This is the sixth post in my Lenten series on depression and the book Not Alone by Monica A. Coleman
This morning I accompanied my middle school religious education class (commonly called the Coming of Age program in Unitarian Universalist churches) to a communion service outside the Porter Square T stop in Cambridge, MA. We attended The Outdoor Church, a ministry to the chronically homeless. While they served communion, they sang Amazing Grace. The words, “I was once was lost, but now I’m found” seemed particularly powerful this morning. Feeling lost happens to people for many reasons. Homelessness, I am sure is one. I can’t even imagine. Depression, I know well, is another. There we were, all of us lost and pilgrim souls, leaning on grace. It’s not living on the street, but depression can make one feel lost, without a home base, filled with a pervasive sense of no anchor and not being grounded.
During the time in The Outdoor Church service when people shared prayers, one woman went on at length. No one interrupted her. No one redirected her. After a while the person leading the service gently asked her permission if we could move on to others and she finished up. Being heard and seen is important to everyone, homeless or not, who doesn’t feel heard or seen. Being heard and seen is another way of being found when one is lost. Often, especially when the depression has me in its grip, I feel lost. I want to be heard and seen and it seems no one is listening or that no one can listen, no one can understand. I understand that this isn’t necessarily so, but that’s what it feels like.
Coleman gives us this list of ways people who live with depression can get lost:
I am tangled inside my mind’s endless thoughts of how inadequate I am.
I become a stranger to myself— feeling and acting in ways that don’t seem like me.
I can’t imagine feeling happy again.
I am adrift among the various demands of my life: I acknowledge them, but I can’t feel anything.
I can’t find my way to the vibrant world that’s outside a seemingly impenetrable window.
I believe that no one can see who I really am or how I feel, and even if they could, I’m not worth their time, their effort, or their concern.
Coleman, Monica A. (2012-08-24). Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression (p. 42). Inner Prizes, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
I see myself all through this list. Check. check. check. check. check. check. Lately I have been favoring the term “lost soul” because that’s really what it feels like. The worst part of feeling lost like this is slips too easily from I feel lost to I am lost. It’s not hard to find me, it’s impossible, and then it feels like I’m not worth being found. I know I can get to thinking that how I am, what I’ve done, who I am, is someone people, never mind God, would ever want anything to do with. I can get to thinking that I every little mistake, miscue, or even accident I’ve ever had is the greatest transgression against God and humanity. It’s just not so. And even if it were…I’m still in. I am lovable and acceptable. This is the grace of Universalism, and it’s one of the reasons I lean so strongly on my faith.
The Gospel reading for today was the parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke. The Outdoor Church offers no sermon, instead there is a time of shared reflection where anyone can speak to the day’s reading. The person leading the service shared something that reminded me why I love Universalism and being a Unitarian Universalist. He said,
“Imagine, Mahatma Gandhi, Hitler, MLK, and Charles Manson are all in a room together. What do they all have in common? The answer – they are all recipients of God’s grace. I know when I first heard that, it was hard to hear.”
Yes it is hard to hear. Universalism means everyone is in. You don’t earn your way in. You’re just in. You can opt out, but you’re not kept out. Even the Hitler’s and the Mansons. Even harder to imagine for some people, and from my own experience, I think especially for those living through depression – ourselves. Yes, you, even you are in.Just as you are. Depression can bring out the worst in me and I am sure other depressives can relate. I can get into the pattern of thought where I am certain no one actually cares about me, I am a wretch, not worth anyone’s time, especially not any God worth contemplating. I can be brutal on myself. But the parable reminds us that we’re all in. All of us. Even me. Even you.
“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
Coleman likes the parable of the lost coin to speak about feeling lost and found.
In this parable, a woman has ten coins, and then she loses one. She turns on all the lights and sweeps under everything, looking for the one coin she has lost. At first read, this story pales in comparison to the story of the sheep and the father and his sons. Then I thought about it in a different way. There are times when I have counted out exact change for something: going to the Laundromat or getting on the bus or putting coins in the parking meter. It’s usually not a lot of money, but it is the money needed for a certain task. If I lose a quarter, I go searching for it. It’s only 25 cents, but I need that coin to do what I need to do. I imagine this woman throwing cushions off the couch, lifting up the bed covers, picking things up off the table, getting on her hands and knees, ignoring the dust that accumulates under furniture. Searching. Rummaging. Until she finds the coin. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors to rejoice over having found the quarter. That, Jesus tells us, is how the company of heaven rejoices when we draw closer to God.Coleman, Monica A. (2012-08-24). Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression (p. 41). Inner Prizes, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
Depression is an existence of lost and found that comes in cycles. It is feeling lost and waiting, sometimes desperately to be seen, to be heard, to be found.You get lost, you to go to the Lost and Found, and see if you’ve turned up or if someone has turned you in. If you’re not there, you just keep going back until you are.
Reflection questions from Not Alone:
What do you do when you feel lost?
When I am lost, I can tend to cave; to go even deeper into myself. When I feel lost, I have a tendency to withdraw. Over the last two years, I have really been working on changing that and trying to remember that when I begin to feel lost is when I need more contact with others and usually more help battling the depression. This isn’t easy for me, because I am a huge, HUGE introvert and although I usually enjoy being around people, especially when I am not feeling depressed, interpersonal interaction tires me out. I have learned, however, that seeking out company and help is well worth feeling a little tired.
How do you get found again?
I keep busy. I force myself to exercise, even if it’s only a light workout or a walk. I listen to music and I play my guitar and sing. I read fiction and get lost in stories. I journal. I spend time with other people. I call friends just to talk or to invite myself over for dinner. I help others. Sometimes it takes a combination of these things. I no longer expect to get found right away and I’ve made peace with the fact that feeling lost is part of the ride. I hold onto hope that no darkness lasts forever and when I get into feeling worth less, I lean on my faith. I lean on my Universalism and do my best to remember that God loves everyone. No exceptions. Even me. Even you, too.