Finding hope in the new year

Published 4:52 pm Friday, January 7, 2022

Engraved above the entryway to Hell in the great Inferno by Dante Alighieri are these words: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” It’s meant to prepare all those traveling into that abyss that their eternal lives are going to be so bad that hope itself would become an act of self-imposed cruelty.  Side note: that phrase would make the most amazing welcome mat on a front porch, especially in an area with lots of door-to-door salespeople.

I bring this up because I think many people experience the arrival of a new year in much the same way those travelers into hell felt walking through that gate. “A new year has come. So what? Life feels utterly hopeless anyway! “

In fact, some folks have abandoned hope even before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. I know this because I hear these things as a pastor and, well…I’m a human being too, and I’m not immune to moments of despondency. You could also call it depression.  In fact, depression and I are long-time colleagues. I hesitate to say friends, and I wouldn’t call depression my partner.  So, colleague it is. If you are one of the lucky ones who doesn’t struggle with depression or anxiety, the best way that I can describe how I experience depression is that even when life is going perfectly, when I am living my best life, there is something that gnaws on me and says, “You don’t deserve this and you’re probably going to lose it all anyway.”

It’s more complicated than that, for sure.  But that paints the picture well enough.  The hardest part for me when dealing with depression is the incessant need in our culture to never reveal your true self to the public.  One is expected to appear always put together, never on the edge.  There’s also something about my own profession as a pastor that makes learning to live with depression that much more difficult.  When you are expected to always be a shining example of the joy and happiness of God, that pressure becomes internalized, and you find yourself moving through life with a mask.

I know that so many of you are reading this and saying, “Hey! That’s me!” Maybe not the pastor part, but the depression part.  That feeling of being unable to be yourself when being yourself is exactly what might lift your depression! Some of you reading this might also be saying to yourself, “It’s true. So, what’s the point of living any longer?”

I won’t pretend to know the meaning of life generally or the meaning of your life particularly.  I will tell you, however, that life can get better.  For me, that began with finding a good therapist and talking to my doctor.  I was eventually placed on an anti-depressant that made a huge difference for me.  I was able to feel like myself again, like that gloomy cloud hovering above me had been vanished.  At least for a while.  Therapy and medication aren’t cure-alls. But they help, and they help immensely. If you are finding yourself hopeless at the beginning of this new year, know that there are resources out there and people in the community who would love to help you through the pain.  I’m one of them.  If you have made it to the end of this article and struggle with knowing your sacred worth, then let me end with this: you are a beloved child of God, beautiful to behold.  You deserve happiness, goodness, and joy.  You deserve love.  My email is chris@saintpetersnc.org if you want a listening ear or help in finding resources to find hope again.

Chris Adams is the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.