Whether you suffer from mental health issues yourself, or you are living alongside someone else who is struggling, you know the challenges that come with depression and anxiety. Counseling, medication, support groups, and pastoral care have saved lives and moved the afflicted into healthy space. Management of our grief and the entire menu of suffering that takes our breath away sometimes requires help outside ourselves and always requires the intervention of a loving and all-knowing God.
In Shades of Light, Sharon Garlough Brown offers a gentle invitation to practices of spiritual formation and the shaping of hearts that comes as we identify with the psalmist in our darkest times:
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:11-12
The invitation comes in story form as Brown weaves messy lives into a coherent and redemptive narrative featuring Wren Crawford, a twenty-something social worker whose battle with depression and anxiety is exacerbated by an emotionally taxing workload.
Readers of Brown’s Sensible Shoes series will find that Wren is in good hands as she lives alongside friends from the New Hope community. In addition to more traditional spiritual practices, Wren explores visio divina (sacred seeing), “a slow and prayerful pondering of visual images (paintings, photographs, sculpture, etc.), noticing the details that catch our attention and draw us into conversation and communion with God.” To her surprise, Wren found her love for the work of Vincent van Gogh had become a shaft of light that illuminated her darkest days of recovery.
Parents familiar with the challenges of loving adult children in crisis will join Jamie Crawford, Wren’s mum, on the sidelines, aching to help, but unsure of what to offer. The heartbroken father in Mark 9 who comes to Jesus begging for compassion for a son in torment exposes the reality of Jamie’s “co-suffering.” (88) The tender way in which Jesus enters into the man’s story (“How long has this been happening to him?”) reassures grieving parents that the Son of God in all his power stands beside them in their confusion and their moments of unbelief.
Painting the colors of despair, Wren identifies the stresses that trigger her downward spirals and begins the step by step process of loading her brush with the colors of hope. Her painting and her spiritual journey coalesce around the words of van Gogh:
For those who believe in Jesus Christ, there is no death or sorrow that is not mixed with hope–no despair–there is only a constantly being born again, a constantly going from darkness into light.” (81)
Coping skills that help Wren to shift her mental focus, to acknowledge the sadness while embracing the precious and the beautiful, will draw fellow travelers into the same helpful practice, for the truth is that pain shared is a load lightened, and Jesus himself comes to us as a companion in sorrow, keeping company with us in everything that’s hard. He sits with us in the chair of unknowing as we wait for shades of light to break through.
Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Living in Shades of Light,
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