Hope and Faith in Times of Sadness

She had every reason to be happy. So why wasn’t she?

By Elizabeth Sherrill, Hingham, Massachusetts

As appeared in

When the pounding of my heart grew too strong I would lift the baby from the shopping cart, seize the two-year-old by the hand and flee to the closed-in safety of the car. Beside me on the seat, my little boy would regard me solemnly. “We forgot the food again, Mommy.”

Dr. Kazan made a common-sense suggestion that at least kept us from starving: “Find a small grocery store.” I developed a repertoire of such strategies to get me through routine tasks.

Unable to confront the blank page on the first draft of a new story, I took to writing between the typed lines of previous work. I ran errands when the fewest people were about. I was functioning again, but it was hardly living.

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Psychiatry had explained some of the why of my depression–removed some of the frightening mystery–but further help was obviously needed.

Others, I knew, found strength in God. Religion had played no role at all in my childhood home; now for the first time in my life I began to read the Bible. A new world opened before me! A loving God, visions of strength and joy beyond my wildest hopes.

And then I discovered the part in this new world that would be required of me.

This is my commandment, read the words printed in red ink, that you love one another.

For some people such a command poses no problem. I’m married to one of them. I’ll leave our table at a restaurant in some town where we’ve never been, be gone five minutes, and come back to find another chair pulled up, John and a “really interesting guy” in rapt conversation.

But what if, like me, your instinct is not to pull up a chair, but to close a door?

It was to a spiritual helper named Joe Bishop that I turned this time. To Joe I confessed my lifelong pattern of pulling away from people.

“When I take a break from writing,” I told him, “I’ll head off on my own. Drive to a bird sanctuary. Go to a museum. Don’t ask anyone else along, just do my own selfish thing.”

What puzzled me, I went on, was that I had friends I enjoyed doing things with. Why did I need to be by myself when I could have a good time with others and give them pleasure too? “I’ve tried to change, but I can’t seem to.”

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“And why,” asked Joe, “do you want to change? Do you think when God created you, he meant to make someone else?”

I had been the editor on Joe’s writing projects for years, he reminded me. “I saw long ago that solitude is as necessary for you as food and drink. Why not thank God for feeding you in this way?”

Then, the closed door that I’d struggled against all my life was–acceptable?

Not only acceptable, Joe went on, but God-given. “Perhaps God made you someone who enjoys being alone because he wanted you to be a writer.” My impulse to hide–“it’s led you to help other people tell their stories.” I was, Joe insisted, a profound lover of people, “in your way, not John’s.”

Me? Whose self-image was that of a distant, standoffish person–I cared deeply for others? It was one of those heaven-tinged moments when in the mirror of someone else’s eyes we catch sight of a better self than we knew.

Joe’s portrait of me, I suspect, was largely a projection of his own deeply caring nature. But perhaps that too was an insight into this God I was meeting in the Bible! Perhaps, like Joe, God saw us not in terms of our character, but his.

As I left Joe’s study that day, I knew I was holding a key that would let me more and more often unlock that door. The key is acceptance of myself as I am, not as I wish I were. Not as I might someday become. Not in comparison to anyone else.

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Your Comments (7)

I have enjoyed your stories in the annual Guideposts books for years. My daughter gives me one each Christmas. I was never treated for depression until my dad passed in 1996, but have been on medication since that time. Your story made so much sense to me, things I've thought, could not share with others, things that seemed like such small concerns would snowball into such large fears to me. My depression doesn't keep me from doing daily activities but sure keeps me from enjoying them. I pray that reading your story about your depression will help me see a light at the end of the tunnel. i force myself to continue, but I make it really hard for my husband because I can't discuss it with him Maybe I will be able to now. Thank you again for sharing your story.

Dear Elizabeth, My mother sent me a copy of your story, which she was extremely excited for me to read. She told me she'd found the answer and reason for the depression I've suffered with all my life. She was right! While it won't cure the depression, it certainly helps to finally understand the real root cause, in a manner that makes so much sense. My father committed suicide a few months before I turned two and it makes so much sense that a child at that age would think that it was because of them. I've always been the over achiever when I wasn't in a deep depression, the same as you suffered at times. Thank you, so very much, for sharing your story!

Dear Elizabeth...I had a divine appointment with
your story tonight. I went to my weekly counsellor
appt Tues morn. Very depressed after sorting
through Mom & Dads picture albums. I've known
for years there are no baby pics of me. Born in
1950, second daughter, mommy had a nervous
breakdown! She shared with me from the time I
was small that Daddy had cheated on her and neglected
her! He took her to doctors and they gave her shock
Treatments and how horrible they were! My Dad had
Friends who were willing to take me for a while . Mommy
Made my Dad take her to ck on me after 2wks because she
thought they had put me in the oven for supper!
I was a small baby. I am a depressed woman who,
Right now is wondering what leftover stuff I have
actually carried around from going through this period
in my life. I see pics of her and daddy holding my sister
Who was born in 1948 and my bro who was born in 1952.
Happy pics! I was born on 1950. It's like they disappeared .
And me too, until I was 3. What input can you share ? Thanks

Thank you.

Thank you for sharing your story. About a year ago, at age 55, it was determined that I suffer from low self esteem. I assume it was brought on by being adopted and from being terribly shy as a child. I have always felt that I had to do 110% to be almost good enough. I have been working every day to quiet the destructive voice in my head and with God's help (and others) I am beginning to see that I too am a valuable person in God's Kingdom. I keep this verse with me always to remind that God loves me. 1 Corinthians 15:10 "By the grace of God I am what I am..." Thanks again for remind me, I'm not alone.

Thank you - I really needed to see this today.
When I was about 2, my mother had a miscarriage and then experienced severe depression, compounded by migraine. From what I know, she had already found me to be overactive and demanding, and certainly her health did not help matters. This story helps me see how this may have factored in to other concerns in my life.
We were never close, not at all, and I feel that gap again, even more, as my dad is now in final stages of dementia. An unexpected twist is that she is now moving in next door to me - I am anxious about how this will go.
My sister asked me how I felt about her becoming my new neighbor, and I said Maybe it will give her a chance to appreciate me.
Prayers, please, for my mother and I to find connection and forgiveness.

You are precious. Just be your self and show her love and kindness. Sounds simple, but love is a winner no matter what.