Tag Archives: depression

A Life Wasted, Others Tested? Difficult People and Depression

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[edited slightly on Jan. 12, 2013]

My son is sleeping now, after having not slept last night and feeling ill for a couple of days. He’s a teen and visits his dad, and they had a roommate that was an older man and who was often difficult to deal with – though my son and him talked all the time.  My son last saw him yesterday before 1 pm. It was to be this roommates last day at the house and he was packing boxes (the dad told him he couldn’t live there anymore – part of my son’s stress-related illness, I believe). When my son and his dad came back, the roommate was gone but his stuff was all there. The dad got a call from the Sheriff’s department saying that the roommate was at the hospital, but upon contacting the hospital, and going there, nothing could be found out about the roommate. He couldn’t be visited and the hospital staff said they couldn’t relay any information until the next of kin were contacted.

Doesn’t sound good.

Some background about this older man. He’s a veteran with epilepsy, and while he had health care through the veterans program, he had to drive far away to get care. He had married a few years ago, but after he and his wife both lost their jobs and their house, his wife filed for divorce.  He didn’t have a place to live and ended up staying in a room at my son’s dad’s house.

He called his ex-wife everyday but it seems that she didn’t really care for him (she lived very far away, too). While he seemed happy enough, he argued a lot.  He snored loudly.  He had an old dog that kept peeing everywhere because it just couldn’t hold it in.  The dog was in bad shape but the roommate hadn’t had the nerve to take the dog to the vet yet . . . who knows how much he could afford, as his work was off-and-on.  He had taken to sleeping with the dog.  I imagine he was saying good-bye to it, and making his last days as good as they could be.  His dad had died a few days before Christmas and the funeral was on Christmas day; after this he became ill.

His dad just died; he lost his job, house, wife (I’m so sickened that this has happened to a lot of older people in our country); he was older, with epilepsy; he was sad that his dog was dying and he had to deal with that; he was kicked out of his residence.  Is there some reason why you would think that this person was actually dealing with life OK, even though he didn’t want to talk about stuff much? As Christians, are we to just keep going our own way and not actively asking and helping people who are having a difficult time in their lives? As Bonhoeffer said, we need to look beyond the superficial stuff in people’s lives, what they do, what they hide, and reach out and help the suffering.  Does a curmudgeonly guy deserve help any less than a sweet woman? No.

I’m not trying to say in this essay that I wouldn’t have wanted the roommate to move, I wouldn’t be able to say.  But I am saying it seems that more could have been done to ease this person’s burden, emotionally at least, so that he could deal with life’s circumstances better.  I think I and others need to try and live what the NT writer said more proactively:  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus . . .” (Phil 2:3-5).

I don’t know for sure that the roommate is dead. I just don’t know why my son’s dad wasn’t allowed to see him or find out anything about him if he was alive. But I will update later. Thanks for any prayers.

Update (Jan. 12, 2013):     The roommate died in surgery.  He had suffered a severe epileptic event while driving, which resulted in a very very bad accident.   We are not allowed to know the details of the accident, other than his car rolled over many times.  Apparently the roommate forgot to take his epilepsy medicine that day.  Both stress and age can contribute to forgetting things like taking one’s medicine, though my son thinks he may not have taken it on purpose (he had never forgotten before).  Anyway, his wife (or ex-wife) had come to see him before he went into surgery, so I’m glad of that; he used to call her everyday.

Update (Jan. 29, 2013):  I keep looking to see if a death notice or obituary is published, but there has been nothing.  I don’t understand this.  Can’t anyone who knew him or is related to him file something, out of respect?  This world is fallen, indeed.  It is easy to find two notices of when his dad died, but nothing about Dennis, but it’s as though he never existed.

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Secular girl activist meets Christian girl activist: love and necromancy, OR, An Encounter with Simone Weil: A film review

This film is not yet out for general release.  See this FB page  or the website for more info.

Normally a review would recommend an audience for the book or movie or whatever it is that is being reviewed, but this film makes it difficult to say who exactly would prefer it or get the most out of it.  I love the late Simone and seriously looked forward to “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but I was in for a surprise with this pseudo-documentary.  This film (the Director’s Cut), by Julia Haslett, is like a personal travel diary only instead of the destination being a place, it’s a person.  And the road there is strewn with corpses.

Ok, so let’s make a stab at the audience, or in this offering, audiences.  The filmmaker comes from the liberal anti-American, anti-Christian segment of America, as is made apparent in the film, so that same audience is probably the intended one (since a quote from Michael Moore is on the front dvd cover, this is not a risky guess); the secondary audience would be those who otherwise like Weil or want to know more about her, most likely having heard of her in Christian or philosophy circles.

Simone Weil (1909-1943) was one of those rare of the rarest of human beings, a person with extreme intellectual prowess fused with extreme empathy and charity.  She was an intellectual who taught philosophy (and taught it all in the original languages), gave up her teaching job to labor with factory workers, had conversations with the likes of Trotsky . . . but scratch the record . . . she was also a Christian mystic.  This film touches on her academic career, but focuses on Simone’s social activism (“political” activism in the film) and her unfortunate and apparently irrational taking up with God (film’s view, not the reviewer’s).   It also has much interesting archival footage.

Haslett makes this film, does this research, due to her sadness and feeling of regret after her father’s suicide.  Could I have done something to stop it?, she asks, and Can I do more to help others who suffer?  She is inspired by something Weil wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”  Indeed, surprisingly true and knowledge worth acting upon.  How did Simone give attention, how did she alleviate suffering (or at least how did she try), and how does Haslett emulate Simone in this regard?

Without going into too much detail (a short bio of Simone can be found here, there is an excellent biography at the beginning of the book, Waiting for God, and there are numerous other sources about Simone as well), Simone didn’t just research social problems and make suggestions to the government.  She knew that the only way to understand someone’s suffering, at least to some degree, was to become them.  Thus the factory work episode mentioned earlier.   She also, from a very early age, paid attention to the sufferings of soldiers and workers and ate the small amounts they ate, or didn’t pay for heat if her fellow workers could not afford it.  She gave up on pacifism when she saw that war was inevitable and that providing help to the better side was a good; she fought in Spain for a short time (in 1936) with those against the fascists, and she volunteered to be a front-line nurse early in the Second World War.  She didn’t just talk, she walked the walk.

This is all well-known material regarding Simone Weil.  So what did Haslett do?  She does what she can to suffer alongside her brother who is in and out of depression, and she is involved with causes that are meant to alleviate suffering and bring about justice.  The problem with these causes is that they are very political and Haslett can’t seem to get herself to look at all the sides of the issues (she shows that there is voter fraud in Florida, on the side of the Republicans, but she ignores the voter fraud perpetuated by the Democrats).   Simone was very good at (and purposefully so) looking at opposing information.  Haslett’s inability to look at the other side, of humbling herself for that (or simply not villainizing the “other side”), shows up in another important way in this film.

Haslett is so enamored with Weil, and so mystified by some things about her, that she wants to meet her.  Since she can’t actually bring her back from the dead, she hires an actress (obviously a sharp one) to read and absorb Simone’s writings, and work in a factory like Simone did (sort-of), in order to “become Simone” so that Haslett can ask her questions.   [I’ll pause while you take that in.]   My first thought was, Why doesn’t she just try and understand Simone herself?   Haslett perhaps realized that she was incapable of doing so, but then, what use would there be in talking to and getting annoyed with an actress when you can basically do the same thing with a book?  It does indeed come to the inevitable head when the actress (bless her) says that “I” -meaning Simone – did not kill myself and by being  a slave of God’s I could get beyond my pain (Simone had very bad and long-lasting migraines) and try and do what I was called to do.

“Simone” insisted that she did not kill herself.  This is in reaction to many people’s claim that she passively ended her own life by not eating enough (while trying to get over tuberculosis); something the doctor who filled out her death certificate claimed.  Knowing Simone’s lifelong habit of only eating so much based on someone’s suffering–in this case, it was the amount allotted to her occupied countrymen in France–many question the doctor’s judgment.   But Haslett seemed to be trying to make the case that Simone killed herself, and had earlier submitted to Christ, out of desperation–desperation over not being able to stop the suffering of so many, and knowing that suffering would never come to an end.  It is presented that Simone had to have turned to religion only as a last resort – after all reason and rational thought were used up.  Reading Simone’s writings, one would be very hard pressed to come up with a justification of this opinion of Haslett and others.

For one thing, Simone insisted that “she had not needed to be converted; she had always been implicitly, in ‘secret’ even from her lower self, a Christian” (Fiedler 1951, 23).  Regarding suffering, she came to view her own, from the migraines, as a gift.  Of course, suffering caused by man should be worked against.  Regarding reason and rational thought, consider her claim:  “Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms” (Weil 1951, 69).  Very unlike Haslett, Simone knew that humans needed salvation.  In all the history now known there has never been a period in which souls have been in such peril as they are today in every part of the globe.  The bronze serpent must be lifted up again so that whoever raises his eyes to it may be saved” (Weil 1951, 76; see Numbers 21:5-8 and John 3:13-15 for biblical references).

All this is significant since Haslett is against it . . . yet she can’t seem to dismiss it.  At the end of the film we find that the brother she includes in the film, who suffered depression after his father’s suicide, committed suicide himself.  Haslett equates his suicide with Weil’s, though this seems very far from the mark (especially if you are of the opinion that Weil did not commit suicide).  She says that, since the world is doomed, the only choice is whether to commit suicide or not.  Wow.  I do hope that if any suicidal persons see this film that they aren’t encouraged negatively by it.  In any case, there actually seems to be hope in the end.

Amazingly, Haslett, for the first time, gives a nod to the supernatural; she says that to give attention is a “miracle.”  As she kisses a wall, she ends the film with this Weil quote:  “Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall.  The wall is what separates them but it is also their means of communication.  It is the same with us and God, every separation is a link.”  Perhaps the best audience for this film are all those who desire Haslett (and others like her) to look toward God longer, until she desires Him instead of the vessel in which He worked so brightly (Simone).
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Fiedler, Leslie A.  “Introduction,” in Waiting for God.  Simone Weil (New York: Harper Colophon 1973)

Weil, Simone.  Waiting for God (New York: Harper Colophon 1973; reprint of G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1951)

Where is God? God’s whisper to Elijah

God reveals Himself over and over again in the Old and New Testaments (and yes, there is much cumulative evidence to believe this is so), but Elijah’s encounter with an angel and with the Lord in 1 Kings 19 is one of the most interesting. Perhaps this is due to its poetical as well as enigmatic nature.   Some commentators provide that we do not really know why this story is in the Bible. But what can we learn from it?

Elijah was one of the most extraordinary prophets of God in the OT and he appeared in the NT “as” John the Baptist (Matthew 17:9-13; Luke 1:17) and in the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8). Since Elijah seems to show so much human weakness in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, it can provide encouragement to anyone who has fears or has become depressed. But why did Elijah become so fearful and depressed? To answer that question, some background is needed.

In Chapter 18, God conducted a (very) dramatic demonstration through Elijah to show the people that He was the real thing and not Baal, a god whom many Israelites were worshiping. Indeed, Yahweh, the only creator God and the God of Israel, was becoming thought of in the same terms as Baal, and from the site Kuntillet Ajrud, dated to this same period, Yahweh was even being associated with Asherah (a mother goddess). Not only was idolatry rampant, but paganistic syncretism. So, on Mt. Carmel Elijah called on God, and He rained down fire and consumed a huge water-drenched sacrifice.  But the 450 prophets of Baal could not get Baal to do anything. To rid Israel of this idolatry and all that resulted from it–besides the syncretism, all the prophets of God in Israel were being killed–the Baal prophets were executed.

Chapter 19 starts with Queen Jezebel, a Baal worshiper and killer of the prophets of God, refusing to believe the undeniable demonstration of God at Mt. Carmel. She said to Elijah, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow if I do not make your life like that of one of them [the prophets of Baal]” (interestingly enough, her curse on herself becomes fulfilled). Despite the miracle that God just did through Elijah, and God’s other works through him, Elijah is terrified and runs away, far away, in fear.

In despondency and what seems to be humility, Elijah prays, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” After this an angel provided food and water for him twice, saying to Elijah that the “journey is too much for you.” Since he hadn’t started his journey yet, it appears that the angel already knew where Elijah planned on going; nothing had been said about Elijah going to the mountain of God (Mt. Horeb) previously. Elijah leaves for Mt. Horeb, a journey taking 40 days and nights, with no other food than what the angel had already provided him. The following takes place the day after his arrival:

“The word of the LORD came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’ The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”

Does Elijah change his tune after this demonstration by God? No, and he answers the Lord with the same exact statement he provided at the beginning, “I have been very zealous . . .”. One problem with this answer is that he seems to be ignoring what a devout man told him shortly before, that 100 prophets were in hiding and had not been killed by Jezebel (1 Kings 18:1-15). In any case, Elijah seems to think he’s alone; after the angels’ help, and after thinking about things on the long journey, and after God’s amazing demonstration, he still feels despondent and afraid! So the Lord then tells Elijah to leave and anoint two named persons as kings and to also anoint Elisha as his successor.  God also tells Elijah that 7,000 believers will be left after the coming bloodshed. As we find later, one of the anointed kings helps to get rid of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:30-37).

Since Elijah leaves and no longer seems depressed, he must have understood that the Lord was taking care of things . . . right? The Lord let him know that he was not alone, so perhaps that helped his mood. However, Elijah does not seem to have done all that the Lord told him to do, but only anoints his successor, Elisha. We find later that Elisha anointed one of the kings (2 Kings 9:6); the other never appears to have been anointed (2 Kings 8:7-15). So, did Elijah still walk in fear during the rest of his life? It is impossible to say, but Elijah was taken up into heaven bodily and is a major player in God’s future work, so the Lord loved (and used) him despite his apparent disobedience.

But what to make out of the powerful demonstration the Lord made for Elijah at Mr. Horeb? Did Elijah need to learn that God was not in destructive forces of nature? It would seem very odd to think so! Did Elijah need to know that the Lord spoke in a soft voice? That also would seem very odd since the Lord had already spoken to Elijah many times. So . . . why? It seems that the best explanation is that Elijah needed to be reminded, in a real way, that God is the one to be feared, and not others. The demonstration was frightening. The Lord told Elijah to “stand on the mountain” to watch, but by the end, Elijah is inside the cave, no doubt with his knees shaking.

But the Lord is the one who controls things, not people like Jezebel.  When Elijah had prayed earlier, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors,” he seemed to be saying that he didn’t have faith in God, that he didn’t think God was really in control, and that he couldn’t shake his fear of dying at the hands of Jezebel or her idolators. In fact, he didn’t seem to trust God to keep him alive on the mountain while all that destruction was going on.

Since Elijah answered in the same distressed way after the Lord’s demonstration, it almost seems that what God did was wasted on Elijah. However, the Lord gives him work to do, and Elijah shows faith by leaving to do it. He gains strength, as can be seen by his future confrontation with the King Ahab (1 Kings 21), Jezebel’s husband. Later, he is taken up to God in a whirlwind of fire, the powers of which he finally learned he did not need to fear (2 Kings 21-18).

[This is also published at our main site]