Summary: Walking with the black dog of depression affects us all but can bring us close to God and is not the end
‘Walking with the Black Dog’
’Black dog’ was the term Winston Churchill coined for depression - his own depression. For his depression was like a Black Dog that cast an ever present shadow over his life.
That anxiety, that depression, that ever present shadow, like Winston Churchill’s ’Black Dog’, is something many of us know. And like a dog, that depression is something that many of us take for quite a long walk with us through our lives.
So this evening I hope we will be able to spend some time thinking together about walking with the black dog.
Some of you may have had the opportunity to see the short film on BBC TV over Easter called ‘Mr Harvey Lights a Candle’. It spoke very clearly about the problems and realities of depression. The central character, Mr Harvey, is a schoolteacher, and is known by his pupils as ‘Mr Happy’ (because he is anything but) or alternatively ‘The Incredible Sulk’. As the film progresses, we slowly discover that Mr Harvey’s unhappiness has its foundations twenty one years earlier, when his wife died after less than a year of marriage. But in the film, we also come to face-to-face with the deep depression affecting one of Mr Harvey’s pupils, a young girl called Helen. Towards the end of the film, we see the two of them talking somewhere in the recesses of Salisbury Cathedral. During this, Helen says that she wishes she could die.
I do not know how many people who suffer from depression actually feel as bad as that. I don’t know how many people really feel suicidal, but I know from my own experience that deep sense of hopelessness and despair that can sap your energy, your enthusiasm, your vitality.
I think that sometimes there is an unrealistic expectation that in some magical way, Christians do not get depressed. That all we do is smile and exude great happiness. The fact is that God’s people do get depressed. Difficult times came to many in the Bible, and we’re going to have a Bible reading now that illustrates that point.
· Reading 1 Kings 19 :4-12
* Walking with the black dog happens to us all
I am told that there is a regular community of dog walkers. People who walk their dogs often see the same people at the same time every day and build up relationships and friendships. However, when you walking with the black dog of depression, it is a time to feel very much on your own. It can often be a very solitary walk. You can get that sense of aloneness in Elijah’s words and thoughts and feelings.
One of the greatest things that somebody said to me when I first began to experience depression was that he had experienced similar things too. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel quite so alone. And what I came to realise was that walking with the black dog of depression is something that happens to an awful lot of people. It may be that it actually happens to us all in some way. The experience of depression is part of the human condition. Now it’s quite clear that the degree of depression that people experience varies enormously. What for you might be just a bad day, can knock another person completely sideways. I’m not a doctor, but it seems to be that people’s susceptibility to depression comes from a number of causes. Clearly some people have a biological susceptibility to depression. Some depression is clearly caused by particular situations. And those situations and biological causes are very variable. But walking with the black dog happens to us all.
Indeed experiencing depression puts you in very good company. I mentioned Winston Churchill earlier. The great preacher C. H. Spurgeon stunned five thousand listeners when from the one Sunday he announced, "I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever gets to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to." The great reformer, Martin Luther was subject to such fits of darkness that he would hide himself away for days, and his family would remove all dangerous implements from the house for fear he would harm himself.
And because the black dog of depression comes to us all in some way, you are not alone. There are people around who have experienced the dark times of life. There are people around who can understand what it is you are going through.
There are people around you who have walked with the lack dog as you do. You are not alone.
And because the black dog of depression has all sorts of causes, and affects people in many ways, it is important to say that if you are feeling depressed, there is no need to feel that you are a failure, or to feel guilty, or to feel that you are in some way being punished.