Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Depression

Today’s topic from the Preachers’ Institute for the 40 Days of Blogging Challenge is “Holiday Depression.” The holiday season can be exciting, fun, filled with family, and fulfilling. It can also be lonely and depressing. One of my childhood friends is a firefighter/paramedic who has worked many holidays in his career, which have oftentimes included suicide attempts. Sometimes, too many times, the attempts had been successful. But holiday depression is not limited to those without family. ANYONE can feel lonely or depressed during the holiday season.

First, I would like to address the term itself – holiday season – before I attempt a few words about depression. When and what is the holiday season, and whose description do we allow to influence our outlook on life? The commerce-driven society has only one goal – to make money. It only cares about how much money is in our bank account, and (maybe more importantly) how it can separate it from OUR bank account and transfer it to THEIR bank account. Yesterday, as part of our family Thanksgiving tradition, we watched Miracle on 34th Street, during which Mr. Macy says, “We’ll be known as the store with a heart….and consequently we’ll make more profits.” If we depend upon the society to determine the length (and priority) of the holiday season, we will inevitably find ourselves neither satisfied (since the department stores are never satisfied), nor full of joy. If you doubt this reality, take a moment and research the shopping trends of Americans as it pertains to Christmas.

So, what does the Church say about the holiday season? Beginning with November 15th, the Church asks us to fast, increase our daily prayer, Scripture reading, and charity. It is a season, through prayer, in which we PREPARE our souls to receive the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation in the Flesh. It is a 40 day period, similar to Great Lent but less intense, of focusing on God rather than ourselves. It is a complete opposite emphasis than the retails stores.

Here I must take a moment to clarify that, while I am NOT a trained psychologist (I had a few classes), I do not ascribe to the opinion that depression is as wide-spread as society suggests. I personally believe our society has created a “syndrome” mentality, where moods and mentalities which are well within the normal human experience, create the need for treatment. I also think this mentality is perpetuated by the idea that we must always be “happy,” a characteristic of our general desire to please ourselves. If we are not pleased, then we are not happy.

I think this is the struggle we must engage as Orthodox Christians. The reason the Church invites us to fast, is to teach us that life is not about pleasing ourselves, but pleasing God. If we can embrace that difference, when we find ourselves without certain pleasures or material “things” in our life, we can better appreciate this as a “normal part of life” rather than a failure of life. It might be a failure for the retail stores to separate us from our money, but it is in no way a failure of life.

If you find yourself every year during the holiday season feeling like a failure or wanting more than you can either afford or secure, please consider the difference between these two priorities. Do you want to follow the priority of the retail stores or the Church? Which priority do you think has YOUR best interest in mind? Which priority do you think is better for your soul? Which priority do you think will better keep you from being depressed this holiday season?

I do not discount the reality of a neuro-chemical imbalance which can create a clinical depression. Science has blessed us with a better understanding of the human brain, and we are blessed when we embrace this science. Check out the CDC website for more information about depression.

This post is written for the 40 Days of Blogging Challenge sponsored by the Preachers Institute. You may find other blogs participating in this challenge. I hope you enjoy this year’s Advent journey.

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