When hope looks like the night sky
November 30, 2021
Editor’s note: Given stigma surrounding mental illnesses and their treatments, we have chosen to publish this without author attribution.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5)
This month, we were asked to contemplate what gives us hope. Advent is, of course the season of looking for the hope of the world, the light breaking into the literal darkness as the physical world grows ever darker and then, on the winter solstice, begins to grow brighter once again.
But if I’m honest, this season of darkness has extended farther back that the changing of the summer into the fall. I am deeply afflicted with clinical depression and anxiety. This particular period began with life changes and the realization that the medication that had kept the darkness at bay was no longer effective. In the intervening months, a genetic profile indicated that my body is not attuned to most first order medications. Therapy holds the promise of uncovering some of the underlying reasons, but as my pastor tells me, “Therapy is worth doing but it sucks while you’re doing it.”
Most days, hope looks like the night sky – tiny pinpricks of light amidst the darkness. In his seminal work on depression, “The Noonday Demon,” Andrew Solomon opens with a quote from Mikhail Bulgakov:
Everything passes away – suffering, pain, blood, hunger, pestilence. The sword will pass away too, but the stars will still remain when the shadows of our presence and our deeds have vanished from the earth. There is no man who does not know that. Why, then, will we not turn our eyes toward the stars? Why?[i]
Or, in my understanding of this, the stars remind us that light shines in the darkness, that when God commanded light to burst out of nothingness, God manifested it in a way so that some of the most beautiful lights are only visible in the darkness. And therein lies my hope, in the small imprints of light in the darkness—a hug from my son for no reason other than he loves me; music; the “Ted Lasso” Christmas episode; an unexpected phone call from the pastoral team at our church just to check in on me.
God has a way of breaking through walls and into the spaces of darkness and grief. It is in those spaces where God meets us most fully, where we wrestle with God in the darkness of night like Jacob did. The spaces where God punctures the darkness that surrounds us and allows the light to shine through, like the stars in the night. These puncture wounds are my source of hope.
It isn’t that I do not find hope in prayer and Bible study and worship, but rather my expectations to find hope in them prevent it from happening naturally. I want so desperately to open my Bible and find that one perfect verse that will suddenly change everything. My drive to be proactive is perhaps hindering my ability to be well and whole.
And isn’t that, perhaps, the story of Christmas? In the desire to be closer to God, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day closed God off from the world, trapping God in the Temple and protecting God with a wall of more and more complicated rules and regulations. But God has a way of breaking through walls and into the spaces of darkness and grief. It is in those spaces where God meets us most fully, where we wrestle with God in the darkness of night like Jacob did. The spaces where God punctures the darkness that surrounds us and allows the light to shine through, like the stars in the night. These puncture wounds are my source of hope.
Hope that one day I will be immersed in light again. Hope that God will keep reaching in for me when I do not have the energy to reach out. Hope that Christ promises—that the light will not be overtaken by the dark.