When Things Fall Apart Inside

Depression. A dictionary or thesaurus gives us some striking synonyms: a hollow, a cavity, a sinkhole. It is where something inside has given way causing the surface to fall in. The person experiencing depression has had that experience — the experience of something inside giving way, the loss of some internal structure or support.

Elijah was there. In the Old Testament reading yesterday we heard from him: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

For context, let’s recall the tremendous deeds of this towering figure. Elijah calls for a drought upon Israel at the word of the Lord — punishment for the idolatry being led by King Ahab and his Baal-worshipping, Sidonian wife, Jezebel. Elijah is fed miraculously by ravens. He spares a widow and her son from the drought-induced famine by another miracle, and when the young man dies, Elijah raises him from the dead. But he is only getting started.

The great contest of Carmel pits four hundred and fifty self-mutilating prophets of Baal against this single servant of Yahweh, who calls down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and the altar and the water in the trench around the altar. He then executes the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, calls down rain from heaven to end the drought, and just for good measure, outruns a chariot for 19 miles.

But Jezebel says: “I am going to kill him just as dead as he killed my prophets,” and something gives way inside of this great prophet and wonder-worker and he goes and lies down under a tree and says, “God, take away my life.”

Say, what?

That’s right. Elijah has fallen into depression and it is very interesting what God does with him. First, God sends an angel to him twice with food and drink — tenderly urging him to strengthen himself for the journey God wants him to make. So sustaining is this food that he goes on a journey of forty days to Mount Horeb.

But he is no less depressed when he arrives. He lies down again, this time in a cave, and God asks him gently, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He repeats his anguished cry to be allowed to die, this time adding that he is all alone — he is the only faithful servant of God left in the land and (in case God has not noticed) Jezebel has decided to kill him.

Having heard the cry of Elijah’s heart, God answers, not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, not with His display of power, but with a still, small voice — a voice that by its gentleness entices Elijah to stand up, to listen. And again, God asks him what is wrong and once again, Elijah repeats his complaint, shares his loneliness. And then gently, with that same small voice God tells Elijah that He has several very important tasks for him to accomplish. And when God is finished assigning Elijah his new jobs, God says: “Oh, and by the way, there are still seven thousand who have not bent the knee to Baal. You see Elijah, you are not alone.”

God has a message for all of us.  Depression can srike anyone, no matter how powerful, energetic, or indomitable a person seems to be. Depressed people are not realistic and they might make repeated complaints, but they need someone to listen to them and they may even need physical care. So care. Listen.

God has a message for all who are depressed. It is a message of tender care and concern. God is listening to your pain. He has a purpose for you. And you are not alone.

Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is Editor-at-Large  of CatholicLane.com.

Raised as a  third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996.  Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at [email protected].

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  • Jann

    My mom suffered from bipolar disorder and was also an amazing long-suffering, caring, loving, true Catholic woman of God. She worked for the highway dept. when she first moved from New Orleans to Iowa to date my dad while he was in graduate school for veterinary medicine. She often told us that she could never work for the government again, though she enjoyed it, because she had been treated for depression and that meant she was now barred from any government work.

    I suffered from “clinical” post-partum depression after the birth of each of my children. It was no fun but it made me a more compassionate, sensitive, ‘not-so-quick-to-judge’ person.

    Mental and emotional illness is still frowned upon in our society and I have joked that it is more fashionable in our culture to have HIV these days, than mental illness. Sadly, it still carries a stigma and people still point fingers at “those crazies.”

    But we need to remember, a person who has a mental illness also has “mental skillness” and needs extra love and caring and while they step back from the fray and heal for a while. Reach out to them, let them know they are not alone and don’t hesitate to pray with them. When they get to the other side of this, (if they allow God to use their pain) they will have a new outlook and be more compassionate and loving. So as Mary advised,”…care. Listen,” let them know they will get to the other side and pray for them and with them. What is now a great burden can become one of their greatest gifts!

  • noelfitz


    brilliant article.

    Many thanks.

    You show a deep understanding of both the Bible and depression.

    It is tragic that so many suffer from depression, but encouraging that very many recover.

  • diane

    Thank you for this article. I suffer from clinical depression, and often feel like crawling into a cave. I pray that I may listen to God’s voice, telling me to come out of that cave.

  • Mary Kochan

    Welcome Diane. I am so glad this article resonated with you.

  • Christian West

    A lot can be done for those who suffer around us. A prayer, a phone call, a note, a hug, a warm meal, a walk shared in silence or in conversation. Show genuine care. Many would be alive today if we had shown some concern instead of watching stoically from a distance, that damn distance we keep among us in the name of good manners, or “minding our own business” but it is truly a hypocritical way of distractedly walking by the man left to die on the side of the road. You are expected to be the good Samaritan. Every suffering person is an opportunity to show mercy, every sufferer is a potential ticket out of Purgatory and a great opportunity to imitate God.