- I am not a counselor. I am a chemist. But I have also been to graduate school and lost a child, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and a dear brother-in-law. So my perspective includes the hell of intense pressure and the pain of intense loss.
- A discussion on depression is best held in dialog, but this is a blog. Comment streams and late night blog binging is no substitute for face-to-face conversation, comfort, and warm hugs. Consider this blog post a remote hug, but find a real hug from a real person, soon and often.
- This is not a ToDo List. In my opinion, giving a ToDo List to a person suffering from depression is futile. I do offer some things to explore, though.
- Lastly, my views on this topic offer a Christian perspective. I know of no other perspective that gives the hope that the Christian perspective offers. Please don’t run off if you are skeptical of the Christian truth claims. See if you think there is any wisdom in my perspective. Eat the meat and spit out the bones.
Depression is not just “feeling sad”.
I remember in 10th grade health class, the teacher was discussing barbiturates, alcohol, and other drugs classified as depressants. I thought depressed meant sad, so I couldn’t imagine why you would take a drug that makes you sad?!?!
Obviously, I was wrong. The depressant part meant specifically that it depressed the central nervous system. Some are general like alcohol, and others are quite specific like some anti-anxiety drugs.
This is as far as I can go as a physical chemist. Pharmacology simply has too many variables for me to conceive or to model.
I’m reluctant to list the symptoms of depression because you may be like me. Seeing the list causes me to feel many of the symptoms. But if you must, here they are.
Instead of a list, here is a humorous story that illustrates the point. One of my students, several years ago, came to my office hours after missing class.
He said, “Dr. Williams, I have a problem.”
“What is it?”, I asked.
“My givashit is broke.”, he said.
“Oh my! You have to get that fixed, immediately!”, I said as we both laughed.
We laugh, but we know that a broken givashit is not a laughing matter. It is sometimes a sign of depression or a panic coping mechanism. You simply cannot make a decision. And sometimes you don’t even care. You know this is a path that leads to destruction but you don’t give a ___ because your givashit is broken.
My Theoretical Musings
(My counseling colleagues are invited to correct or add to my musings in the comments section. Please contribute for the good of all!)
I have noticed that mental looping or stuck thoughts can break your ability to make a decision or to care about anything else. When I get stuck in an obsessive mental loop, I need something or someone to interrupt.
As a bona fide computer geek, I see the analogy of the operating system using interrupts to pause or to stop processes that are requesting CPU time. My Christian world view does not reduce the human brain to a CPU, but these analogies are still useful in my opinion.
You can’t get “into the machine” to stop a mental loop if you don’t have a reliable interrupt.
(Spoiler Alert: Music is a reliable interrupt system giving access to the parts of the mind that are “below” the looping executive and anxiety functions. Hence, music therapy. )
How Do I…
- Fix a broken givashit?
- Stop obsessing about my obsessing about what I am obsessing about?
- Break out of my negative mental loops?
- Find a path out of this dull darkness of my soul?
This is a call to explore, not a self-help ToDo List.
A Passive, Intrusive, and Spiritual Path
The trail I’m hoping you will explore is passive, intrusive, and spiritual. You are able to “let it run”, passively receiving rather than actively giving. My suggestion is intrusive to interrupt the mental looping. It is spiritual because this is not a mechanical problem.
My suggestion is based upon my personal experience.
Daily Liturgical Worship
Daily liturgical worship is passive, intrusive, and spiritual.
Daily liturgical worship can be passive as the example below will illustrate. It can move to become more active over time, which is an amazing transformation. But start passively, one step at a time.
Daily liturgical worship is filled with simple melodies and singable tunes that echo in the mind all day allowing beneficial mental loops to interrupt negative and unwanted mental loops.
Daily liturgical worship is spiritual providing spoken and sung scripture with spoken and sung prayers that eventually become a part of your mental furniture.
Modern Christian practice (not just modern worship, but modern unscripted prayer, and modern “what does it mean to me” Bible study) has left us with no structure or form. It feels like there are no comforting chairs to sit in, no desks to study in, and perhaps no boundaries or walls to our spiritual imaginations. This is not freedom. This is lostness. These structures and pieces of furniture take time to build, but WE don’t have to build them. Jesus is the carpenter, and He uses his Word to build these holy places in our soul.
What IS Daily Liturgical Worship?
The early Christians continued the Jewish practice of reciting prayers and Scripture during certain hours of the day, which means this practice goes back over 2000 years.
How can this be a passive practice? Well… with Amazon Prime, you can download the CPH Album Evening and Morning: The Music of Lutheran Daily Prayer.
I have listened to Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline on my phone nearly every day since June 2018. I have interspersed Matins, Vespers, and the Litany on special occasions or when I felt like it.
Are you worried by the word Lutheran? Don’t be. These readings, Scripture, and tunes go back to pre-Lutheran, pre-Eastern Orthodox, and even pre-Roman times. The Lutheran part of this is the compilation of these ancient services into the Lutheran Service Book published by CPH.
You can listen to these services passively when commuting, when anxiety strikes, when you want to pray but don’t know how or what to pray, when waking, when lying in bed before sleep, when you are praying for sleep to come, and when you are seeking the will to get out of bed.
Not now, but down the road as your motivation returns, this worship can transform over time from passive to active practice. Get a copy of the LSB from CPH and follow along when motivation strikes. But don’t force it at first. Just listen to the love and encouragement that Morning, Evening, and Compline Worship brings.
An unexpected benefit to your personal private consumption of this eternal beauty will be when you run across a congregation that is using elements of these worship services. Your soul will soar as you hear and participate with others in these ancient readings and songs. I’m sure you will be amazed when you find patches of this fabric of worship in Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and even Eastern Orthodox services. It always catches me by surprise when I visit a friend’s church and find some ancient tune, song, chant, prayer, or reading that is common among our different traditions.
The interrupts are effective. The simple melodies of these selections of daily liturgical worship are from a bygone era. Some are quite ancient. All of them are capable of comforting you throughout the busy day. I find my mind humming them often during mental downtimes at work. Their haunting tunes are comforting to me. Their ancient origin connects me to the past and the text gives me hope for the future.
This is most important:
Daily Liturgical Worship is Spiritual.
Jesus, the carpenter of our souls tells us,
“God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
And Jesus prays to the Father on our behalf, asking Him to
“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
These rituals of daily worship are almost 100% Scripture – using truth to worship Truth. They contain the spirit-filled proclamations of Mary (Luke 1:46-55), Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), and Simeon (Luke 2:29-32) and many ancient prayers of the church.
The Whole Point
The whole point of this blog post is captured at the end of the Song of Zechariah:
“In the tender compassion of our God,
The dawn from on high shall break upon us;
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death;
And to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Meditate on that. Are you in darkness? Are you in the shadow of death?
I know you are because we ALL are. We ALL need Jesus to guide our feet into the way of peace.
I pray that the daily practice of worship and prayer will help Jesus guide your feet as it helps Him guide my feet. These wonderful, beautiful, and healing words bathe my soul daily.
Does this get old? Does the novelty wear off? Of course it does. How could novelty not wear off? What did you expect?
This practice is more like bathing than swimming. Swimming is recreational and novel. Bathing is often mundane and necessary, but it is also refreshing and life-giving.
We (many of us) bathe daily. Why not worship daily?
Let us invite the passion of the living and active Word (Heb 4:12) to renew our minds, daily. Hear what Paul says:
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” [Romans 12:2a CSB]
Hear what Jesus says:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30 ESV]
Hear what Paul says, again:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
Be present, merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of life may find our rest in You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. [from Compline]
Love to you all!
Check out my musings on Morning Prayer, next.