I have always tended to be moody. (Maybe my name should be “Dwight L.”) Even though depression is something I have struggled with and sought help for, it’s never been with the expectation that my mood would remain constantly at one level– it seems to be human to have times of feeling happy and feeling sad, and strangely they often don’t coincide with the circumstances of life.
C.S. Lewis was very insightful about this human tendency. There’s a section in The Screwtape Letters that puts it very well. (In case you’re not familiar with The Screwtape Letters, each chapter is presented as a letter from a senior demon named Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood. Wormwood has been assigned as the tempter of a human that Screwtape calls only “the patient.”)
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
So you “have great hopes that the patient’s religious phase is dying away”, have you? I always thought the Training College had gone to pieces since they put old Slubgob at the head of it, and now I am sure. Has no one ever told you about the law of Undulation?
Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dulness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.
There’s a lot of cleverness in the way that C.S. Lewis quite literally takes on the role of the devil’s advocate to help the reader listen to what he has to say in a new way. It can be a natural response for a Christian to assume that a time of depression or of feeling far from God must be because of sin. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. The Psalms seem to have as many examples of people crying out to God from the midst of trouble as they do of people giving God praise for their blessings. God has a purpose in allowing us to go through both, and he is with us through both, regardless of how we feel.
I feel that I have been going through one of those low times the last few days. I lost a friend a few weeks ago. A beautiful young woman named Sarah was killed in a car accident. Sometimes I wonder if it’s strange for me to call her my friend; even though our families have been friends for many years, I only saw Sarah at church and only spoke to her every once in a while.
Sarah was an inspiration to me because she used to be so shy and a bit fearful– she very rarely spoke to people. But as she grew, she sought to love and trust Jesus more, and everyone could see his love pouring out through her. She shared her joy and talent in dancing and acting, and she shared her smile with everyone around. Even though she was still very quiet, her life was evidence that you don’t have to say a word to radically change the lives of those around you.
This has been the first time I’ve experienced grief like this. At times it has been like a physical ache. I have felt weighed down by the thought that she is gone. I’m not sad for Sarah’s sake– I believe that she is with her Savior now, and that she has no more tears or sorrow.
On the day we heard about the accident, a few hours before, I was talking with my mother in a restaurant about Jesus’ words at the beginning of John chapter 14. A lot of people are familiar with the King James version of those verses:
“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”
The word “mansions” leads us to picture individual ornate houses that we’ll want to show off and compare with other people in heaven. But that’s off the mark from what the passage is about. A better translation would be “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places,” or “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” The picture is more like a house where lots of people live together as a huge family.
Anyway, my mother remarked that sometimes that didn’t sound all that great, because she’s an introvert like me, and she gets tired of being around people! I had to admit that I agreed, but then we thought of a passage that brings us both a lot of comfort, 1 John 3:1-2:
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
When we see Jesus, we will be like him! Jesus is so patient with all of us; despite how annoying and stressful people can be, he welcomes us to come to him. It gives me hope that there will come a time when all of the barriers of fear and anxiety are gone, and I will be able to connect with others in love as members of my family, with none of the painful consequences of fallen humanness.
And I couldn’t help but think of that conversation when I thought about Sarah. The way that she opened up and shared her joy and love with so many others was just a faint picture of her wonderful reality now that she is with Jesus– and now that she is like Jesus.
I’m not sad for Sarah’s sake.
I’m sad for those of us who are still here– especially for her family and close friends; they are all in my prayers. But what has surprised me a little is my sorrow for myself. Sarah was an inspiration to me and a wonderful person. Just seeing her brightened my day, and talking to her was wonderful, even though a typical conversation between us might have consisted of five words.
I feel sorrow most of all because I realize now I wish I’d gotten to know her better. I was too shy to talk to her most of the time. How could I be afraid to talk to Sarah? Could we have truly become friends? Reality is harsh: That possibility is gone– maybe not forever, but it feels so far away all the same.
I have found that the question I’ve been asking God these last couple of weeks has not been “Why did you take Sarah home?” but “Why am I still here?” I feel aimless, without much of a direction in my life. I know that God does not mean for us just to hope for heaven and waste time until we’re there, but what does he want me to do? Sarah was studying the things that she loved. What am I doing?
This has been something I’ve been praying about for the sake of everyone who is close to Sarah– her family, her friends– yes, we need God’s promise that she is rejoicing in his presence and that we will see her again, but we also need God’s strength to carry on with his will for us here on earth. I didn’t expect myself to be so in need of the same prayer, but I am.