Joy Defeats Depression
Depression is an enemy that many of us seem to be battling these days. But you know what? We don't have to let depression sap us of our energy, make us wallow in self-pity, deprive us of hope and happiness, and send us into a downward spiral of misery, out of which it seems impossible to climb. Just because nothing seems to be going our way doesn't mean that God has neglected us. Just because life seems pointless, doesn't mean that it is. God is Life, and therefore, life is always meaningful.
Let's take a poignant diversion for a moment to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The movie came out last month and is a blockbuster hit. So, regardless of opinions about the books and movies, it's important for us to look at the messages being sent. The messages about depression, insanity, and happiness are powerful. Depression is like the "dementors:" it deprives us of joy, of the will to live. Dementors are hooded, black-robed creatures that glide eerily through the air and "feed" on human happiness (83-85, 237). The dementors (who used to serve the Dark Lord before he lost his powers trying to kill Harry Potter) currently guard the Azkaban prison and drive the inmates insane. The word "dementor" is closely related to dementia, which means "insanity." When the dementors get near, they "suck out" all the happiness from people and leave them with their "worst" memories (187). When they administer the "kiss," they don't kill a person; they "suck out his soul" (247).
The charm that protects one from dementors is called the "Patronus Charm." An individual creates a Patronus (related to the word "patron," or protective figure) by "concentrating" on a very strong, solid, happy "memory." That concentration on a happy moment creates a barrier, a protection from the dementors (237).
Let's delve a little deeper into this idea of the dementors and the Patronus Charm. If we allow happiness to be sucked out from our lives, we are left with depression. Harry learns how to drive away insanity, depression, and fear with happiness; so can we. In order to do so, our happiness has to be true, real, and strong. When Harry was first learning how to protect himself from dementors, he did not choose happy enough moments (237-242). But when he understood happiness, he proved that happiness is more powerful than dementors.
What might be the dementors in our lives? What tries to suck out our happiness and leave us feeling deflated? Loneliness; self-pity; self-criticism; things never going our way; everything bad happening to us all at once; not feeling appreciated by family, friends, teachers, bosses, peers; the feeling that we're worthless, that there's nothing in life for which we want to live; being sick too much; having no money; being degraded, teased, or attacked by others; lack of energy, et cetera?
Often these feelings come disguised as our own or others' thoughts about us. Because they are disguised as such, we tend to believe them. What's so powerful about the concept of the dementors is that dementors are an outside thing. They are not our own thinking; rather, they attack our thoughts. So, let's reason accordingly:
- Our feelings of self-pity, loneliness, loss of self-worth, etc. are like dementors -- invaders trying to suck out happiness.
- These feelings are not our own thoughts.
- Therefore, these feelings are not a part of our individuality, character, being.
- As a result, we can separate ourselves from these feelings and…
- Drive them away with genuine happiness.
It may seem too simple to say, "Be happy," but happiness is the ultimate protection from depression. It's very difficult to feel depressed when we're jumping for joy, celebrating good times, whistling an upbeat tune, or just smiling.
So, how do we honestly feel and experience genuine joy?
We start by understanding that happiness is not a commodity or a human feeling to be traded, gained, or lost. Happiness is a God-given quality that we all have access to at all times, every moment of every day. Joy is our right. Jesus said, "…your joy no man taketh from you" (John 16:22).
That's an amazingly powerful truth. No one, no dementor, no situation can deprive us of our God-given joy. Often it's tempting to blame our depression on someone else. But that doesn't solve the problem; it only makes it worse. We need to see depression for what it is -- an impersonal attack on our joy. Depression is often mired in self -- we are absorbed in everything wrong that is happening to us rather than being absorbed in everything good God is doing for us. We need to get ourselves out of the way. Seeing depression as an impersonal attack on our happiness makes it easier to destroy. We can then demonstrate Jesus' affirmation and remain joyful -- regardless of the situation.
Joy is not pasting a fake smile on our faces, pretending to be happy when we're torn up inside, or ignoring problems and letting them fester. Joy is the calm, clear, solid understanding that God is our life, energy, and substance. Joy allows us to have a sense of humor, to be able to see the good in life, to keep going despite hardships.
Real joy is like light -- it dispels the darkness, reveals the truth, and gives life. There's a fun story about a little bear and a light beam.
A little sunbeam was sitting on a rock near a cave when out came a little bear stretching and blinking.
"Hi, little bear," said the sunbeam. "Where have you been?"
And the little bear said with a yawn, "I've been sleeping in that dark cave."
"I've never seen a dark cave," said the little sunbeam.
And the little bear said, "Come on in, and I'll show it to you."
So the sunbeam followed the little bear into the cave, but when she got in there, she said, "I don't see any darkness at all."
The light cannot know darkness. Light doesn't have to work hard to get rid of darkness, either. By its nature, it projects light and life. Darkness and light, depression and joy cannot exist in the same place at the same time. It's impossible.
We've all had experiences when we've been struggling with a concept -- say a math problem, an acting choice, a musical passage, a do-it-yourself project that doesn't seem so do-it-yourself. Then all of a sudden, we've gotten it; we've understood what to do. The light goes on; the solution is apparent; and we move forward. That moment of revelation is like the light dispelling the darkness. We know we can do it.
The Bible is full of stories and accounts of individuals who have been in far worse situations than we face. Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers, sold into slavery, and sent to prison. Elijah had to flee for his life and wandered forty days without food. Nehemiah saw his Jerusalem destroyed and faced people who tried to keep him from rebuilding the wall. Daniel was thrown into a lions' den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were thrown into a fiery furnace. Jesus was betrayed by his own disciple and crucified. Peter was thrown into prison to be killed. Paul was shipwrecked, stoned and left for dead, and imprisoned many times. John was boiled in oil and exiled to the island of Patmos.
These are certainly times when they could have felt depressed. Indeed, they were tempted. But they decided to pray rather than wallow in self-pity. They knew that no one and no situation could deprive them of their joy. Now, I can't imagine that they were thrilled that these brutal things were happening to them. But I do believe that they trusted God so completely, that they knew that they would be safe in His keeping. They did not give in to depression. Had they given up, had they allowed depression to take hold of their thoughts, they would not have been able to pray; they would not have been able to have a clear and calm sense of God's presence. The Psalmist says:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (Ps. 23:4, 5)
They allowed God to comfort them. They refused to fear death, destruction, torture, terrorism, or any other evil. The sense of peace that their prayers gave them enabled them to realize the deliverance God had prepared for them. What good would depression have done for them? None! The Psalmist gives hope:
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Ps. 16:10, 11)
The sooner we realize that God is governing our lives, the sooner our suffering will stop. When we realize that we are always at God's right hand, we will experience "pleasures for evermore." That is an incredible gift!
If we see depression, suffering, or any other impersonal attack on our joy as an opportunity for us to learn more about how God cares for us and how to trust Him every moment of every day, then depression will disappear: "…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Ps. 30:5).
In the morning is light -- the light of joy and life that powerfully and easily dispels the darkness. Our job is to turn on the light and let the light do the work. A morning attitude fills us with our God-given joy -- a joy so powerful that it can never be "sucked out."
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic, 1999.