The Spiritual Landscape
But, broadly speaking, it could be argued that our cultural default mode is maximize good feelings, minimize bad ones, and seek to move back to good feelings as soon as possible when we are feeling bad. From a spiritual perspective, however, being happy is a secondary consideration. As Ignatius of Loyola noted centuries ago, the measure of our experiences is not our level of happiness. Consoling experiences draw us closer to God and others in love. Desolating experiences drive us further from a love for both. Intimacy with God, not our happiness, is at the heart of the spiritual life.
Two, not all struggles should be medicated. The current debate over the revisions to the D.S.M. revolves around the latitude to diagnose and medicate. Given the nature of the document, that's understandable. There are times when chemistry is the issue—either as a means of addressing a temporary cause of emotional distress or a lifelong, chemical imbalance. And there are other times that medication can ameliorate the impact of depression, addressing (for example) our need for rest.
But some causes of depression can only be addressed by facing them. From a spiritual point of view that involves the painful process of sitting with our grief in God's presence. And for that, there is no medication.
Three, there are things to be learned from grief. God does not orchestrate loss in order to teach us, but grief radicalizes life. And in reorienting ourselves to the world around us, we learn new things about ourselves, our relationship to God, and what we value. We can "get stuck"—the insights to be gained from living with those moments cannot be put on a clock and measured out.
Relationships that are lost are nothing to get over. Among the assumptions implicit in the church's doctrine of the resurrection is the message that we endure as individuals in God's presence. To lose the immediacy of a loved one's companionship is to suffer painful loss, but the relationship endures.
Psychological approaches that lack that dimension cannot talk about a meaningful hope that follows on the loss of someone we love—apart from the saccharine consolation that those we love "live on in our hearts." But, for that reason, it is not surprising that the debate over the D.S.M. appears to imply, "Give them a month. If they aren't over it, medicate them."
It turns out that the greatest problem with the practice of psychology might not be when it forgets that it is art, as well as science. The real problem may be its pretensions to be a religion.
Frederick W. Schmidt is the author of The Dave Test: A Raw Look at Real Life in Hard Times (Abingdon Press: 2013) and several other books, including A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). He holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He and his wife, Natalie live in Chicago, Illinois. He can also be reached at: http://frederickwschmidt.com/
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