men on dockThis quote came from the Henri Nouwen Society’s Daily Devotions.

What We Feel is Not Who We Are

“Our emotional lives move up and down constantly. Sometimes we experience great mood: swings from excitement to depression, from joy to sorrow, from inner harmony to inner chaos. A little event, a word from someone, a disappointment in work, many things can trigger such mood swings. Mostly we have little control over these changes. It seems that they happen to us rather than being created by us.

Thus it is important to know that our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is the life of the Spirit of God within us. As we feel our emotions shift we must connect our spirits with the Spirit of God and remind ourselves that what we feel is not who we are. We are and remain, whatever our moods, God’s beloved children.”

 

Through his books, Nouwen has been one of my spiritual  mentors.  He eloquently named the beauty of being  a “wounded healer” rather than a perfectly fine person, as the one qualified and able to walk alongside the walking wounded.  He reminded me that I am the rebellious prodigal, the haughty eldest child and the gracious and forgiving parent in different seasons of my spiritual journey.  Nouwen taught me about the three-fold disciplines that nurture the “way of the heart” …silence, solitude, and the faithful practice of prayer, and he challenged me to come to G-d with “open hands,” expectant to receive and willing to serve…

Then in the twilight of his life, when he was “supposed to be mature, complete, wise and seasoned in his faith”  Nouwen taught me a great lesson, that struggle continues, and being depressed can be part of that struggle…that there is no shame in this.  There is only a call to be honest about the danger of beleiving the lies that this monster tell… that what i feel in those darkest moments is the truth about who i am.  And Nouwen’s wise words remind me that Truth speaks firmly that I am a precious child of G-d, that I bring delight to G-d, i am engraved on the palm of his hand, and that nothing can separate me from that love… certainly not the black cloud of depression that threatens to engulf  me at times and to obliterate all light and hope…

Nouwen’s words about depression breathe hope into a subject that is often treated as “taboo,”  that has been mistakenly characterized as a condition that exists because of a lack of faith or prayer.  Ridiculous!  Jesus was a man of sorrows, Jesus felt forsaken, misunderstood, and alone, and yet in the midst of these feelings, Jesus did not forget who He was.  That is the whole point.  Depression is a feeling…an awful one, if you have ever looked into its seemingly endless and vacuous black hole…but it does not define who we are.  That is Nouwen’s conclusion, and mine.  In the darkest night, in the blackest moment, there is Truth.  I do not need to deny what I feel, but I do not need to let what I feel define who I am…

…and apart from the advances and miracles of medical science (ie.  brain imaging and highly sophisticated and specialized anti-depressants, therapy)  and a committed community who walks with Clearly, Nouwen knew what it meant to struggle with depression.  I wonder if he wrote these words more for himself than for those of us who would eventually read them and be encouraged by the fact that a great spiritual leader struggled, like we do, like i do, with this monster called depression.  I know that Nouwen went thought a great dark night of the soul,  late in his life, that he felt overwhelmed, inconsequential, and depressed…eventually he wrote about it…and some how i find encouragement in this fact.

 us through the mess of life, this Truth is our only hope, when the darkness threatens to consume the light…

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