Joy and Depression

Even though I felt sadness following Dallas’s death, my experience of joy was a significant and unforgettable moment in my life. Joyfulness was a crucial attribute that Dallas and I talked about long before he became ill.

He encouraged me early on in our relationship about the value of instilling the habit of joyfulness into the way I train my mind to focus on certain kinds of thoughts that would lead to actions and responses motivated out of joy. He also firmly believed that joy comes primarily through finding and inhabiting one’s sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life and work. Dallas helped me to better understand the nature of the connection between my experience of joyful living and how I think of and perceive myself, as well as my faith, or lack of faith and knowledge about God’s overarching mission in the world, God’s character, and God’s call or intentions for my life.

Dallas knew of my struggles with bouts of depression, times when I’ve had difficulty finding and maintaining joy in my life. Thankfully, I have been able to find resources that have helped me to manage these episodes that still come upon me at times. With the help of others in loving community, I’ve learned to recognize them, understand what they are, and even use them to my advantage in some ways. When I am moody or feeling much more like Eeyore than Tigger, I have realized I also experience a tremendous amount of creativity and reflective thinking, and I am now better able to channel those feelings and moods into outlets such as my writing, photography, and music.

I also have noticed some of my most meaningful and transformational conversations with others tend to occur during these periods. There are still some hard aspects to my periods of depression, however, and Dallas helped me in three key ways to better understand, and cope during these down times.

First, he helped me to realize that often the depths of my symptoms were regularly affected by the trajectory or habits in my thinking. Those suffering from the symptoms of depression know how difficult it can be to stop one’s thoughts from always falling toward futility and purposelessness. Dallas regularly asked me the question, “Is that [thought, feeling, or opinion] real and true, or is it just what you are feeling right now so strongly that it seems more real or true than it actually is?” Talking through these questions with him helped me to take my thoughts captive, slow my thinking down, redirect the paths my imagination takes me down, and not let myself be governed solely by my emotions in the moment.

The second discipline Dallas encouraged me to engage was to routinely bring the character of God before my mind through meditating and contemplating the descriptions of God in Psalms 23 and 30. He suggested I read these specific psalms three or four times a day, at each meal and at bedtime.

Third, in light of these psalms, Dallas asked me to write down, in just a few short sentences, the crux of what I believe to write down, in just a few short sentences, the crux of what I believe God has called me to pursue and achieve with my life over the next six months. After reading the psalms and contemplating the difference between what I feel and what is real, he suggested I think about whether or not I believe God is still willing and capable to provide what I need in order to achieve what he has called me to do.

As a result of these simple disciplines, I began to realize that even though the pessimism and dark moods still come, and I still struggle with the slope of my thoughts, the more I engage in these practices, the less easy it is to stay in a pit of despair. I still have bad days, even bad weeks, but not bad years.

Although this simple process has been a useful tool for me, I certainly don’t want to suggest it as a fix-all. There are times, and I have experienced them, when pharmaceutical treatment and professional counseling are required to avoid the avalanche of despair that can overwhelm the mind and soul.

My point here is to argue that, for many of us, simply taking the time to think about, contemplate, discuss, and then begin to accept the reality of God’s goodness, sustenance, and provision for our lives is itself a source of great joy and can reestablish a heart of gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation for the realities of God’s goodness and the intense meaningfulness inherent in our lives.

— Preparing for Heaven: What Dallas Willard Taught Me About Living, Dying, and Eternal Life by Gary Black Jr.

Categories: Articole de interes general

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