Monday, October 17, 2016

Sorrow Finds a "Home" in My Soul

These days and weeks hold some difficult personal memories for me. It has been 11 years now since a close friend of our family took his own life. This was soon followed by my own serious car accident which resulted in a concussion and a relapse into debilitating illness. Although we didn't realize it at the time, I would never fully recover.

As the years have passed, the trauma of the accident has mostly receded. My disability is "managed" in a somewhat stable fashion. But the grief over my friend's death has not decreased. Rather, it seems to have found a "home" inside my soul.

It endures as a sorrow, a weight that I am somehow "willing to bear," and a compassion that drives me to tell the story of my own mental illness and encourage others to get help.

I want people to "keep on living" because they matter. Every person matters. We are all linked together in this mysterious human drama, and every single one of us has a unique role. Every person is unique. Every person is worthy of love.

But this sounds vague in comparison with the aching immediacy of human pain. I can't help remembering my friend and the crippling depression that afflicted him. I'm trying to say to myself, "Take your mind off it. Take your mind off that feeling of lostness, that terrible emptiness that must have been there."

But then another part of me keeps coming back to it because I don't want to leave him alone there. I’ve been in that place. I can’t just turn my back on him, and on the others who are lost.

My soul still cries out to heaven, "Where were you, O God? Where are you, when your children are so desolate?"

But I know--I always know--that God's answer is Jesus Christ. Jesus is with them in that utterly lonely place. Jesus on the cross went to every person, walked every person's road, "bridged the distance" to every person.

Jesus has especially bridged those distances that people have created for themselves, willfully, by sin. And my friend's distance was not generated by his own will; it was a suffering, a terrible illness that I too have known in a large measure, enough to understand how moral responsibility can be greatly diminished by the distortion of inner self-perception and the bewilderment of so much mental pain.

There are deeper distances and greater lonelinesses that Jesus united himself with, traveling the mysterious inner world of every human being, personally, in that "mystical night" that was the cross.

None of us can say to God, "You don't understand what I'm going through!" He has been "with us" through all of it. The "three hours" of Jesus on the cross intersect with every human life. This shakes up our ideas about human experience and space and time (and theologians can try to understand the "how" of all this), but when we realize that God is Infinite Love, it's not so surprising to learn that he wanted to do this, to make it possible, to love all the way to the end.

So what is it in me that desires (even a little) to "be with" other persons in their suffering rather than to be "satisfied" in myself. Is that love?

Or is it just my own depression?

Or is it, somehow, both? God works through everything. God works through our weakness. He works especially through our weakness and our suffering, and the love with which he enables us to embrace it.

O Lord, shape me in this difficult time. Make me who you will me to be. I can’t figure myself out. I offer all this to you.

1 comment:

Jeannie Ewing said...

John, I hear every sentiment of your heart expressed here. My life, too, has been impacted by suicides of loved ones, mental illness peppered throughout my family, and addiction. I have lost several people I love to overdoses or accidents caused by overdoses.

It's so interesting, because I just wrote two articles that were published yesterday - one on Catholic Exchange and one on Integrated Catholic Life - about this very subject.

And you are right about "grief finding a home" in you. Sometimes that happens. It has with me. That's why I wrote about it in my book, From Grief to Grace.