According to the World Health Organization, depression and suicide are major (and growing) problems throughout the world, and particularly in the United States. Many, including myself, yearn to help those who are struggling find peace and, yes, even joy.
This Sunday, people around the world will celebrate Easter, an event that provides a powerful reminder that even in the face of the severest trials, we can find hope and joy. At Easter, Christians remember not only the crucifixion and death of Christ Jesus, but also his resurrection from the darkness of the tomb into the light of life and eventually ascension.
I have found that Jesus’ life illustrates a way to be naturally lifted right out of the darkness of depression that doesn’t involve ignoring people’s needs, blaming sufferers, denying the necessity for change, or exercising herculean willpower.
As a young college student who contemplated suicide, the lifesaving question for me was, “How can I experience normal, sustainable joy?” At my lowest point, as I sat, deeply depressed, on the floor of my dorm room, spiritual ideas that I’d once been familiar with but had not thought about for a long time resurfaced and presented themselves. I recognized that I had to be open to contemplating them and putting them into practice in some degree. It wasn’t always easy, but as I did this, step by step the thoughts of suicide quieted and then permanently disappeared.
Mary Baker Eddy, founder of The Christian Science Monitor, refers to Jesus in biblical language as the “man of sorrows” (see, for instance, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 52). Leading up to his crucifixion, Christ Jesus was despised by enemies, oppressed, and afflicted, and knew that he would be forsaken by his students. He felt “deeply grieved, even to death” (Matthew 26:38, New Revised Standard Version).
However, Jesus so fully and consistently looked to God, divine Spirit, as the source of infinite good that he was not pushed down by the world’s sense of darkness and hatred. Science and Health says, “He was inspired by God, by Truth and Love, in all that he said and did” (p. 51). Based on the understanding of his oneness with God, not long before his crucifixion he was able to say, “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness” (John 12:46, NRSV). In teaching, healing, and his own resurrection and ascension, he showed our true identity to be spiritual, whole, and joyful as well.
The spiritual ideas that literally saved my life have their basis in the life and teachings of Christ Jesus. They became and still are a consistent source of joy to me. Now, not only am I gratefully well, but I also love God and those around me more, because through that experience I know more about how God loves everyone and enables us to face and overcome challenges. Inspiration from God has become warmer and more real to me. I more fully recognize my and everyone’s oneness with God as His loved, spiritual creation – which is the real identity of us all. As the children of divine Spirit, our only real state of existence includes spiritual joy. We don’t have to fabricate joy on our own, and it isn’t dependent on what others say or do. Joy is our birthright.
Now, I celebrate good more – big and small – and get less caught up in triumphal exaltations or superficial things that are fleeting. With humble gratitude for the spiritual good that is accessible to anyone, anywhere, in any moment, comes true, lasting joy.
Arriving at such joy may also require a whole lot of repentance, change, and forgiveness of ourselves and others. That forgiveness was key to Jesus, who forgave those who crucified him and taught his disciples a prayer that includes forgiving others (see Matthew 6:9-13). Forgiveness and change were key in my experience, too. But we are all capable of this, because Christ – God’s message of love – and the Holy Spirit, which comforts and teaches these essential spiritual ideas, are always present, bringing motivation, joy, transformation, and healing to all who welcome God’s goodness into their hearts.
More healing is needed in our world, but that doesn’t negate our right and ability to uphold hope, and to experience joy all along the way. Spiritual joy, Easter gladness, is not a frivolous, Pollyannaish emotion, but an essential, solidly tangible, normal, natural, attainable, healing, and sustainable state of being.