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.

Exploring Depression and Anxiety as Companions in Sorrow

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,

Photo by Carolina Pimenta on Unsplash

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase Shades of Light: A Novel or Sensible Shoes, simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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46 thoughts on “Exploring Depression and Anxiety as Companions in Sorrow”

  1. Michele, WOW! You had me with, “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.” I downloaded the Kindle version from you link this morning. I so enjoyed the Sensible Shoes book study we did this summer, and I, too, am inspired by prayerful pondering of visual images and artwork. Can’t wait to read this book! Thank you!

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  2. Co-suffering. That says it all. I’m so touched that there is a name for what we expetience as we walk alongside those we love year after year … our parents, children, grandchildren as they endure physical and emotional pain. Only Jesus fully understands what we’re going through.

    Michele, this hit home. Literally. Bless you.

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  3. You have a gift, Michele. The way you write about the writings of others with such beauty and eloquence is truly unique.

    It never occurred to me to address the issues of mental illness and effective treatments through a novel, but it makes perfect sense! Sounds like a valuable, inspiring, and hope-filled read!

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  4. Is it coincidence that I was just reading Mark 9 this morning? Tried to reblog but it didn’t happen. So I shared this one on my facebook page. God bless.

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  5. Michele, this is powerful to think on: “… 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.” So grateful for the times He has, (and yet to come), when He has shared my load. Blessings!

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  6. Michele,
    You know this is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I rejoice in seeing more Christian authors speak up about the often overlooked subject of mental illness, especially among Christians. I will have to explore this book…thanks so much for sharing!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    1. Yes, and exploring the topic via fiction seems to be such a great tool for analyzing feelings at a remove, and yet there’s still great impact. I’d like to know your thoughts on it if you get around to reading it. What I’m wondering is if someone struggles with clinical depression, is it helpful to read about it–or is it a trigger?

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  7. So interesting!!!! I love how art or other form of mediums can help with depression & sadness God works through it all.

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  8. As someone who has dealt immensely with depression and anxiety in the past, I really appreciate that this topic is discussed.
    Truly, the only reason I’m still standing today is because of God’s love and keeping my focus on Him. When I look at the troubled waters that seem to surround me I begin to sink, but even if I take my eyes off of Him He’s always there with arms wide open to help me back up.
    This whole topic made me remember a book I once read called “Hinds’ Feet on High Places.” It was given to me as a gift and was a huge encouragement to me. I don’t know if it’s particularly relevant to this topic specifically, but it just came to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sounds like I have two books to add to my TBR list-Brown’s Sensible Shoes and Shades of Light. I have never heard of visio divina (sacred seeing) but I believe I do this often without knowing it. Thank you for sharing your latest book with us.

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  10. So many of us suffer with anxiety and depression. I appreciate this post and with it the Sensible Shoes series. Thank you for linking this up today.

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  11. This is brilliant, Michele! You know I am always appreciative of works that deal with mental health and how we can support and encourage others on their journeys through such darkness. I love that there are religious works available as well since it was not too long ago when certain religious groups considered mentally ill people wicked and dark, rather than just people who are unwell and need love and care and support. Shouldn’t the basis of all religion be love and care and support anyway? Such a great post. Thanks for sharing this work with us.

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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    1. Well, the church still has a long way to go, but I can see that we are making strides in the right direction, and I do believe it’s because of the voices of those who suffer with mental illness (and their families!). Sharon Garlough Brown has done an amazing job of intertwining sound practices for addressing depression and anxiety through medical means AND also through practices of spiritual formation that would be valuable for anyone no matter what their particular need might be.
      Shelbee, I do appreciate the openness you bring with you here.

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  12. I have so many friends who either struggle with anxiety and depression or have children (some adult children) who struggle with it as well. This sounds like a great book for them and I’ll be sharing, Michele! Plus, I didn’t know that van Gogh was a Christian! Interesting!

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    1. I hadn’t known that, either, Beth, and I have a feeling we might not meet with him point for point on a doctrinal statement, but I’ll bet we could meet over tea and have a great conversation about how God has met us in our dark times. Unfortunately, Vincent lost his battle with depression, and that’s what we remember him for.

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  13. This looks like a great book. It’s really good to see religion finally playing a part in supporting those with mental illness rather than the judgement we have sometimes faced in the past. I will have to add this to the reading list. Thank you so much for sharing x

    #TwinklyTuesday

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  14. Thanks for this book suggestion, Michele. I had not heard of Shades of Light. Depression and anxiety are such needy topics to cover these days!

    Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

    Like

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