We’ve had quite a winter here in Montreal. My snow-blower has been getting more than its usual workout. So we’ve been looking forward to the beginning of spring this year even more than normal. I’m not sure anyone really looks forward to Lent. Advent season is a preparation for Christmas, but properly speaking, Lent is more about preparing for Good Friday than for Easter. It is a relatively solemn time that matches the weather—at least our weather here in the frozen north—so most of us are usually content if not eager to see Lent in our rearview mirrors. But these past few weeks have been rewarding enough to make me pause. Our little church here decided to embrace the season and the weather by taking this month to explore the topic of depression and it has proven to be strangely heartening. I won’t write a single argument here, I’ll just make a few points that I hope will add up to a cogent whole.
1) I’ll fill you in on my theory as to why exploring depression has been so uplifting at the end of the post, but I want to begin by noting one of the worst habits that so many of us Evangelicals (Liberal and Conservative) embrace. We are far too happy, far too self-assured, and often entirely unable to stop babbling on joyfully and nonsensically to hear what people in real pain have to say. Many non-Evangelicals (Christians included) have created Evangelical caricatures based on this common and annoying characteristic that so many of us share. The fellow depicted here may be a cartoon, but his constant habit of making lemonade out of lemons and spewing nonsensical clichés is all too familiar to many of us. Nobody wants to talk to the Neds of the world because Ned is incapable of a conversation. He may hear, but he doesn’t listen because no one can truly listen if they’re convinced that they already know the answer before they know what you are going to say.
2) A while ago I wrote about some of the most harmful clichés that Evangelicals sprinkle into their conversations with one another and with non-Evangelicals. It remains one of my best posts. Happiness is wonderful, but it’s most wonderful when it’s a response to a genuine encounter with grace and beauty. Happiness can also be a weapon, a blunt instrument that can feel like a cudgel to someone who is struggling simply to get up in the morning. Depression isn’t a choice, and when people fighting that battle are made to feel yet more pressure to “seem happy” or “act happy”, happiness can become a positive evil. The last thing people with mental illness need is some chuckling schmuck telling them “chin up buddy, God never gives us more than we can handle.” Sure he does. It is a lie to suggest that we can handle i.e. control everything. None of us can.