Looking out the window while driving to the airport after a wonderful holiday time with family revealed a world of dead leaves and bare trees. Mile after mile, the landscape repeated the picture of winter barrenness and death. Every year, in the colder parts of the world, outdoor life succumbs to Mother Nature and withdraws leaving a swath of naked tree bark in place of the once lush greenery.
Have you ever felt like this?
Periods of life can be full of green leaves and flowering plants and others composed of brown sticks and brush. People talk about being in waiting periods, but those times seem more like spring with the anticipation of new growth and new beginnings ready to burst forth at any moment.
Like the open-air flora in the Midwest, human hearts and souls can navigate through a winter period as well. Not on a yearly cycle per se, but times of desolation occur through the course of a lifetime. Intervals of mind-numbing grayness exist when layers of clouds mask the shining sun and block its warmth and its hope. Landscapes of dead branches crowd the soul, removing joy and multiplying loneliness. Cold wraps the heart, walling it off like an empty barn in the distance.
Have you ever dealt with depression?
Depression seems similar to a winter landscape, devoid of growth and affection. Emptiness chills human emotions to the point where happiness ceases to be real. All that can be seen and felt is barrenness and loss, where previously flowers and peace reigned. The expanse of depression spreads vastly along the horizon of the human soul, seemingly endless in its duration.
Eventually, the sun burns through the cloud cover and sends warm rays to the ground beneath the naked trees. Plant life rejoices with regeneration and the sprouting of new hope. The icy hand of winter withdraws, releasing its grip on life.
Winter is only a season.
Depression can be long-term or episodic, but this wintering of the heart can and does lift. The soul thaws as joy and peace return. The mind opens as loneliness dissipates. The heart bubbles like a brook, and flowers again bloom on the branches.
I do not mean to diminish depression in the slightest. Having lived through it, I endured, outlasting the bare branches of my own soul. Riding in the car, looking at the landscape devoid of living plant life reminded me of how I felt on the inside when facing my own darkness. Sometimes people have power over us; other times, the shackles come from within. The reality of depression paralyzes the emotional centers of people, but, like a tree in spring, new life can bud out of the branches, leaping into action. My emptiness faded and growth returned.
The trees, though austere, are not dead.
It can take everything one has to hold on and survive despair. But, I believe that there is a way out, that the winter will end. We need to discuss the issue and support one another, being unafraid to be vulnerable. We need to stay close to God, leaning into His strength and comfort. We need to remember that the spring will come and have hope.