Showing Up, Over and Over Again
Letter from Abby McIntyre
Dear Sisters in Christ,
I struggle with depression.
Okay, “struggle”, might be a misrepresentation.
Sometimes depression ravages me.
Imagine a disgruntled, bitter acquaintance in the back of my mind who tells me that I am worthless. She reminds me of all the people who’ve left me, all of the times I’ve monumentally screwed up, and how far I am at 22 from where I thought I’d be. After ending an engagement five months ago, depression has always been there to tell me how alone I’ve become. Depression alerts me that my relational failure is so obvious to the outside world that others can read it on my face when I walk into a room. She whispers that despite frequent confession and prayer, my sin is too recurrent and repulsive for Jesus to redeem. My habitual sins and weaknesses have written me out of the plan for salvation. I know all the right steps of the faith, but can’t seem to follow them with the dedication I intend.
These thoughts come to me like battle cries from Satan in a war for my submission to darkness. There are days when I find strength to shove these irrational thoughts down, but I still wake up some mornings drowning in hopelessness and shame of my cycle of defeat. I want to skip class, call in sick, or cancel my plans, depending on what commitment lies before me. Meeting the basic demands of the day are pointless for a woman who is going to flounder anyway.
However, during one recent morning, God wouldn’t let me stay in my personal prison and pulled me out to see the light.
Like so many times before, I woke up anxious on this particular Thursday. I hit my alarm, rolled back into a comfortable position, and laid under my blankets, thinking about staying in bed for the rest of the day. It would have been easy, knowing how many times before my own instability has locked me in. I spent a few minutes pondering the repercussions if I carried out my plan of inertia, feeling both a rise in guilt and confidence in my agenda.
All of a sudden, I heard a distinct, forceful command. “Get to the chapel. Now.” The statement was unlike my usual mid-anxiety/depressive demeanor. I tend to tell myself that it will be impossible to change my circumstance, so I should succumb to the moment. In contrast, this was strong and required action that made me want to vomit. Nonetheless, I listened. For whatever reason, it felt instinctive, as if I was running from danger. I jolted out of my bed, showered, and packed a quick lunch. As I navigated on the 7-minute drive, I debated my own actions. From where did this sudden momentum come? How did I just break out of my shell when a normal anxious episode can keep me captive for hours?
As I entered the chapel, I felt my tension cease. The fogginess in my head became clarity. The knots in my stomach unraveled. What came to replace the tension was a peace I could not have created myself.
Now I want to assert that you can’t just “pray away” mental illness. There have been numerous times I have sat in adoration with no change in mental anguish. I have done some of my snottiest, angriest crying while sitting in a pew before the Eucharist.
But by God’s grace, this entrance was different. I typed in the chapel code and swung the door open with gusto. I kneeled before Him and felt myself asking, “I know you want me here. What is it that you want to say to me?” In contrast, my usual prayer begins with, “sorry I didn’t pray enough yesterday” or “I know my behavior wasn’t the best recently.” I know God is wise enough to see through my confident facade to the outside world, so I wind up approaching Him with dread only to apologize constantly when I finally work up the nerve to speak.
My timidness stems from falling into the spiritual trap that I must only present myself when I have and look like something worth presenting. There is no way I could attempt to live up to the standards of the saints when I can’t even turn a basic college assignment in on time or stop myself from wasting hours meandering through amusing internet videos. How could God love me when there is nothing to assert my value?
But while sitting in front of the Eucharist, the Lord pointed out that I am a human being, not a human doing.
I don’t need to prove myself.
The arbitrary limitations I have set are a result of my own pride, not based on the truth of who He is. I have distorted my perception of His affection from loving to loving only if I can be a perfect robot of holy conduct and charity. God’s mercy is not dependent on my actions, but in my identity as His creation. This chapel experience was so distinct not because God’s mercy had changed, but because I allowed myself to accept it.
I best understand divine mercy when I receive it at my most vulnerable moments, from the compassionate emails of my professors who let me turn in assignments late, to the encouraging words and prayers from friends after trembling to tell them that I spent my day unproductive and lifeless. From the priest who assured me that God is proud of my confession and is thankful to have me back in His flock after I’ve fallen, to the unexpected acclamation from my boss about my work when I feel I have nothing worth regarding.
Though I’ve spent time waiting for those around me to realize how unfixable I am, they won’t stop telling me that I’ve got it all backwards.
So here is my command to you: get to the chapel. Pour yourself out to Him. You may not feel a sudden release of your burdens, but He is still there even when you don’t recognize His face. He is working in and through you. Over and over again He wants to show you that there is no limit to His love.
I have woken up anxious numerous times since my memorable Thursday. But when the irrational thoughts start flooding, I recollect my chapel experience and repeat, “Jesus, I trust in you.” I remind myself that if God created me, He wouldn’t have created something He didn’t like. He certainly wouldn’t have commanded me to come to Him. I often cast out the spirit of fear in Jesus’ name and implore the Holy Spirit to show me my true identity and His true feelings about me.
On the days when I pray these prayers, I feel empowered and secure enough to meet my responsibilities. I lose the mask of an awkward, disheveled outsider among my Catholic peers and revert back to my true self as someone who has a claim to God’s love as much as anyone else.
The beauty of the Catholic faith is that there are no outsiders. Being Catholic doesn’t mean everyone is identical, but that all are welcome, no asterisk or condition implied.
There is a tattoo on my left forearm that reads, “be not afraid!” It is not a phrase of my own creation, but one said by the mouth of Jesus numerous times. He is not a man who says things He doesn’t mean.
One moment at a time I am learning to run to the Lord without fear of His rejection. I pray you can do the same.
About the Writer: Abby McIntyre
Abby McIntyre is a 22-year-old who hails from the Hoosier state. She is an almost-graduate of philanthropic studies and nonprofit management at the Indiana University of Indianapolis. She is a blossoming pro-life activist and is passionate about spreading the truth of human dignity.
Included in her advocacy work are morning cups of coffee, well-timed clever quips, and the beauty of the Catholic faith. Abby is often found listening to anything from folk and worship songs to R&B and alternative indie music. If not doing so, she’s most likely debating life issues or laughing at her own internal ramblings.