Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Does the Pit Narrow . . . As it Descends?

I was watching the poor souls of Joplin, Mo over the past couple of days, and feeling a bit of their pain. I can't imagine the shock of seeing your entire world (as well as friends and family) vanish in a moment.

I thought too about the couple of times in my life that I was in deep despair. It was hell. Fortunately that last such experience was more than a decade ago . . . yet the echoes of that devastation still reverberate in the deep hollows of my soul somewhat like a shock wave moving across the darkness of space from an exploding supernova which happened a billion years ago. A brief recall of the emotions or events send a brief chill up my spine, and a fear that some day I may find myself in the pit again.

But, of course, I'm not alone in this experience. Almost every human has been in the pit at least once in their lives.

On the CBS Evening News, they showed a photo of a circle of women holding hands and praying in the middle of the terrible destruction in Missouri. They may have been close before this . . . or have been complete strangers, until this event brought them into a perpetual sisterhood. If there is a silver lining (and I feel ashamed even suggesting so), when a disaster comes to a whole village, there is a community in the suffering. A bonding bred in tragedy.

But now I think of those millions, who have experienced deeply personal and isolated loss. That is the way that most losses come. The worst part of it is the alienation from others. As you descend the pit, the walls close in, eventually leaving no space except for yourself . . . and your pain. The world, in which you shared the vigor of life slowly becomes two dimensional, or maybe even of another, parallel and unrelated, universe. You are alone in the suffocating universe that collapses around you like heat-shrink plastic.

My theological hero, Francis Schaeffer, described the Fall as the alienation of man (meaning mankind) from God, from fellow man . . . and eventually from himself (a psychological fall). In personal suffering, the alienation finds its pinnacle in that pit.

The pit can come from the death of someone close. The loss of someone you love. The pain of losing anything of great personal worth. A depression for depression's sake. But why does it have to be so lonely? If your suffering is allowed to continue, you eventually must become mute. There is no one to listen. You start to speak a language that no one can understand.

Now, that I'm enjoying a long season of being topside, I ask myself where can I find those who are suffering and how can I be one who listens? Why does the pit have to be so lonely? Why is it that when a Christian suffers, they must immediately go underground with their suffering? Isn't the essence of the Gospel connecting to those in pain?

I am a very selfish person and maybe once I'm out of the pit, I want to keep away from the dark orifice, far enough away that I can not hear the echoes of those poor souls trapped in the melancholic labyrinth. I pray that God would change me an make the listener the ear that was not there when I so needed it.


H. Lee said...

You ask, thoughtfully, "Why does the pit have to be so lonely? Why is it that when a Christian suffers, they must immediately go underground with their suffering?" I don't have a 'spiritual' answer, but as a too-frequent victim of clinical depression, I think that *everyone* who is depressed goes underground with their suffering. It's the nature of the Beast, and the Beast is Depression. It isn't just a matter of thinking lousy thoughts -- Depression has many physical components, and I have come to believe it is as physical an illness as, say diabetes. We just don't know enough about the chemistry of the brain yet to really work with it. I recommend reading (if you haven's already), William Styron's short book about his depression called "Darkness Visible." He is a non-believer, but his description of the illness is the same as for any other sufferer. He noted in that book that, among other things, he felt strongly compelled to hide any evidence of his depression, not only from his friends, but even from his wife. As I say, it's the nature of the Beast.
But I do think as more people become aware of depression as a real, serious illness, the awareness gives hope to sufferers. When I was growing up fifty years ago, a depressed person was treated to such "help" as being told "Stop feeling sorry for yourself," and "Depression is a sin against God." Nowadays, thank goodness, there's at least a half-chance he or she may find the real mental and medicinal help they need.

jmj said...

Of course I totally agree. It seems like depression comes with a feeling of shame (thus the withdrawal) and also the feeling that, "It just doesn't matter."

However, I've seen other personal tragedies, which aren't necessarily caused by depression (but depression can develop as a result) where the sufferer becomes isolated. I sense that happens from a couple of angles. From the point of the sufferer, they eventually feel ashamed (especially the Christian sufferer) because sufferer (just ask Job) suggest mistakes or failures (which isn't true).

But on the other hand, I have the sense that Christian (or any) compassion wears out quickly, far before the pain of the sufferer does. So if someone, say, looses their business. People in the church might give them hugs for a few weeks. But eventually that compassion wears out while the deep pain continues. That person then must choose to walk into their own isolation, or pretend that all is well. Certainly there comes a time when they indeed must "get over it," and truly move on.