Despondency and Obedience

Stuck in the mud, again.

Of the various passions that trouble me, despondency is, I think, the worst. Despondency is not a violent passion. Some passions  have to be resisted with a kind of passionless anger, a kind of violence. For example, if I become angry and my heart is pounding and my mind racing, I have to take hold of myself somewhat violently and force myself not to act, but rather to pray and entrust myself and whatever is angering me to God.  

However, when despondency takes hold of me, I feel like I’ve lost the energy to live. It takes the greatest amount of force just to do the simplest things: brush my teeth, say a few Jesus prayers, obey my wife. That’s right. When I slip into despondency, I find that I cannot think of the most obvious thing that I should be doing. I will just sit and stare and nap and wonder why I exist as such a burden on those around me. However, if I pay attention to my wife and her little requests–“can you help with the laundry”; “the floors need a mopping”; “did you get the trash out?”–then at least I can get moving. And I find that if I am doing something–anything physical–I can pray much better, or at least much better than not praying at all but just sitting and staring.  

It’s funny how people are different. Many of the holy people I read about are enlivened by being alone with God. I can only take brief periods of aloneness. I easily fall into unhelpful thoughts leading to destructive passions. Obedience is a great tool for me. Really, obedience is my salvation. It does not matter very much whom I obey. I obey whomever God puts in my life. I even obey my dog who wants me to take her on walks. Of course, obedience, like any tool, requires a little practice and skill. All obedience is obedience to Christ, so sometimes you do have to say no to say yes. That is, you have to discern where true obedience to Christ lies.  

However, most of the time, I just need to say yes. I need to say yes to the neighbor, yes to my wife, yes to my parishioners, and sometimes even yes to my dog. For me it comes down to this question: “Is God in charge of my life or not?” How else would obedience to Christ look, but as obedience to the various icons of Christ in my life? This is no great virtue–it is a trick, a tool that I have found works for my salvation.  

I hate being despondent and stuck in the mud. I hate being frozen and not knowing what to do.  Obedience thaws my mind, warms my heart and gets me off my bum.

3 comments:

  1. Hello Fr. Michael,
    I appreciate how you name despondency as a passion. I speak professionally to many people daily and it almost (sadly, almost) never fails that one of those to whom I speak will discuss their illness of depression. Even accept it as theirs "my depression." It is not something to embrace; it is something to fight. Because like that poor little piggy you show in the mud, it will destroy you if you let it. And lying down and giving up is letting it win. Its terrible for certain to force yourself out of the mud, but that's the way out.

  2. I think you are right, TeresaAngelina. However, fighting to get out of mud is different from fighting a wild dog. In mud, you measure success in centimetres, and one must learn to move slowly, in a relaxed way, trusting your natural buoyancy to keep you up; for if you fight too hard, you will exhaust yourself and perhaps sink. It helps a lot to have a friend who is not afraid to get a little muddy with you and can appreciate the small victories with you.

  3. Nicely said, Fr. M. But that you fight, and know you need to do that (no matter the pace of the effort) and not give up or simply accept depression as a given or as "mine", is essential. Depression like cancer wants to kill you. I agree completely that having a friend alongside to help, to truly hear you but also give you a push, is a gift. (That friend will also not allow you to wallow…mud is good for that…) Friendship is such a lightbearing gift!

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