The Christian and Depression            

crosswalk.com

 

I strongly encourage anyone who is discouraged or depressed to read the third chapter of the book of Tobit. In this passage, two people who are righteous, devout and courageous begged for death—not because of any kind of material hardship or physical persecution, but because of the undeserved insults and reproaches of those closest to them[1].

Tobit, this book’s eponymous character, was a person who had walked in the ways of righteousness all his life[2]. As a young man living in the kingdom of Israel, he always went up to worship in Jerusalem as prescribed by the laws of Moses, while all of his kindred chose to worship an idol in the form of a golden calf instead[3]. We also know that he was an orphan[4], which perhaps accounted for a certain sensitivity in his character and personality. After Tobit and his people were taken captive by the Assyrians and deported to Nineveh, he still adhered to the Mosaic laws, refraining from eating Gentile food and performing acts of charity to the needy, because he was mindful of God with all of his heart[5]. Risking his own life and safety, Tobit also frequently gave his fellow Israelites a proper burial, which incurred the ridicule of his neighbours[6]. One night, after sleeping with his face uncovered by a wall where many sparrows perched, he contracted an eye disease (caused by the sparrows’ droppings) which eventually left him completely blind. As Tobit himself recounted: For four years I remained unable to see. All my kindred were sorry for me, and Ahikar took care of me for two years before he went to Elymais[7].

During this time, Tobit’s wife Anna became the breadwinner of the family. This unusual situation, coupled with Tobit’s blindness, must have caused him great distress and discouragement. One day, Tobit and his wife had an altercation due to a goat that was gifted to Anna by her employers. Tobit did not believe that the goat was a gift, and kept insisting that it be returned to its owners. Anna eventually lost her patience and insulted her husband, saying, “Where are your charitable deeds now? Where are your righteous acts? Look! All that has happened to you is well known[8]!”

At this point, Tobit broke down and wept, praying that God would take away his life:

 

Command my spirit to be taken from me,

so that I may be released from the face of the earth and become dust.

For it is better for me to die than to live,

because I have had to listen to undeserved insults,

and great is the sorrow within me.

Command, O Lord, that I be released from this distress;

release me to go to the eternal home[9]

At the same time, in far away Ecbatana, a young woman was praying a similar prayer. This girl, Sarah, was described by the archangel Raphael himself as wise, courageous and very beautiful[10]. However, she had the misfortune of seeing seven of her husbands die on the wedding night[11], before they even had the chance to be together! Scripture ascribed this tragedy to the evil work of a demon, so Sarah was totally innocent of these calamities that befell her and her family. But these tragedies earned her an undeserved notoriety, to such an extent that even the young son of Tobit, Tobias (also called Tobiah), had heard of them[12]. Even Sarah’s own maid, who lived in the same house as her, could not see Sarah’s purity and thought only the worst of her:

 

So the maid said to her, “You are the one who kills your husbands! See, you have already been married to seven husbands and have not borne the name of a single one of them. Why do you beat us? Because your husbands are dead? Go with them! May we never see a son or daughter of yours[13]!”

 

Anguished by these undeserved reproaches and by her misfortunes, Sarah intended to take her own life[14]. However, she thought it over and eventually changed her mind, feeling that it would be better to pray for death rather than die by her own hands. She entrusted her miseries to the Lord, praying:

 

Bid me to depart from the earth,

never again to listen to such reproaches.

You know, Master, that I am clean

of any defilement with a man.[15]

But if it does not please you, Lord, to take my life,

look favorably upon me and have pity on me,

that I may never again listen to such reproaches![16]

 

Now, let us imagine what would happen if Sarah and Tobit were alive today. Most likely, they would be ridiculed for their so-called ‘sensitivity’ and encouraged to ‘toughen up’: “Come on! You’re suicidal because of other people’s insults? Just ignore them and live your life!” They might even be accused of ingratitude: “At least you’re not starving in Africa or homeless; you can eat regular meals and have a roof over your head! Don’t be such a chicken!” And so on. Our modern world of instant gratification has created a culture that is adept at pursuing pleasure and yet inept at understanding one another. It has become more and more difficult to empathize and understand other people’s sorrows, fears, pains, joys, dreams and desires. Our fast-paced technology has made it possible for us to get food, information, entertainment, etc. at just the touch of a button, whereas understanding the mystery of another person’s being takes lots of time and commitment. Most of us just don’t have the time or courage for such depth, and so more and more people today are feeling unloved, worthless, unwanted, and misunderstood even in the midst of seeming affluence.

But our Lord’s love is very different from the shallow ‘love’ offered by the world. Even before the birth of Christ, in the aforementioned story we know that at that very moment, the prayers of both of them were heard in the glorious presence of GodSo Raphael was sent to heal both of them…[17]

Christians who are discouraged or depressed can take comfort in two most certain facts. The first one is that they are known and loved—fully and intimately—by Christ. His Love is not that of a spectator who can only sympathize and send help from afar; no, in His Love He has made us the very members of His Body[18]. Whatever we are going through, He feels is as His own, and every single day He postpones His coming is another day He spends carrying our burdens, suffering and rejoicing with us. That is why the Sacred Heart of Jesus is often portrayed with a crown of thorns, that is also why we have devotions to His passion, the Way of the Cross, and the seven sorrows of Mary. For if the Lord is our Friend and Brother[19], and God himself our Father[20], will not the citizens of His heavenly Kingdom—the angels and the saints—also be concerned with us in every moment of our earthly pilgrimage[21]? Indeed this is so. As our Lord himself has proclaimed:

 

I am the good Shepherd,

I know my sheep and my sheep know Me,

Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father,

And I lay down my life for the sheep.[22]

 

The magnitude and depth of this infinite Love is a source of strength and wonder amongst the saints. Many times in our lives, we may feel worthless, useless, unloved or unwanted. We may even be made to feel that way by those around us. At those times, it is very important to remind ourselves of our identity as children of God, perhaps by reciting the Creed or some other prayer slowly in our hearts. There is no sweeter balm to the soul than the tender love of Christ. He alone is the King who is meek and humble of heart, who continually offers rest for our souls[23], provided we abide in Him[24] and continually fix our eyes on Him[25]! It is also important to live by faith[26], and not by our feelings alone. Let us remember that Eve was deceived by her feelings when she examined that forbidden fruit: She saw that it was a delight to the eyes, and seemed desirable for gaining wisdom (Genesis 3:6). Similarly, the Evil one will try to deceive us—through our feelings, surroundings or the people around us—into believing that we are worthless, useless and unloved. It is vitally important, therefore, to live by faith, with eyes fixed on the love of Christ.

The second truth that every Christian must continually remind himself in the various trials of life is that none of our suffering is in vain. As Saint John Paul II bravely reminded us in his apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris[27] (Salvific Suffering):

 

Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good[28]

In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed. …

In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.[29]

 

Thus, all of our sufferings are precious in His sight. Although they may be the object of others’ scorn, shame or ridicule, they are always priceless in the eyes of our Master and Saviour. If we offer our trials to Him in full trust and confidence, not only shall He lighten our burdens, making them seem easy and light[30], He shall also enable us to rejoice in them[31], and through them gain the salvation of many souls, for the glory of that everlasting Kingdom we call home. All the saints marvel at these two wonders: The love of Christ, and the privilege of sharing in His sufferings[32]. We as followers as Christ can do the same. We only need to fully trust in His goodness and mercy, always approaching the throne of grace with confidence as God’s beloved children[33].

May these divine truths continually illuminate our souls, especially in times of discouragement or despair. Let me finish this article by quoting the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose own life was no stranger to trials and temptations, and whose message of love and confidence in God shines brilliantly through the centuries. Of this Divine Love, she wrote:

 

I know it well – my burning tears and sighs

Are full of charm for Thy benignant eyes.

Strong seraphs form in heaven Thy court divine,

Yet Thou dost seek this poor weak heart of mine.

Ah! take my heart! Jesus, ’tis Thine alone;

All my desires I yield to Thee, my Own![34]

 

 

[1] Tobit 3:6,15

[2] Tobit 1:3

[3] Tobit 1:4-8, cf. 1 Kings 12:28

[4] Tobit 1:8

[5] Tobit 1:10-12, 16-17

[6] Tobit 1:16-22, 2:1-8

[7] Tobit 2:10b

[8] Tobit 2:14

[9] Tobit 3:6

[10] Tobit 6:12

[11] Tobit 3:8

[12] Tobit 6:14

[13] Tobit 3:8-9

[14] Tobit 3:10

[15] Tobit 3:13-14

[16] Tobit 3:15b

[17] Tobit 3:16-17

[18] Ephesians 5:29-30; 1 Corinthians 6:15, 12:27

[19] John 15:13-15, Romans 8:29, Hebrews 2:10-18

[20] Matthew 5:16, 45-48; 6:4-18, 26-33; 7:9-11, etc.

[21] Luke 15:7,10

[22] John 10:14-15

[23] Matthew 11:28-30

[24] John 15:5,9

[25] Hebrews 3:1, 12:2-3

[26] 2 Corinthians 4:18, 5:7; Hebrews 10:38

[27] https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris.html

[28] Salvifici Doloris, IV.18

[29] Salvifici Doloris, V.19

[30] Matthew 11:29-30, 2 Corinthians 4:17

[31] Romans 5:1-5, James 1:2-5, 1 Peter 1:5-9

[32] See, for example, Romans 8:14-21, 28-38; Colossians 1:24.

[33] Hebrews 4:14-16, cf. Ephesians 5:1-2

[34] From the poem Jésus seul (Jesus only) that the saint composed for a novice in 1896. The English version was taken from this website: http://www.poetseers.org/spiritual-and-devotional-poets/christian/teresa-of-lisieux/selected-poetry/jesus/index.html

The original French version can be found at this site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36708/36708-h/36708-h.htm#page_400

SHARE
Previous articleWhither the Angels?
Next articleWhat Happened in Vegas?
Audrey Yu is a Chinese Indonesian teacher and author, currently living and working in Shanghai. She graduated Summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from The College of William and Mary, Virginia, USA at the age of 16. Some of her books have been archived by various institutions worldwide, including The National Library of Congress, Yale University, Harvard University, The National Library of Australia and many others. By the grace of God, she was received into the Catholic church three years ago. Her personal website can be accessed at www.audreyyujiahui.com.