When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend: Reflections on life and ministry with depression
by Mark Meynell
Depression defies description. When in the midst of darkness, finding words to grasp doesn’t work well. Mark Meynell attempts to chart a course through depression, talking about its causes, what the experience is like, and how he has so far survived it. He also talks about how is depression changed his ministry forever.
This is an emotional book. Meynell walked me into his cave, and I saw so many reflections of my own depression. His takes a different form, but there were enough similarities I was shaken more than once. He takes more than half of the book describing what depression is like, describing shame, guilt, wanting to be invisible, longing for intimacy and fearing it all at once. While this part of the book wasn’t particularly useful for me, I think it could be very useful for someone trying to grasp either their own depression or that of a friend.
I appreciated that throughout this section of the book, Meynell repeatedly turns to God’s promises for comfort. He’s blunt in saying that repeating these promises rarely help in the season of darkness. He also talked about all the ways so many people try to help that actually hurt during those seasons. Meynell also outlines how to actually help someone who is going through a season of darkness.
In that same section, he also points to numerous psalms. I cheered more than once at his choices as psalms that have also comforted me and gave me a voice. He points out that by simply including the psalms, God legitimizes the wrestling. After all, if God didn’t want us talking about the darkness we experience, he wouldn’t have included it in his Word! (One minor point: his treatment of Psalm 22 may indicate that he does not believe it to be Messianic prophecy, but that may simply be picky reading on my part.)
The last few chapters focus on how depression affects the ministry. The book before this was good but not anything that made me say, “This book is amazing.” The last chapter, though, hit home in all the right ways. He talks about why depression can even help ministry:
He is unashamed of his weakness. Why? It is because his strength, as well as his identity and purpose, all derive from the security he has discovered in Christ. Christ brings the forgiveness for his guilt, the acceptance that heals his shame, the strength that assuages his insecurities. Paul does not derive his sense of worth, nor understand his identity, from either his role in ministry, or from afflictions and weakness. In short, the thorn keeps him humble, while God’s grace frees him from pretense. … If I can put it starkly, we should learn to do weakness and failure well. (180)
I have found that for as much of the weight of the curse I feel when depression strikes, it has forced me to rely on Christ and not myself. I find that my ability to love those around me increases, as I am not holding them to a higher standard of what should be, but can be broken with them. Meynell addresses all these concerns, and it’s good to know I am not alone.
He also wrestles with whether or not ministers should be open with their depression, and he urges ministers to be cautiously open. Don’t air all your dirty laundry, but at least your leadership should know where you struggle. That transparency often brings people closer together, and shows that you rely on Jesus as much as you urge everyone else to. I am thankful for his arguments here.
The appendices of the book may be worth the price of the book by themselves. Meynell sums up the need for self care and some ways to do it, also listing resources that are easily found online. Then he lists books, albums, and poetry that have all aided him. This list comes with great notes. I plan on ordering a number of the books he talked about. He lists two pages of classical songs that express his darkness and hope. He even includes some of his own poetry here.
While this book wasn’t groundbreaking for me, it was well, well worth my time. If you want to understand depression, either your own or someone else’s, better, look this book up. It will give you a vocabulary to wrestle with reality while also pointing you to the hope you have in Christ.