The garage door opened on grey skies and wet streets this morning, the fourth day in a row without sunshine. Yesterday the fog finally settled itself deep in my spirit.
In some ways it’s old hat by now; there are occasionally warning signs and this time it was the incessant pounding of a couple of bars of musical notes (calling it a tune would be far too generous) that beat against my mind every time it fell unoccupied with explicit thought or writing or conversation. This isn’t the “I’ve got a song in my head” that happens to people all the time. It’s just noise that robs me of longed-for silence and drives me to weird thoughts just to keep it at bay. Inevitably it’s followed by a round of deep melancholy.
But of course it’s never really old hat. Every time it has to be faced and walked through, a process that never becomes easier, even knowing with reasonable certainty that it won’t – in the end – entirely overwhelm me.
It’s been a great week, too. I’ve had no urgent classroom prep or grading, no essays sitting on the desk begging for attention. That made it possible to accomplish some important tasks for the department, well instead of quickly. Interactions with colleagues, friends, family have been good – easy-going, no pressures, no conflicts. I was enjoying life.
But yesterday the fog infiltrated my spirit. I begged off a regular lunch meeting in which some good friends discuss Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a book I love and which has come more alive than ever to me this year. But today I couldn’t bear to talk about someone else’s winter, nor to subject myself to the noise and chaos of the cafeteria.
My afternoon meeting, however, I would have begged for if I’d had to. My lovely friends, who are writers, too, joined me in the lounge and we talked writing and life for an hour. At some point, the concept of suffering as blessing came up and I found myself repeating what another dear friend has said to me often – if you fight depression it only gets worse.
Of course, one can’t give in to it, either. Not fighting it doesn’t mean letting it take control and spending my hours mindlessly surfing the web or taking long restless naps. Rather, it means an acceptance, an acknowledgement that it exists and causes pain, but finding the way to live despite it – do the next thing and don’t fret over how wretched you feel. Try not to make others feel wretched along with you. Do the next thing.
We talked about how American evangelical Christianity seems to be largely about getting out of suffering. Praises in church are reserved for healing and deliverance. But Job blessed God when He took everything away, not just when He returned it. Because he saw God, I know that Job didn’t need to get everything back; he’d have blessed and praised God in his poverty and sickness had they lasted the rest of his days.
And often our poverty and sickness does last all our days. I don’t see Joni Erikson walking yet, but she claims that she would never have served God as she has if she hadn’t broken her neck that awful, blessed day.
And so I’m brought back, of course, to Hopkins. “Why? [. . .] That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.”
Job repented, not of sins he had committed against his fellow man, but because he – this most righteous man, by God’s own witness – had yet to see the God he served. I long to see Him – and therefore I must accept the suffering as blessing indeed, as He draws me lovingly towards Himself by its means. Without that blessing, would I even know Him, much less understand even the little I do of His grace?