Over the course of my life, I've lost two friends to suicide. In struggling to come to grips with that, I've tried to imagine how someone could get out of a pit of deep depression. Like most people, I've agonized at times about what to do with my life and have felt that the right options just weren't available. And I've wondered where God's love is in these times. Where is God's guidance that gives life purpose and direction? I had an experience a couple of years ago that gave me some insight on these questions.
I ventured onto some conservation land as a shortcut to our house and got lost. It was twilight, and the mild fall day was turning cold. Several times I rushed toward a line of tall trees thinking, surely these are the trees near our home. But I was actually wandering aimlessly, and these quick-fix efforts caused me to lose my bearings. Soon, I was pushing through bramble bushes and several inches of water, knowing that part of the neighborhood is bordered by wetlands. The cloudy half-light provided no sunset to chart my course. Nor was there a glow of streetlights in any direction.
I called out for help, and twice I climbed high into a tree, hoping for a sign. But it was just a bleak expanse of vegetation and water. I felt so alone.
Finally, when I was exhausted and facing spending the night in this maze, I prayed. I prayed in the usual way: "Please help me." Soon the idea came to me to start finding things to be grateful for as a way to focus my thoughts and listen for God's guidance. I thought about the many things I was grateful for in my life, and I determined to face the challenges I had with more love. Feeling some hope, I remembered a passage from Psalms: "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord" (118:17). I didn't think I was going to die that night, but I did decide I was going to declare the wonderful work of God instead of getting panicked.
For some time, I sat in the arms of a small tree, listening. And another idea came to me. It was to find my way by sound instead of sight. I realized that half of the area around me was completely quiet and the other half was filled with the vague noise of distant highways on one side and commuter trains on the other. Between them, the sounds converged into a somewhat louder rumble. I would head for that.
I was so tired by then that my legs were unsteady. But again, gratitude gave me strength. Each step I said, "Thank you, God, for this step," and each time a small tree came along, I said, "Thank you God for this handhold." At times I would fall when my foot turned on a clump under the water. I also was afraid the water would be too deep somewhere along my new path. But I was determined, now, to walk a straight path, even when it meant turning my back on a thorny bush I couldn't walk through and rolling backwards over it and moving on. Finally, a lighted sign on the road appeared, and I found my way home.
Since then it has occurred to me that depression may be like being lost. And I'd like to be able to say to a friend who feels that way that I think I understand. Every direction you look seems so featureless, so much the same. You may break out of the maze for a time, thinking you see a way to go, only to be disappointed. But even if you're exhausted from your efforts already, finding things to be grateful for - taking note of every speck of good in your life - can bring new energy. Thank God for every step and every handhold. If all you receive is a distant signal, then listen and move.
Isaiah's promise is for everyone: "And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left" (Isa. 30:21). You can set your course each day with prayer, and trust God for meaning and reward. All of God's goodness is yours. You can take heart, because God is with you each step of the way.
Step by step will those who trust Him find that "God is our refuge and strength, a very present
help in trouble."
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor