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Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton
Let There Be Light!
Growing up, I learned that suffering is a normal part of life. My sister Chris began her battle with bone cancer at the age of seven; a year later, my mother’s best friend, whom we called Aunt Rosemary, contracted ALS when she was in her early thirties. In both cases, our church family interceded faithfully – and in both cases, God answered, though not exactly the way we’d hoped. Chris lost her leg; Aunt Rosemary lost her life.
These experiences also taught me about the burden well meaning friends sometimes add to the load of one who is already suffering. In one case, the “ladies prayer circle” came to Aunt Rosemary’s house; she was in her wheelchair, but not yet bedridden. One of the women claimed to have a “word from God,” and insisted that the reason Rosemary was not yet well was because she had unconfessed sin in her life.
In retrospect, there may have been a grain of truth to her words – no doubt Aunt Rosemary would have greatly benefited from the healing graces of the sacraments. However, these were not available in our non-denominational faith community, and I’ll never forget the outrage my ten-year-old self felt, watching that poor woman wracking her brain in that public forum, trying to recall every fault with which she might have ever offended God and caused Him to visit this “just punishment” upon her.
In 1867, Ira Scriven published the much-loved hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” which reads in part, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pains we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!” For those who have been called to carry the burden of suffering, his words are a timely reminder of our only sure Source of strength.
In the January 2007 issue of Canticle, Kathleen Hockey paints an unforgettable portrait of St. Elizabeth Seton, who wrestled with a different kind of suffering: chronic depression. (To order a copy of this issue, call 800-558-5452). The fact of her depression did not make her less “spiritual” or more “defective” than the rest of us – suffering (whether it be physical or mental) is a fact of life, and has been since our first parents fell from grace. Along with ignorance and concupiscence, infirmity is part of the human condition (CCC 418).
My own mother struggled with depression and migraines most of her adult life; her refusal to seek help for the symptoms deeply affected us. A woman of sincere faith, she could not accept that a Christian might have mental struggles that required a doctor’s intervention. “I’ll just keep singing hymns until the blues go away,” she’d say. For her, to admit her struggle was to admit she was sinful; it was an unthinkable admission even to herself, much less to anyone else. In reality, it simply meant she was human, with a particular burden God had asked her to carry.
When I became a mother, I promised myself that I would do things differently … a promise I continue to keep to the best of my ability. Admitting to depression isn’t easy, yet I’ve also found that acknowledging the symptoms is the first step of the healing process.
In her book Raising Depression-Free Children, licensed clinical social worker Kathleen Hockey describes the four areas of treatment that must be addressed in order to get to the root causes of depression: medical, psychological, environmental, and spiritual. Whether the root cause of the problem is hormonal (such as post-partum depression), environmental (stress), or from a different source, all four areas need to be addressed in order for wellness to be restored.
Mothers can be particularly susceptible to the burden of depression: We tend to brush aside our own needs in order to meet our family obligations, and put off medical treatment for a variety of reasons. However, for better or worse, our mental health has a direct impact on our children; one of the most important ways to ensure their emotional well-being is to safeguard our own.
As Our Lord walked the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrow), Tradition tells us that various people came alongside to help. Simon of Cyrene carried His cross; St. Veronica wiped His face with her veil. The women stood at the foot of the cross, refusing to flee even after the other disciples had abandoned Him.
For those who struggle with depression, Our Lord comes alongside us as well. He sends us strengthening graces through the sacraments. He pours out His mercy on our troubled hearts through the intercession of our brothers and sisters in heaven. And sometimes He sends a word of love through unexpected places – such as an article on the Internet – to let His beloved children know that they are not alone in the darkness.
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