Those who like me grew up going to church are aware that Christians like to draw a distinction between joy and happiness. The idea is that happiness is based on circumstances, but joy is not. We like to quote 1Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
And that’s all well and good, but for someone who struggles with depression, it can be confusing. The Bible says we should be joyful in all circumstances. Depression is a circumstance. Therefore we should be joyful when we’re depressed. What?
This seems impossible, so I started examining each step of the argument. I don’t want to deny the truth of Scripture (by saying we don’t have to be joyful always). Arguing that depression is a sin (not a “circumstance”) also doesn’t make sense to me (for reasons I can explain if people are interested). So, paradoxical as it sounds, there must be a way to find joy in depression.
I’ve come to a tentative solution: joy in the midst of depression looks less like happiness and more like hope. I think the details are better explained in poetry than in prose.
The Sun in the Night
Joy is the sun that fills my world with light,
That paints the flowers with their rainbow hue,
That crowns the dancing waves with diamonds bright
And shimmers out from every drop of dew.
But sorrow strikes – I spin into the dark.
Night rises up to steal the sunlight’s throne.
A hungry void devours every spark.
Night hisses, “Light is dead. You are alone.”
Yet though the sun is hidden from my gaze,
It does not for that reason cease to be.
I see it in the moon’s reflected rays
And grasp at hope’s unfelt reality.
Joy’s gravity holds me within my way,
Saves me from slipping out into despair.
It guards me till I spin back into day
And dawn paints roses in the morning air.