Excerpts from Angels in the Wilderness



Hello. I don’t know who you are or what has brought you to this page but welcome.

If you are here because you need hope and encouragement in your journey in the wilderness then I picture you as someone whose life has been clouded either by your own experience of depression and anxiety or by the experience of someone close to you.

Perhaps you struggle with faith when God seems remote, if not absent altogether, and know the despair that pulls you to the brink of giving up on life itself.

Perhaps you are someone who finds there is not enough understanding in the Church about the sort of mental distress that is actually a clinical illness; someone who longs for a God who really can redeem the sheer hell that is living with depression with all its ugliness and debilitating symptoms.

I picture you as someone like me and I want to write something that can speak to you from a shared experience, from a shared knowledge that the Good News of Jesus Christ has to reach into that valley of the shadow of death.

Caring for people who suffer from depression
I hope that this book will also be useful to those who care for and support people suffering from depression. I hope that it will help you to see that the symptoms of the person you love are shared by many, many others. I hope it will also help to strengthen your own faith, and give you some insights into how to be with the person you care for.

Suicidal thoughts
I think it’s quite probable that most people who suffer from the illness do, at some point, think about suicide.

· We may not think about it as a real possibility for us but we may find ourselves thinking “what if …..”

· These thoughts may occur to us too often to ignore, we may fear for ourselves that suicide is a way out we’ll take one day.

· We may have reached the point where we are seriously considering it and even beginning to make plans.

· We may fear that even thinking about suicide is sinful. Therefore we cannot risk talking to other Christians who may condemn and reject us.

I want to say first of all that, in my opinion, despair and suicidal thoughts are not in themselves sinful. They are, I’m afraid, part of being human and need to be accepted as such, so that we can talk openly about them and seek ways in which we can grow through them towards embracing life once more.

“How long, O Lord, how long?”
We come back to the agonising question about why it takes so long. Why can’t our healing be immediately complete?

I wonder if it would help us if we could somehow believe that since God has pronounced us healed and “clean” it’s as if we already are. In one sense the healing has taken place “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it” and there is no other outcome possible. At the same time, though, the healing must reveal itself in us at the pace we can bear. God isn’t really interested in emergency First Aid – his healing love is about re-building and “doing a new thing” in our lives. And that takes time and energy, just as it took time, energy and extreme care to free my vase from all its mud. But if somehow a mustard seed of hope that says “I am and will be healed” can germinate within us, we will already be setting off on the right path.

Demon Possession
The phrase “to be possessed” suggests that a person is no longer free to make choices about who he or she wants to be or what to do at any given time. It suggests that something more powerful has taken control and is driving us.

My experience of depression is that it can be described in similar ways. If we are physically ill or injured our sickness is visible and understood.  Perhaps more importantly we remain ourselves – possibly less patient or active – but basically our personality remains intact. When depression descends, though, our personality can change, our thought processes are disrupted, our memory is affected, our view of people, relationships and life in general is distorted and we can no longer lead our everyday lives. It goes to the heart of who we are as a person.

So in that sense we can experience depression as something that takes over and possesses our lives so we are no longer free to be our true selves. Our true identity is being eaten up by this invisible monster and we no longer have the mental or emotional resources to resist.

If we experience depression in this way perhaps we need to deal with it in a way that honours that experience. A friend of mine who had cancer told me once that she was encouraged to visualise the illness and it being attacked by the chemicals she was receiving in her treatment. Perhaps we too can be encouraged to visualise our depression as a usurper, an enemy within. Churchill called his depression the “black dog”. I have an unprintable name for mine! Maybe we need to use the language of demon possession to make some sense of what’s happening.

Jesus seeks us out
As we’ve seen earlier, for Jesus, someone in great need, someone who seeks him out but is too afraid or too ashamed to approach him openly, is a person he needs to find and heal. He cannot give up the search when he knows he’s needed by a lost, lonely and distressed child of God. Jesus knows the depth of our needs and is doing all he can to bring about change and growth into wholeness.

Recovery is not a steady smooth progression and we often find ourselves travelling along old familiar paths. Experience tells me, though, that when we re-visit a dark place we often do so on a different level which brings new insights and a different perspective. Our illness may not be completely over but we will change our relationship with it and learn to live more freely.

A thought that I still hang on to is that it was only from the tomb that Jesus could rise to new life; it is only from the darkness of night that a new day can dawn; it is in the wilderness that God does a new thing in our lives and his angels minister to us even, or especially, when we feel most alone and isolated.

The prayer of all who care for you is that you will be brought safely through the wilderness and that you will walk, wounded but also renewed, into the sunrise of Easter day.

One day we too will speak of the dawning of Easter Day and the resurrection that God has brought about in our lives. We will speak and say that Christ has risen, he has risen indeed. Alleluia.