I talk to a lot of people who are shocked I would leave the Sunshine State to move to California. They want me to explain myself. As best as I can remember, it started with a conversation with my wife.
“I’m tired of the Florida heat. I want to move.”
“Why? You have to ask ‘why?’ Because I sweat like a big dog! I have to take three showers a day, wring out my pillow every morning and I buy deodorant in bulk.”
Overdosing her voice with patience, she asks, “Where would you like to move?”
She has seen that look on my face before. Somehow, the military and I always got along great, because usually by the time I felt the wanderlust, they were issuing the orders to move. But, not this time. I was moving out into the real world and I actually had to choose a home.
“Well, I have this new friend,” starting my explanation in stealth mode.
“A friend? Yes, go on.”
“He manages the chaplaincy department at the flagship hospital of a huge HMO. He wants me to work for him.”
“Hey, that’s great. Where?”
” Alaska .”
“Oh, no,” she said, “that is one friend you need to lose. We are not moving to Alaska .”
“Why?” I whined. My wife thinks I actually taught my kids to whine. Adding more ammunition, I tell her the kids voted and that’s what we want to do
“We can’t live there,” she says, “because it gets dark there.”
I am thinking that could work to my advantage. Alaskan winters are known to increase the state’s population.
Then she added, “It gets dark for everyone.”
Her comment ended my fantasy. We both knew what she meant. She wasn’t just talking about the absence of daylight, she was taking about the suffocating presence of darkness.
My wife knows depression finds me most easily in the darkness of winter, and Alaska can have a lot of winter. However, depression can find us in any state or any season. It hits us all, at times, with varying degrees of severity.
A few years back, shortly before arriving in Florida , depression enveloped my world as a result of career-threatening office rumors. Rumors are like cockroaches. Both can only operate in darkness, and people never publicly acknowledge their presence or openly confess their origin. These rumors acted with time-released precision, and I became caught in a suffocating grip that caused my world to darken like a stage light on a dimmer. The stage on which I had been the star became void of light and air.
Unchecked, depression can grow until we feel much like the men from the nuclear submarine Kursk that sank two years ago. The survivors waded in a dark rescue room praying for rescue. They penned some desperate messages in those dark hours, and spent their last gulps of air praying a kind of doublespeak that death would not overtake them, yet that the end might be swift.
I can’t imagine a greater metaphor for depression. Depression can grip your soul and leave you feeling like the men in that boat — believing the whole time in rescue, yet shivering with hopelessness. The fright becomes not so much about dying, as it becomes the terrifying thought this existence is what living will be.
While I don’t believe Jesus ever experienced clinical depression, I do believe Christian scripture gives evidence he occasionally knew moments of great sadness in his life. He wept over the loss of his friend, felt overwhelming disappointment with his disciples’ lack of vigilant prayer and, from the cross, his splintered cry for the future care of his mother reflected the hopeless battlefield cry of the dying soldier for his mother. Finally, on the cross, his overwhelming burden for his people was said to have darkened the stage of Calvary for three hours.
Thankfully, my belated admission I needed help began to lighten my stage and, with the help of family, friends, pastoral supervisors, counseling and clinical intervention, my stage lights came back up.
There are, of course, still moments when the lights flicker again, and I slip in the backstage door in an attempt to choreograph an encore to my depression. I find myself making pitiful attempts to take my act back on the road and return to old venues. Those times bring the biggest challenge for my wife, as she tries to help me see the play has already been produced, performed and now it must be banned.
On those days, when the depression relapses with a cold sweat in my soul like a recurring case of malaria, I know it is time to enact a strategy that will center me in prayer, reaffirm my sense of calling and surround me with people who hear my heart. I pray a little harder, write a bit more soulfully and hug my family just a little bit tighter.
“They have these lights that emulate sunlight,” I told my wife.
She wouldn’t discuss it anymore, so here we are in California.
“It’s supposed to be 110 today, dear. How does Alaska look now?”