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3 Main Reasons Why Depression Is Inevitable in Spiritual Development

Do not be surprised when I tell you that depression is inevitable in spiritual development. If you are really on the path of spiritual development you are going to experience depression.

This view is certainly contrary to those who say that depression, especially spiritual depression, is a sign that you have sinned, that you are misaligned in the working out of God’s will in your life. This view is the one generally held by that book SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION: ITS CAUSES AND CURE by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, published in 1966.

Depression Is Normal

My view is similar to that held by M. Scott Peck that depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. Although I agree also that there are cases of depression which arise out of sin. But not all depression comes from our personal sin.

To help you to be convinced that indeed depression is normal and a healthy phenomenon, and therefore inevitable--if you are progressing in spiritual development--I am going to cite two cases of great persons of God. One is perhaps the greatest English preacher in history. The other is a person who has been called the greatest saint of modern times.

Depression in Great Servants of God

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, considered as the Prince of Preachers, had recurring bouts of depression, especially after the 1856 incident when seven persons died and 28 were hospitalized after a stampede which ensued in the course of his sermon. This recurrence of depression continued until the end of his life. It was also compounded by criticisms from people and by his physical illness of gout. In many of the sermons of Spurgeon you can almost feel this depression as he appeals to you to turn to God.
And yet, here we have undoubtedly one of the most spiritually developed persons in history.

Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin has been called as the greatest saint of modern times. She was a Carmelite nun in Lisieux, France. Her writings, especially THE STORY OF A SOUL, testify to a very high degree of spiritual development. And yet she herself said that spiritual aridity, a form of depression, was her daily bread in that book. This depression was compounded by the criticisms of her Sisters in the convent for leaving her father so young and her pulmonary tuberculosis.

These two great persons of God tell us that depression is not something we do not encounter when we are serious with our spiritual development. Rather it is inevitable, as I will show in this article. Jesus himself was depressed in the Garden of Gethsemane and when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

What Depression Is

But what is depression, especially spiritual depression? It is basically a feeling of extreme unhappiness, coupled by a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Spiritual depression stresses the source of this depression. A person is spiritually depressed if this feeling of extreme unhappiness, helplessness and hopelessness arises out of her concern for spiritual things. It is not because she has no money, or no food on the table and no means to secure some, no friends or is sick or incurs failure in an examination or a business, etc. that she is depressed.

She is depressed because she wants to please and serve God and yet she feels that she is not doing this adequately and would like to do more. That is spiritual depression. This is the kind of depression that bothered Spurgeon and Therese. And this is the kind of depression that is inevitable in our spiritual development.

Why Depression Is Inevitable in Spiritual Development

Here are the main reasons why such kind of depression is inevitable in spiritual development.

The first main reason is because the path of spiritual development is a lonely one. It is a lonely journey. Not many are traveling with you along this path. Most of your co-parishioners are not interested in this journey, never heard of it perhaps. Maybe even your pastor or parish priest is not really interested in traveling with you along this path. He may think that as long as he can interpret the Bible or perform the sacraments he might be satisfied. Spiritual development? He says, ‘That is for monks and nuns. No way for me. I am practical.’

But even the monks and nuns may not be your companions. They may be interested in pursuit of personal perfection and want to improve themselves, rather than develop the spirit of the Word of God in their life, which is what spiritual development is.

So you are really alone in your journey of spiritual development. You are like a person on a journey at night and there is no light to guide you. No one is around to comfort you. How about God? He seems so far away. You are alone and at night and the least of strange sounds may terrify you. You want to develop God’s Word in you but no one is there to guide you. You feel depressed. It is inevitable. No wonder Juan de Yepes Alvarez entitled one of his books on spiritual development as DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. When this dawns on your awareness that you are alone, you begin to be depressed, saying, ‘What’s the use, others are not with me. They are doing well in life. Why should I go through this lonesome darkness?’

The second main reason for spiritual depression is the thought of a love that is not requited, not responded to, only wasted along life’s journey.

If you were a suitor and you thought you were the best and had the best and had prepared everything to win your beloved, but instead you are spurned and rejected, you would naturally suffer dejection and depression. A few in this situation have committed suicide.

A similar thinking comes to you sooner or later as you progress in spiritual development. The Word of God came and lived with us to woo us for God and yet men and women have instead rejected him and crucified him. When you realize this you feel the slight that God receives from ungrateful human beings and you naturally feel depressed. The more you love Jesus the more you will feel this depression.

And the third main reason for depression to be inevitable in our journey in spiritual development is the realization of our inability to do anything in our spiritual development. We become convinced that everything is by God’s grace.

This is the moment when the saints realize that they are the greatest sinners in the world. They are not pretending. They really feel this way. They are now convinced that they cannot do anything to make progress in their spiritual development. But they remember when they tried to do much on their own to develop themselves spiritually. Now they realize their foolishness, thinking and acting as though they could do things on their own. They realize they had been rebels. And this depresses them.

There may be other reasons why depression is inevitable in our spiritual development. But it seems that these are the three main reasons: 1) loneliness in our spiritual journey; 2) feeling of unrequited love; 3) realization of our inability to do anything.

Any way out of this depression? Yes, there is a way. But it is too long to discuss it here now. I will deal with it some other time.

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  3. Your post moved me to tears and made me realize why I'm feeling so much depression albeit not everyday but much more then I thought I should since I began my spiritual journey to be closer to God then I ever have been.

    I am Bipolar and have survived this for 30 years now since first diagnosed at 15 but this depression seemed different then what I usually experienced in the past 30 years of ups and downs. I changed everything about me a year and half ago, gave up all my toxic habits of yesteryear I spent much of my life drowned in to mask any pain of reality I might feel, in hindsight that was only leading me to continuous sinning lifestyle, piling on the don'ts only to realize none of it made me happy.

    I'm so grateful I found God and the right path for me of strength to keep God and faith daily in my day. I thank God continually for saving me from the life of sin I led. I also feel closer and understand Jesus and the Virgin Mary more now then I ever have in my life. I also understand the trials and tribulations better with eyes wide open of those people who walk and talk in the name of God face everyday and the struggle for survival.

    I finally began study then much true repentance last year and spent almost a year in so much pain because I realized how much I had sinned and turned away from God with my past deeds. I always believed in God but I was never conscience of God, instead I went through some motions of prayer occasionally and knew some passages but never fully grasped the meaning of life, which of course is God.

    I realized it's not about us, it's about our relationship with God and our journey home, thanking God now always for sending so much guidance to this world to show us no matter how tough life gets or however much man is against you, put faith and our life in the hands of God and it is there we will find his compassion and mercy. I knew I was on a journey but I didn't know what this journey was called and why the everlasting mercy, love and light of God could make me at times feel so depressed and alone.

    I now know I'm on a spiritual journey and not just a religous journey something that my spirit had always cried out looking for throughout my life. It was through the mercy and love of God I am where I am today. Although at times I feel alone I know I'm not for with me is God and all the creations of God, seen and unseen, past and present always alive, never to die to keep me company.

    I wonder if Psalm 23 is really about our daily spiritual journey of change and reflection on earth but then why only in funerals is this Psalm usually spoken. I believe my spirit died over a year ago and I crossed over and was risen to new heights to begin my purifying and cleansing to get me home, God willing, as my journey continues.

    May God give you peace and safety to you and your family … Ameen