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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.