I was speaking the other day with man who was sharing with me his recent struggle with serious depression. He said that the most difficult part of depression is the loss of a sense of meaning in life. “It’s as if the whole world is suddenly drained of all its color and seems to be just grey, flat,” he said. “And the future, well it just evaporates. The word ‘tomorrow’ just seems like fog; like a fantasy that is not real.” He said that when he finally got help, and found the support he needed, and things got better, he suddenly realized what he had been missing. “Hope. That’s what I saw I’d lost. When you don’t believe the next day, or any day, will ever be better, you just don’t have anything to hope in. So you think, what’s the point?”In his once-popular book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” One of the greatest gifts faith in God offers is a sense of meaning that transcends the ups and downs of life. And that meaning gives birth to hope. For those faith traditions that hold faith in an afterlife, hope can give a sense of trust and peace in knowing there is life beyond death. But faith can also remind us that the greatest meaning of life is for the here and now, not just for later. Faith in a provident God laboring to draw good from every evil opens the possibility of hoping against hope when all seems lost; of discovering redemption in the seemingly irredeemable. Faith in such a just and merciful God defines a meaningful life as one lived for others, making a life of love to be the measure of all things.
Allowing for the welcoming of one’s faith into the dying process, Five Wishes opens up a sacred space for discovering hope-filled meaning at life’s end. Instead of surrendering to the dark void of meaninglessness, the sufferer can surround herself with the networks of support and sacred symbols that sustain faith in a God who speaks light into the darkness and life into death.
The acquaintance I spoke with of his depression, referring to the role played by his faith, “Even at my darkest point, I had my faith. I knew God was with me. For all my Good Fridays, I’ve got just as many Easter Sundays.”
Tom Neal, PhD is Academic Dean and professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and author of the popular blog Neal Obstat.