entire world changed.

The life I knew, the life I thought was coming. Gone.

You may be thinking… gosh, what kind of awful tragedy happened to this girl? Abuse? Tragic accident? Death of a loved one? Abandonment? Terrible medical diagnosis?

None of those.

Divorce.

My parents separated. And divorced. Their marriage ended. A whole new life began.

I just want to make a quick disclaimer – this is my story. This is one perspective of a now-adult child of divorced parents. I am in no way intending to offend, shame, judge or cause a raucous with anyone who is divorced or other adult children of divorce. I am only sharing my story because, more often than not, the children are not allowed to speak. If the parents have moved on and are good, then the children are, too?! Not necessarily. Please keep all of that in mind as you continue to read and/or comment.

I was playing with my friends in the cul-de-sac, and my mom called me over – she was sobbing. She and my dad were standing in the doorway and told be me they were getting divorced.

Let’s remember, I am 7 years old. I have no idea what this means. I’m sure they tried to explain it to me the best they could, but let’s be honest, I just wanted to get back to playing with my friends. Much to their embarrassment, I ran off to my friends yelling, “We’re having a divorce! We’re having a divorce!”

The next thing I knew, my dad was sleeping in the guest room for a while. At 7, time is a bit deceiving, so he could have been there for a week or a few months. For all I knew, that’s what divorce was. Dad sleeping in another room. Eventually, my dad moved out and moved in with his girlfriend. My mom and I moved up the street to a new home. Oh. This is divorce.

A short time after, I took my first trip to Dad’s house. He picked me up, and I left my mom behind. As exciting as it was to finally be with my dad, I remember feeling so sad that my mom couldn’t come with me.

Source

My parents’ divorce was one of the “good” ones, so I was told and witnessed – and believed – my entire life. Compared to the horror stories that I heard from other family members and friends, I suppose it’s true. There was minimal fighting (I can count on one hand the number of times I remember intense blow-ups), straight forward custody arrangements, child support paid on time, memories made with both parents, relationships built, life went on.

My parents worked really hard (thank the Lord) to put me at the center. I lived with my mom, and saw my dad every other weekend and alternate holidays. They communicated about school. Dad showed up to almost all of my swim meets, even on the weekends I wasn’t with him. Mom encouraged me to talk to my dad about the “tough” things that I would have rather ignored. Truly, I am so grateful for all of that. Because, it could have been a lot worse.

Eventually, I went to college, had a beautiful conversion to the Catholic faith, graduated from nursing school, landed a great job at one of the top pediatric facilities in the country, did mission work, lived overseas, bought a home, and so many other wonderful things. From the outside, my parents’ divorce looks as if it had no impact on my life.

Yet, when I was living overseas, doing some long-term mission work, I was stripped away from all that I knew, all that was familiar, all that was keeping me comfortable. I was so overwhelmed with life (thinking that I was just not able to handle the mission work), that I had to leave. I had to figure out what was going on. Eventually, I sought therapy and realized I was depressed and struggled with a bit of anxiety. I had some deep, deep wounds that needed some healing, and that stripping away of all that I knew exposed them in a way that I couldn’t ignore anymore.

It didn’t take long to realize that those wounds had everything to do with my parents’ divorce. It affected me deeply. More than I ever thought was even possible.

And I was furious. I was so proud that I had a good and successful life that wasn’t damaged by divorce! It was “easy” and not messy, little drama. My parents were healed! I had good relationships with both of them! Things were good and fine. I was good and fine.

But, I wasn’t. And, really… it wasn’t. Things weren’t “good” or “fine.”

The divorce affected me, even though it wasn’t supposed to, according to… everyone.

I couldn’t stop it from hurting me. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t good enough. I carried that shame for a long time.

I had no idea until recent years (decades after the divorce) that I was even allowed to not like it. That I was allowed to be upset. That I was allowed to feel pain from it. That I didn’t have to like going back and forth to my dad’s (of course I liked seeing/being with my dad). Or that it was appropriate to feel confused about my parents getting along so well, yet they couldn’t stay married and be together.

Since both of my parents had moved on and were fine, I suppose I realized early on that I had to be “fine” with it, too. Plus, there was nothing I could do about it, anyway. So, I just had to deal, which I did, for 20 years.

At almost 8 years old, I started providing incentives for my mom to not cry for a whole day. This only happened a few times right after the divorce, but it is amazing what will affect kids and what won’t. In a way, it was when I became “responsible” for how my mom reacted and felt. I never wanted to do anything to upset her. I didn’t want to add to her stress. This has affected aspects of our relationship throughout the years.

I never wanted to upset my dad. If he could stop loving mom and leave, then he surely could stop loving me.

I struggle with handling my own emotions, as I didn’t really learn how to handle them correctly since I was so worried about upsetting my mom and dad, and that’s all I was ever concerned about. I was a people pleaser. I was the nurturer, taking care of others. I got detention one time in all of my schooling. I worked hard to get good grades. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t. I never wanted to rock the boat.

Big decisions were agonizing for me and I carried that into adulthood. I was afraid of making the wrong decision, which could then upset or disappoint my parents. My 7 year old self would fear that they would be upset and/or leave. Now as an adult, I desire to be married and have a family, yet putting myself out there is a challenge. The fear of loving someone, being vulnerable and then having them leave is very real.

This is my reality. This is the reality of many, so I have learned very recently.

Source

Divorce is a loss. It’s death of a marriage. Death of family. Death of what life was. Death of what life could have been. And with most deaths, you grieve. You feel the pain. You take time to grieve that loss. But, divorce? No way! These things don’t affect children, right? How many children right now are not being allowed to grieve the separation and death of their parents’ marriage? How many adults are out there who never knew they were allowed to grieve?

There is no life that is without suffering. There is no life that is without pain. My life is no different. Your life is no different. It’s what we do with these sufferings and pain that matters. Will we take time to heal? What can we learn? How can we grow? What beauty do we see?

The very fact that I can even put all of this into words is an amazing thing. It really shows me how much I have healed, how much I have learned, how much grace the Lord has truly provided me.

I haven’t figured it all out. I don’t have perfect relationships with my parents. I am still healing. I am still learning. But, mostly, I am still hoping. I am living a beautiful life. The Lord has wonderful and amazing plans for me, and I am loved and adored by Him. I am confident in His love and His grace to continue transforming my heart.

 

 

 

Anonymous is a single Catholic woman in her 30s, striving daily to seek God and all things orange.

The Great Lie: Relativism and False Freedom Left Me Depressed

The saddest I have ever been was when I was living on the beach in Destin, Fl. I had the beach as my front yard with the Gulf of Mexico beyond that and nothing between my view of the water but the white sand. On top of that, I had money, drugs, alcohol, parties, and total freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. Basically, everything the world said was needed for true happiness and fulfillment. Only, even in my tolerant and self-declared open-minded mindset, what we are told we need for peace and happiness, I was utterly depressed.

I could get out of bed in the morning, so maybe it was not as bad as some have it, but my life, for me, was at the lowest I have ever been. I was seeking the thing I grew up believing would make me happy: pleasure, enjoyment, the rockstar lifestyle I modeled after the icons I watched on MTV and in movies as a young suburban teenager.

My philosophy was the new classic, “People should be able to do what they want, as long as they don’t hurt others”. My slogan: “Do what feels right.” And that I did; even putting my desire for what feels right before others. I was utterly selfish. My comfortability and drive to feed my senses was the compass I used to navigate through each day and, without any inner or outer constraints, I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

However, the compass and false freedom I had did not lead me to the happiness and fulfillment that was promised. The more I chose to serve myself, the more depressed I became. The more depressed I became, the more I served myself. A vicious cycle of actual vices and, unlike what some might declare, I was unable to break it. I was a slave to it. In my false freedom, I was the least free out of many of my classmates at the college I attended, who still lived at home with their parents. It was the opposite of what I perceived when I was younger.

Things picked up a little bit when I found Jesus during a long drive to a new apartment in Fort Walton. I realized that everything I tried in my search of happiness was leaving me more empty, but I never gave Jesus a true chance. (Now that I type this, I think this might not exactly be true, I did have moments of faith in childhood and my early teens, but never a deep, more mature faith in Him).

So I determined to give Jesus a firmer try and felt something that night that was big enough to lead me back through the doors of a Catholic Church and attend Mass on Sunday. I believed in Jesus and things were looking up. However, my understanding was still flawed as I thought that I could continue to do whatever I liked as long as I loved Jesus. My misunderstanding of Jesus and what love is would lead me down a path that was strikingly similar to the one that I thought I left behind.

I still had the same false notion of freedom. I thought that I was free of the rules placed on me by others. I thought that without these rules, I could finally be happy. I thought that I knew Jesus and that He would not set any rules for me other than to be happy.

Looking back, I see the error in the ideology that I followed. If only I knew the teaching of St. John Paul II. If only I were present when he said, “While it is true that we ourselves decide what paths we will take, our decisions will lead us to true joy and fulfilment only if they are in accordance with God’s will” (PASTORAL VISIT IN NEW ZEALAND, 1986). If only I understood that true freedom is the ability to choose the good and that external constraints placed upon us in order to lead us to the good and defend us from evil are necessary to protect us from internal restraints that will enslave us.

I would slowly come to understand this through experience (a.k.a. the hard way) after continuing down the road of selfish pleasure seeking. After a bad Spring Semester, I finally agreed to attend a Catholic College where I still had another bad Spring Semester, after a slightly better Fall semester, but slowly began to understand that God had more in mind for humans than just intellectual acceptance of Him.

I took a Theology class in which I learned that the Catholic Church was not like what many people say it is. Furthermore, through praying the Rosary everyday, attending daily Mass, having deep Philosophical and Theological conversations with others, and reading the words of the Saints, I learned that God wanted me to love Him and show my love for Him through obedience. Moreover, obedience to God was not merely a power grab by Him, but the path for true happiness. Directions on how to live as a human, found in the Bible and sacred Tradition.

It was in following these directions that I finally found what I had always longed for. Jesus. Not just the idea of Him, but a personal relationship, a true friendship full of memories that I can look back on. My days were filled with miracles, my life was being put back together before my eyes.

Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I eventually quit my deadly vicious cycle on April 24, 2007 and I have gone without drinking and drugging ever since. Each day since then has been better than the one before it. I realize the truth now that through placing upon myself the external restrictions, I am able to be loosed of the internal shackles of addiction, bitterness, and misery.

I thought I had everything on the beach, but in reality I had nothing. It was in giving up what I thought was everything, that I truly gained it all. I still go back to Destin and the beach for vacation, but I will never got back to a life without knowing Jesus. Nothing could be worse than a life without Jesus. I know from experience. Praise Him.

St. John Paul II on Depression

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Since this website features the Catholic perspective on young adult concerns, and since depression is a growing mental health concern among young adults, I decided to write about the address of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II to participants in the 18th International Congress promoted by the Pontifical Council For Health Pastoral Care On The Theme Of “Depression”, which was delivered on November 14, 2003.

In his address, St. John Paul II expressed his concern about the growing spread of depression, and stressed that it reveals “human, psychological and spiritual frailties which, at least in part, are induced by society”. He highlights “the effect on people of messages conveyed by the media which exalt consumerism, the immediate satisfaction of desires and the race for ever greater material well-being”. He stresses the need to “propose new ways so that each person may build his or her own personality by cultivating spiritual life, the foundation of a mature existence” and for “policies for youth aimed at offering the young generations motives for hope to protect them from emptiness or from dangerous fillers.”

Any perceptive observer of modern society will find it hard to disagree with these thoughts. At the same time, however, the question arises of whether being spiritual-minded and knowing the meaning of life is enough to prevent depression. St. John Paul II himself recognized that depression has “different complex aspects” and does not dismiss the role of therapy in curing this modern malady.

For me, regardless of what the real cause or causes of the modern depression epidemic are, one of the most important parts of the address is where St. John Paul II exhorted everyone – and not just therapists – to reach out to those suffering from depression. He said:

“The role of those who care for depressed persons and who do not have a specifically therapeutic task consists above all in helping them to rediscover their self-esteem, confidence in their own abilities, interest in the future, the desire to live. It is therefore important to stretch out a hand to the sick, to make them perceive the tenderness of God, to integrate them into a community of faith and life in which they can feel accepted, understood, supported, respected; in a word, in which they can love and be loved. For them as for everyone else, contemplating Christ means letting oneself be “looked at” by him, an experience that opens one to hope and convinces one to choose life”.

Indeed, reaching out to the depressed is a corporal work of mercy (“to visit the sick”) as well as a spiritual one (“to console the sorrowful”) in demand. A depressed person is a brother or sister in Christ, one of the least of Christ’s brethren in whom we serve Christ Himself. Reaching out to the depressed may difficult as they may seem to refuse help and we may be clueless on how to approach them (fortunately, there are articles and other resources such as this one). But in the end, they appreciate that we accompany them in their sufferings, although we may not be able to solve their problems.

St. John Paul II also gave practical advice to help depressed persons in the spiritual life. He said:

“In the spiritual process, reading and meditation on the Psalms, in which the sacred author expresses his joys and anxieties in prayer, can be of great help. The recitation of the Rosary makes it possible to find in Mary a loving Mother who teaches us how to live in Christ.
Participation in the Eucharist is a source of inner peace, because of the effectiveness of the Word and of the Bread of Life, and because of the integration into the ecclesial community that it achieves. Aware of the effort it costs a depressed person to do something which to others appears simple and spontaneous, one must endeavour to help him with patience and sensitivity, remembering the observation of St Theresa of the Child Jesus: “Little ones take little steps”.”

The last point he suggested is very important. Those who’ve experienced the illness tell me that for a depressed person, the littlest spiritual struggles can be overwhelming: waking up early to go to mass, concentrating in prayer, being patient with a well-meaning friend who wants to help but does not know how. The teaching on spiritual childhood has been, for them, a very encouraging reminder that God appreciates the littlest efforts made out of love for Him, and readily forgives us and lifts us up from our falls.

Finally, St. John Paul II has very consoling words for those suffering from depression:

“In his infinite love, God is always close to those who are suffering. Depressive illness can be a way to discover other aspects of oneself and new forms of encounter with God. Christ listens to the cry of those whose boat is rocked by the storm (cf. Mk 4: 35-41). He is present beside them to help them in the crossing and guide them to the harbour of rediscovered peace. “

Someone, Please, Like Me…

depressed“Stockholm syndrome, individuals’ desperate attempts to become like their captors.  On a lesser scale it was why good German citizens followed Hitler, Ryan said.  Or why any person might compromise his or her convictions without realizing he or she was doing so to be accepted.  To be wanted.

The world was suffering from Stockholm syndrome.” (BoneMan’s Daughters, Ted Dekker)

The need to be loved has been at the core of the human heart since the beginning of time.  In Genesis God Himself recognizes man’s need for attention from someone like himself, saying “It is not good for the man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18).  Man has yearned to be acknowledged and accepted by someone like him from his first days on Earth, and God introduced the family to fulfill this need.  God gave man a family on Earth to mirror the Trinitarian family in Heaven for the purpose of giving him a way to be united to those like him, providing man with the love, support, and encouragement he longs for.  And though people are called to a variety of different families, the one which is the most essential to society and to a person’s formation is the bond between father, mother, and child.  When the family unit is strong, those who grow up within it benefit from its virtue and are able to develop without constantly having to search for the love that their family is not providing them.  But when the family decays, gives into the pressures of society, or is not centered on Christ and His love, the children start to look for fulfillment in other, lesser, places.

Modern-day businesses have become experts at appealing to this desire.  They produce clothes with brand names clearly displayed, giving those who wear them a false sense of belonging to something.  They provide ways for one to amass “friends” and “followers” so that each person can feel like they are loved by many.  They design websites that allow one to put all his achievements, talents, actions, and thoughts on public display, to invite the attention that he craves so desperately.  Clubs at school, gangs on the street, sports teams, and group organizations all cater to one’s need to be a part of something, to be assured that there are others like them who accept them, like them, and care for them in some way.

As the divorce rates go up and magazines advertise how to have a happy divorce instead of a blissful marriage, increasing amounts of teenagers and young adults flock to these artificial means of acceptance.  It is hard to spot a high school or college student on the sidewalk who is not doing something digital; whether texting, posting, tweeting, or pinning, they are constantly on their devices.  They must look like they have something to do, people who want to hear from them, and walking down the street alone without visibly proving they have people to communicate with would be the ultimate downfall, because appearing lonely for a second would cause others to think they were outcasts, were not accepted, did not belong.  The youth of today are desperate to be loved, and when their families leave them empty, they look for completeness elsewhere.  This is why teenagers are becoming pregnant earlier and earlier, this is why girls post videos on YouTube asking guys to rate their bodies, this is why everyone is desperate to do something worthy of a Facebook status, this is why teens will spend hours on end texting about absolutely nothing, and this is why modern young adults are statistically more depressed.  They are all crying out for love and attention, and the digital world’s fake approval only leaves them empty.  No matter how skinny they get, how many brand-name clothes they wear, how many parties they attend, or Facebook friends they have, they cannot change themselves enough to be liked by everyone, and soon they become so enslaved to trying to please the culture that they forget who they really are.

The family is a necessary part of society, and when it fails, growth stops.  This nation needs to refocus on the family, start building from the beginning again, and make the foundations strong so that the love each child yearns for can once again be found in security, truth, and beauty, and not in a societal trend.  It is time for adults, for parents, to step up and be the rocks they are supposed to be, and for the young adults of today to rediscover that their hearts will never truly be content until they find their identities in Christ, the One who is always there for them, from whom all truth flows.  Then, and only then, will the culture be purified of suffocating insecurity and set free to reach its full potential and change the world for the better, through love, once more.

The world is suffering from Stockholm syndrome…”

 

Originally published in The Rambler (Vol. 11 No. 5), a publication of Christendom College, under the title “Someone please love me”.

Our Lady of the Smile: A Reflection

Special thanks to my sister-in-Christ, Liesl Grace Dowd, for helping me with this reflection! Her words are towards the end.

Our Lady has many titles, of which only some are official. That doesn’t mean the unofficial titles are invalid—and I found this particular title brought warmth to my heart. It’s so unknown that the first mention of it was strange but beautiful. Our Lady of the Smile is a title given to the Blessed Mother by St. Therese of Lisieux, in loving honor of the miracle that healed her from illness.

O Thou who cam’st to smile on me at dawn of life’s beginning! / Come once again to smile on me. / Mother! the night is nigh.
From St. Therese’s poem, 
Why I Love Thee Mary

Just hearing the title Our Lady of the Smile made me feel safe. It sank in how directly she is involved in our happiness. She intercedes for us to be full of joy! This is a comfort when we struggle to see the positive side of things. Even when life gets hard, with Our Lady there is always hope. We should find comfort in the unending promise of happiness!

She wants to share with us the joy that’s given in our Savior. We’re told in the Bible so many times to rejoice in Him! Even when times are hard, it’s possible to rejoice, and there’s no reason not to. Everything will work out for those who love and serve Him. So the Blessed Mother wants to share the joy she kept in her heart throughout His life. She intercedes for it, and her intercession is strong–take comfort in that joy is always within reach.

The Blessed Mother not only intercedes for the sake of my joy; she IS my joy. Jesus loves His mother dearly and wants us to do the same; to not only love and honor her, but to venerate her. She is so holy and pure, and deserves great recognition. Mother Mary helps me in every situation, and every time that I receive reconciliation, I can feel the Blessed Mother praying for me, as well as my sins being lifted from my soul, and washed away with the precious blood of Christ.

The Blessed Mother, I believe, is the reason why happiness exists, because she prays for all of her children, that they would all be filled with the joy and the love of her Son. Every time I laugh, I thank Mary for her prayers and for interceding, for through her faithfulness in God, we are given the gift of happiness. She is the Queen of heaven, and the Queen of happiness.

I believe we should spread devotion to Our Lady of the Smile. If anyone can intercede to make the world joyful again, it’s Mary. If we’d just turn to her and ask for happiness–or in other words, ask for Jesus–everything else will come to us in pleasant unexpected ways. There’s nothing to be lost at all! Here is a prayer to Our Lady of the Smile, and may St. Therese intercede for your spiritual happiness today.

Prayer and Psychology Plus How We Can Understand Mental Illness and the Spiritual Life

Embark, once again, we do on this worthy yet controversial quest to present some basic principles on how psychology, properly understood and aided by Christian anthropology, can be a boon companion to the day-in/day-out of good ole timey Christian spiritual livin’ especially with regards to the all-important and all-mysterious encounter with God in prayer. In the words of Kanye West, Rosary beads, yeah, that’s my Catholic style.

If you missed the first article where I lay out the genesis and intention of my little series on yo’ brain and yo’ soul, you may find it ­here­ Otherwise, let’s begin.

Basically, the quest to rectify the oft-misguided findings of psychology with an authentically Christian spirituality that recognizes the existence of a soul will first butt-up against a single difficult fact. You see, the discipline of psychology seeks to heal and, where utilized by effective counselors and therapists, succeeds mightily in this regard. They seek to heal the mind and have uncovered some fairly successful tools and methods for doing so. However, psychology lags when it promises to provide “happiness” which, as with all human endeavors, is its constant quest. What psychology can provide is greater self-acceptance, more stability, and the ability to interact and project oneself out into reality in a more confident and truthful manner. For some, this state-of-being may seem like that happiness which is the end goal of all human existence, but peak behind the veil and you see that pesky little soul crying out for more. It is this soul which receives that peace which surpasses all understanding as the gift of Beatitude with God often enjoyed throughout Christian history as a mystical and contemplative union with God. So, psychology lags.

On the other hand, where it is the mind that is being treated with, psychology can and even should take the forefront in the approach to healing our wounded human nature. We are a body, mind, and soul and each aspect of our personhood must be treated with according to the most suitable methods. For the body, we eat healthy and, when ill, go to the doctor. For the soul, we pray and encounter God in the sacraments and, when ill, go to confession. For the mind, we have to think about whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious and, when ill, attend to the helping companionship of a solid therapist. (As an aside, it’s fascinating how much St. Paul just seems to understand the way humans work. He gets the life of prayer like few others. One of you professors out there has to write a solid book on the spirituality of St. Paul. Please?) Just like the Catholic intellectual tradition found with philosophy, where there is truth to be found in the realm of psychology, it reflects the plan of God for your mind and can be utilized to great effect.

Essentially, we have to generously reap the benefits of each discipline in its proper context and not be surprised or frustrated when psychology isn’t bringing us to mystical union or our prayer life isn’t ridding us of our problem with anxiety. This is one of the most common mistakes we Catholics make. In over-spiritualizing our prayer life (I still blame 19th century Lives of the Saints books), we turn God into a sort of force without fully enfleshed personal motives and desires for relationship.  We expect each encounter in prayer to be some sort of exalted spiritual state and anything less seems like it must not have been God because it didn’t blow my mind. This over-spiritualization has also led many to not account for their natural dispositions in the practice of the spiritual life because they consider them as something separate from an experience of prayer. Your circumstances, both physical and psychological, deeply affect the way in which you recognize the working of God in your soul. For instance, if you smash a Burger King value meal before you head to the chapel, your prayer time will surely be less profound. You will be sluggish and have to go to the bathroom 12 times during your holy hour. To our point, if you struggle with anxiety, going to the chapel will not stop you from being anxious. In fact, being unwilling to confront your anxiety will stop you from praying in such a way that it will effectively aid your battle with anxiety.

Now, it must be said that these circumstances affect your perception of the communication of God’s love to your soul. Really, He is always doing that. The cheeseburger or your depression just stops you from recognizing it. Are you baptized? State of grace? He’s constantly pouring love into your soul through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is simply a turning of our attention toward that fact. Paragraph 2563 of the Catechism says of prayer that the “heart” is the source of prayer which is the “place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives.” The cutting-edge of salvation is inside-out friends. That new self is tryna break out, y’all.

I will close this article with one final and incredibly important point. Because you have a mind as well as a soul, there can be an incredible amount of spiritual good happening in your life outside of your perception. Consider the Dark Night of the Senses or the Soul. God has so arrested the soul with the beginnings of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in His contemplative presence that the mind and the body cannot catch up. The individual undergoing this work cannot perceive any of His workings in their soul and believe He has abandoned them. It’s a deeply painful process for the devout person. However, what He’s actually doing is immersing them in passive purgation so as to bring them into deeper union. Up until that point, they have not experienced so much spiritual good.

It is the same way with mental illnesses including, and especially, depression, the common cold of mental illnesses. Depression has a variety of causes and origins but in some cases, the negative belief systems the depressed individual has developed about the world and herself have placed such strain on the brains workings that it ceases being able to properly function and transmit serotonin. So, the individual slides back into the Funk or the Fog. One cancer-survivor once remarked she would rather have her cancer come back than go through another depressive episode. To give you the context of what we’re dealing with here.

Consider the Dark Nights that we dealt with before because I believe they provide us with a great context to understand the possibility and even reality of a profound spiritual life in the midst of such a depressive episode. To the perception (read: mind) of the person receiving an exalted spiritual union with God, they were abandoned. Similarly, the depressed person’s perception will be an extremely negative one, especially of their spiritual state if they be Christian. Recall though that the Dark Night-ed one actually has an incredible amount of good going on at the level of the soul that they just can’t perceive. I would argue that it is the same way with the depressed individual and reveals the utter importance of distinguishing between mind and soul. At the level of body/brain/mind, the depressed individual can see no spiritual good. If there is one theme to the witness of Scripture, however, it is that the Lord loves the downtrodden, hears the cry of the poor, and is close to the broken-hearted. Blessed are those who mourn. At the level of the soul, the Lord is very near to the depressed individual and is pouring His love into his/her heart. The mind, though unable to perceive it, would do well to remember that fact.

Though it is a different experience than the Dark Night, as the originating cause comes from the mind itself (or body in the case of thyroid issues etc.) and not the soul, the inability of the mind to properly understand the state of their soul and God’s interaction with it is the salient point.

Until next time, stay thirsty, my friends.

Author’s Note: In conversation, it’s been made clear to me that it would aid my reflections to be more specific with the word “mind” especially with the predominance of the mind/brain debate. Though I want to focus on it more later as a full-on post, I will provide this article for reading … http://www.academia.edu/2167455/Max_Schelers_tripartite_anthropology …
I’m essentially using the same anthropology he is.

Dark Nights

A Godly Depression: Dark Nights and Interior Gardens

A person’s thoughts during the Dark Night of the Soul

What is the Dark Night of the Soul to me? It’s depression–but a different kind of depression. Why should the above thoughts in the animation be going through my head? There are people who have been in failed relationships, lost parents/siblings, and could relate because of their terrible loss. They have a physical emptiness, something they could hold and touch that was there and now it’s gone. Then there’s me: Never dated, never “liked” anybody, haven’t lost anyone in the past 3 years that could leave such an emptiness in my heart. I lost my Grandpa but I’ve healed from that.

 

I’m not the only Christian struggling with this. It’s not new. It’s called the Dark Night of the Soul. Devout Christians feel this emptiness. It’s an unbearable feeling; It’s proof that we can never have enough of the Lord. If you think you’re praying “enough,” and then feel this emptiness, you’re probably not.

 

The Saints have stories of this empty feeling. What is it? Here’s a passage from the first chapter of Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross:

 

It must be known, then, that the soul, after it has been definitely converted to the service of God, is, as a rule, spiritually nurtured and caressed by God, even as is the tender child by its loving mother, who warms it with the heat of her bosom and nurtures it with sweet milk and soft and pleasant food, and carries it and caresses it in her arms; but, as the child grows bigger, the mother gradually ceases caressing it, and, hiding her tender love, puts bitter aloes upon her sweet breast, sets down the child from her arms and makes it walk upon its feet, so that it may lose the habits of a child and betake itself to more important and substantial occupations.

 

Every great Saint has gone through something like this. I read that Mother Teresa spent most of her life feeling lost and devoid of the presence of Jesus. St. Faustina struggled with it, too. This article describing St. Faustina’s experience also has a good summary of what a Dark Night is:

 

If, however, one truly knew what the dark night is like, he or she wouldn’t wish for it. To sum up in a few words what properly takes a book: the dark night of the soul is the feeling of utter abandonment, an interior suffering that seems as if it will never end.

 

That’s why a lot of people feel so utterly lonely half the time, even when everyone they love is very much alive and around them. This experience is going to benefit you in the end, but it’s not something anyone in their right mind would ask for! Nobody wants to feel like God’s abandoned them, but during a Dark Night, it truly feels like so–even though the Bible says that He’s never gone. (Christ said, “I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:20, RSV.) I can tell you, it happens to me all the time–and He always pulls through and uses the experience to help me. It’s kind of like the potter shaping the clay. I know I’m a better Christian because of all the times I’ve felt so empty, since He fills me up with more than He takes!

 

How do I get through these Dark Nights? I pray, even if it feels like a one-sided conversation. I cry if I have to. I keep going on with my duties. It’s important to read your Bible and have a devotion to the Rosary–Mother Mary will intercede and make this period of darkness end more quickly. The Rosary has always given me a feeling of God’s presence when nothing else works.

 

If you’re going through something like this, here are some Psalms for you to meditate on. Read them slowly. Let the meaning of each one sink in. Memorize the words if possible. (All of the following passages are from the RSV version of the Bible.)

 

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee. Psalm 139:7-12

I say to the LORD, Thou art my God; give ear to the voice of my supplications, O LORD! Psalm 140:6

I cry with my voice to the LORD, with my voice I make supplication to the LORD, I pour out my complaint before him, I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit is faint, thou knowest my way! In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. I look to the right and watch, but there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me, no man cares for me. I cry to thee, O LORD; I say, Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. Give heed to my cry; for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors; for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to thy name! The righteous will surround me; for thou wilt deal bountifully with me. Psalm 142

 

*Try going through as many Psalms as you possibly can: Mark the passages that make your heart feel in the presence of the Lord, at least for a moment, so that you can come back to them next time.

 

Understand that, as much as the Dark Night hurts, you will rejoice after. Remember not to take the presence of the Lord for granted when He ends your test. If you let your mind wander back to worldly things, you’ll be drifting away by your own personal choice. Don’t stop reading the Bible when it’s over; let His voice be ever-present in your heart. Be consistent in prayer and know your priorities. Jesus won’t be put aside for worldly things. He wants, and He deserves your everything. He will either throw stones at your window–or wait for you to notice His absence. I wouldn’t want either of the two. I want Him with me at all times, but for that, I need to treat Him like a friend–a best friend, a confidante–and not put him aside to watch in the corner of my room, while I’m filling my heart with distractions. There should be a special part of me, an area of my heart set aside for Him alone, a part of me that nothing worldly can penetrate–only then will He be able to dwell within me, and I’ll have less Dark Nights.

 

It’s fitting to share another excerpt from the Dark Night:

 

The loving mother is like the grace of God, for, as soon as the soul is regenerated by its new warmth and fervour for the service of God, He treats it in the same way; He makes it to find spiritual milk, sweet and delectable, in all the things of God, without any labour of its own, and also great pleasure in spiritual exercises, for here God is giving to it the breast of His tender love, even as to a tender child.

 

 

Start working on a special place in your heart where only Jesus can enter. We’ll call it a garden. Weed out the distractions; plant the flowers of prayer and thanksgiving. Scripture memorization is important for this. If you plant a Scripture in your heart, it’ll grow and blossom into something beautiful. If you can’t find the gates to your interior garden, ask Mother Mary to show you the way. She knows how badly Jesus wants to be with you! As His mother, she’ll do the favor for both of you. She’ll help arrange for a meeting-place with your Loving Savior, but only after you decide that you have time for Him.

 

Your depression will lift as your garden flourishes. Depending on the person, it could take weeks or years. Keep searching for it; then, don’t forget to water the seeds you’ve planted. It’s hard to start a garden, so don’t let it die.

 

Tip: Ask St. Therese the Little Flower for help with your garden! Here’s a great page of pictures and quotes from her.

 

Ah! If God had not showered His beneficent rays upon His little flower, she could never have accustomed herself to earth, for she was too weak to stand up against the rains and the storms. She needed warmth, a gentle dew, and the springtime breezes.  Never were these lacking.  Jesus had her find them beneath the snow of trial!

You know, dear Mother, how much I love flowers; when making myself a prisoner at the age of fifteen [when Therese entered Carmel of Lisieux], I gave up forever the pleasure of running through the fields decked out in their springtime treasures.  Well, never in my life did I possess so many flowers as after my entrance into Carmel.  It is the custom for fiancés to often give their fiancées bouquets and Jesus didn’t forget it.  He sent me in great abundance sheaves of corn flowers, huge daisies, poppies, etc., all the flowers that delighted me the most.  There was even a little flower called corn-cockle which I had never found since our stay at Lisieux; I wanted very much to see it again, that flower of my childhood which I had picked in the fields of Alencon.  And at Carmel it came to smile at me again and show me that in the smallest things as well as the greatest, God gives the hundredfold in his life to those souls who leave everything for love of Him. 

-St. Therese the Little Flower

 

Not a Carmelite nun? Create a garden anyway in your heart where you can retreat! It is a place for you and Jesus only!

 

The Dark Night of the Soul today has increased with more distractions and less time in one’s daily life for prayer. Society’s pushing Jesus away. Make Him a place in your heart, a garden where the Holy Spirit can dwell. The difference will be radical. God will send you less Dark Nights when you have more time with Him in the first place. Cooperate with the training and don’t be lazy with prayer. If you come to Him, He will come to you.

 

One last passage to meditate on:

 

I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. John 14:18-20, RSV

 

So start building that garden already!

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Mariella-Hunt.png[/author_image] [author_info]Mariella Hunt is determined to become a saint–or at least prove that it’s possible to be one. In 18 years she’s been many places, but the most beautiful place she’s entered was the Catholic Church at age 13. Since then she’s faced many trials, physically and emotionally, but is now prepared to spread the Gospel and tell the world that Jesus is real and so is His love. Her interests vary from classical literature to apologetics to country music. She hopes to someday have a big family and live by Lake Geneva, but for now she can be found blogging as A Catholic Sheep contributing to Universal Faith.[/author_info] [/author]