I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer to heal, comfort, strengthen, and render praise and glory to our awesome God. At the same time, I struggle with severe depression and anxiety. When I’m anxious, I’m often drawn to prayer to seek comfort and to help me to discern what needs to be done. Depression, on the other hand, is often an entirely different story. While my symptoms range from ”feeling down” to not being able to function, I find that very often my heart and mind do not turn to God. I’m not really sure where they turn, to be honest. And yet, over the years, I have developed—by the grace of God—certain “tools” for praying even when my mind is empty, my heart dark, and my body sore. I’d like to share a few with you, in the hopes that it will help to bring you peace.
(1) Acquire the Habit
As I said, when you are anxious you may be compelled to pray to find peace, out of a loving desire, or to surrender everything to the Lord. However, depending on how severe it is, you might not have any desire to pray at all when you are depressed. It’s important to try. It is so important to build up the virtue of diligence in your prayer life, so that you acquire that holy habit of turning to God daily. The more rooted you are in your prayer life, the longer it will carry over into a depressive episode, regardless of how you feel.
(2) Change It Up
Don’t be afraid or ashamed to change things up to accommodate your needs. Maybe you need to sleep a little longer so your prayer is a little later and a little shorter. It could be that you begin going to a different Mass that is calmer and at a better time. Do you usually meditate, but now you can’t even think? Choose a holy image, or better yet, sit in front of the blessed sacrament, and just gaze. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent “feeling” my prayers. In other words, I muster the strength to sit with the Lord and nothing else. In this way I express my desire, my will, to surrender all to him and the depression itself becomes a prayer.
(3) Listen to Your Prayers
I find it helpful to listen to the rosary or other prayers when my brain is too slow to come up with a Hail Mary, or maybe my desire to pray is so non-existent that I’m only able to muster the spiritual energy to listen. Again, to the best of my ability I’m willing to spend time with him, and that is actually a great act of love. When we exert our will to turn to him, more or less devoid of feeling and desire, it is perhaps our greatest act of love and our sweetest prayer.
(4) Say Tiny Prayers
At any time, but I find it particularly fruitful in times of depression, it is recommended to pray short invocations. This is possible especially when your depression is causing you pain, but you are still able to rally yourself to ask for help to carry the cross and, if you wish, to ask the Lord to lighten your load. These short prayers can act as reminders to us of what is really important and renew our willingness to unite our struggles with Jesus in his passion. My favorite prayers include:
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I love you, save souls!”
“Sweet heart of Jesus, be my salvation!”
“Jesus, I trust!”
“All for you, Mary!”
“My Jesus, I love you!”
And, maybe my favorite: “Help!!!”
(5) Be Persistent
I wish I could say that I’ve found a way to always pray, and always pray well. I’d love to be able to share with you that there is a skill that makes praying with depression a delight, improving our prayer and relieving the depression. Unfortunately, I can say nothing of it. Fortunately, I CAN say that building the habit will permit your prayer life to continue into the droughts of depression. There is no one right way to pray, and our methods and styles change within our lifetime, and may even change day to day. A motive for switching things up may be to work/pray with depression. There’s no shame in that. Putting forth effort, if only to listen to prayer, is a treasured act of love; never underestimate these sweet prayers. Finally, call out to God and Our Lady in your own simple words or phrases. These can be powerful reminders and spiritual aids on the depressed journey.