Believe it or not, there are times when my depression worsens at church.
I know, that sounds really stupid. Honestly, that should be the last place where I feel depressed. I understand that. That should be where I feel most loved and welcome and joyful. And it’s not an issue between me and my fellow church-goers.
It’s between me and God.
You see, having depression isn’t something that affects just the emotions and the mind. It affects the soul as well. And even if you never have had to deal with major depression in your own mind, you might still have experienced spiritual depression.
Have you ever felt unworthy?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. Some of the depression symptoms in that manual include constant sadness, irritability, trouble sleeping, hopelessness and feeling worthless or guilty for no reason.
I have been able to check off most, if not all of those, for the last 11 years. Some stretches are better than others. The sadness is there most mornings. The irritability comes and goes. So does the sleep.
And then there is the worthlessness and guilt. That often gets overwhelming. It has made me extremely sensitive to how I treat other people, the subtle and often unspoken messages that I convey.
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy,” Thomas Merton once said. “That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
Many people have reached out to me at various times and let me know they love me, sometimes in ways that registered deeply and helped. I know in my heart I don’t deserve all the love and patience of my family and friends – that’s what my head tells my heart, at least – but I try hard to convince myself that their love on its own makes me worthy of that love.
Being worthy of God’s love is somewhat similar – perhaps a symptom of occasional spiritual depression.
We were discussing this at my men’s prayer group this past Saturday morning. The subject came up in relation to receiving the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation.
Regarding the Eucharist …
One of my friends, who tries to attend Mass daily, said he often wonders why, if people believe that the bread really is Christ’s body and the wine really is Christ’s blood, the churches aren’t as full Monday through Saturday as they are on Sundays. (Um, and why aren’t they more full on Sundays, for that matter?) I shared that many times, when I approach the priest to receive the Eucharist, I don’t always feel worthy of accepting His body and blood into my being.
The topic of Reconciliation was similar.
Last week, I heard a priest talking about his participation in that sacrament. Someone asked him if he ever hears anything in the confessional that surprises him after all his years hearing confessions. He said no, he’s heard it all. Yet there still are people who shy away from the sacrament because they fear their sins are too severe, have separated them from God so much that they don’t deserve forgiveness.
They worry that they aren’t worthy of God’s love.
If the love of family and friends can make me, by its very existence, worthy of that love, then shouldn’t the same go for God’s love? Of course. So the fact that it really is Christ’s body and blood and we have the invitation, the ability to receive it makes us worthy because it is only because of his love that we have the opportunity. The fact that we are offered forgiveness makes us worthy of that love and forgiveness.
What if we don’t feel it or believe it fully? Well, then we are refusing something.
We are refusing the cross of Christ because, after all, that is the greatest symbol of His love for us and all mankind. It’s true, we weren’t worthy of His love – certainly not to that degree, for Him to become man and suffer and die for us. But he did it. He did it out of perfect love. If we believe that, if we accept that, then we also must accept that it made us worthy.
I try to tell that to myself every time I walk up to receive the Eucharist, every time I sit before the priest at Reconciliation. And I try to tell myself that every morning when I wake up and feel worthless and guilty.
I ask for your prayers. And I will pray for you as well.