It might be fair to say that, in these very testing times when people are beset with worry, anxiety and despair even, when isolation is increasing our feeling of disconnectedness, and we are only too aware that the important personal relationships that we need to live our daily lives are withdrawn from us to a great extent, the afflictive thought of dejection may be a part of many lives.
This thought, which brings with it a sense of emptiness and darkness, takes its name from a Latin word which literally means to be thrown or cast down, to be hurled to the ground, and to be thrown off course. When I am dejected this is my principal feeling – that something has caused me to be cast down, felled almost, like a tree; that my spirit has been darkened. It’s also linked with another Latin word in the wisdom literature of great monastic teachers – tristitia, sadness or gloom.
Generally, dejection robs us of our usual gladness of heart, our essential cheerfulness with life and the situation in which we find ourselves. It diminishes the pleasure that we gain from prayer, spiritual reading and company – indeed, one of its first symptoms can, perversely, be that we turn away from the company of others which we so badly need in that moment. Often dejection is seen to be a result of anger which has lain dormant within us, or has not been sufficiently challenged and moved aside, and so can make us bitter and gloomy. Our usual patience dries up and we can do little to tolerate others faults, or even our own.
We might say that, above all, dejection is marked by those characteristics – gloominess, a lack of patience, a shortness in temper, and ultimately, if the thought is allowed to grow and get a hold on us, a despair which can lead to real self harm and even thoughts of and actions towards suicide.
For a Christian, dejection is a serious afflictive thought to allow take root – it suffocates our joy, and joy, above all, is a sign of Christ Risen being present in our lives (John 20:19-22).
Importantly when we are faced with this type of despair in our lives we should move at the earliest opportunity to root it out. Because it ultimately derives from an existential emptiness we need to fill that emptiness in the healthiest possible way and by employing the healthiest possible practices.
In the first place, we need to stay in relationships. Relationships root us and establish us; they give us support, encouragement and affirmation; they help us become who we need to be. In the same way, our own specific communities – family, friendship groups, work colleagues, religious brothers and sisters, prayer group sharers – need to reach out to the one afflicted by dejection and draw them back into the community life. This is an essential corrective – our communities are the places where we find God revealed and touching us.
Secondly, try to break away from self-destructive behaviour, whatever that might be. Generally, it involves thoughts and behaviour which drag us down, which we know never reflects my true self, which leads to morally unacceptable situations and sin. Breaking away from these unhealthy practices can also be a time when we seek out true reconciliation, openly with others whom we have offended or who have hurt us, and especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, giving us absolution and healing on the back of our own personal conversions.
Thirdly, we should move aside the thoughts which often accompany dejection – self-loathing and a loss of self-worth; seeing depression and despair as our default ways of living; and not allowing suicidal thoughts to replace thoughts that we have something to live for. Suicide can be prevented – and all of us need to be aware that it is a conversation that we can broach and have with a friend or family member or colleague.
In the spiritual life, dejection often has to be lived through, but can be aided by our frequent recourse to spiritual tools – the manifestation of our thoughts to another, reconciliation, the use of the Jesus Prayer and other means of meditation, and lectio divina, the prayerful encounter with Christ through reading and reflecting on Sacred Scripture. Above all, we need to be aware that Christ comes to us to conquer any darkness which appears to be about to overwhelm us.
So, if isolation at the moment is driving you down, if the thought of dejection or despondency is difficult to shift, try reading the following passages in St John – light overcoming darkness, and our inherent self worth as children of God:
The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone….JOHN 1:1-18
I am the Light of the worldJOHN 8:12
…the darkness of blindness gives way to the brightness and light of sightJOHN 9:1-41
Lazarus, raised, comes from the darkness and death of a tomb to the light and life of himself, friend of JesusJOHN 11:1-43
..what it is to be children of light who believe in Christ Jesus1ST LETTER OF ST JOHN
-Part of our ‘Afflictive Thoughts’ series-