Ronald D. Vaughan is pastor of St. Andrews Baptist Church, Columbia, South Carolina. A native of Greenville, South Carolina, he is a graduate of Furman University (BA) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv, DMin). Dee has also served as a hospital chaplain, a fire department chaplain, and a college and graduate school teacher. He and his wife, Linda, have three children and three grandchildren.
What were you hoping to accomplish with your new book, Seeing in the Dark?
I wrote Seeing the Dark to settle a dare and answer a prayer. In the darkest days of my depression, my talks with God—more, at times, like jeers at God—were very caustic and sarcastic. In one of those crying out moments, when I felt no hope for myself, my ministry, or my future, I said to God, “If all things really can work together for my good, prove it. Bring something good out of this hell. I dare you.” I later realized that my dare was, in fact, a prayer. I was drowning in depression and needed to believe God was still with me and working in some redemptive way I couldn’t yet see.
As I began to see specks of light in my darkness and began making some progress in the journey toward healing, God gave me many opportunities to share what I was discovering with other depressed people. I soon realized that some of my most significant ministry would be with people stumbling in depression’s darkness, longing to discover enough light to guide them in finding their way. The growth and gratitude I saw in my fellow pilgrims settled the dare I’d made and answered the prayer within it.
Seeing the Dark is my testimony that God can redeem even something as dark and difficult as depression by giving those who make it through the valley the gifts of experience and insight, which they can share with others to help them see light in their emotional and spiritual darkness.
Memoirist Mary Karr says that a person needs about ten years on an experience before they can write well about it. Your major bout of depression was almost ten years ago. When did you know you wanted to write a resource for people dealing with depression? When did you actually start writing these devotions?
I took several steps on my journey of writing Seeing the Dark. The book began with a list I made while I was in the very dark days of my illness. I called that list “Wisdom.” Any time I read, heard, or thought of something that shone a bit of light on my illness and illumined the next step of the path toward healing, I wrote it down. The list includes scripture passages that spoke to me at a time when spiritual truth was very difficult to hear. The list also contains quotations that offered me a helpful word. Many of the items on the list were discoveries I made in working with my doctors and counselors.
When better days came, I suddenly had numerous opportunities to minister with people struggling with depression. I shared some of the truth I’d learned through sermons, small group work, and especially in counseling individuals.
The joy and meaning I found in supporting other depression sufferers motivated me to find a way to share help and hope with a broader audience. Two years ago, I began writing what I’d learned in the form of brief biblical meditations. I intentionally kept each meditation short because I know depressed people don’t have the focus or energy to wade through long treatises. I designed each meditation to be a daily dose of spiritual insight and encouragement.
The six parts of the book resemble stages a depressed person might experience as they seek to connect or reconnect with God. Are these stages you have gone through? Why did you choose these six parts?
When I began writing, I had no plan to separate the meditations into groups. As I wrote the devotionals, however, I began to see themes emerging. Later, I decided that these overarching ideas offered me the best way to arrange the meditations and an opportunity to name some of the big issues people face in understanding and overcoming depression. At times, each of these section themes was the major issue of my recovery, but I don’t think of them as stages, in the sense of completing one and moving to the next as one would read the chapters of a book.
My guitar has given me a picture of how I think this process moves. The issues named by the sections of Seeing the Dark are like the notes of a chord. When I try to identify a chord I hear in a song and play it on my guitar, I begin by finding one note of the chord I can match. Then I experiment with another string to find the note it can add to the chord. I continue until all six strings are adding their sound, making the chord more beautiful and complete. I think people build their healing journey in much the same way.
People get their first grip on depression by finding that first note of truth they can identify and relate to their experience. Then, while continuing to strum that string, they learn other dimensions of healing they need and add those insights to the therapeutic chord they’re building.
My spiritual chord of healing began when I identified the truth that God can see in the dark. I needed to believe that God saw a more positive reality and more hopeful future than I could see. From that starting point, I began to reclaim my power to make choices that could prepare me for healing to happen. As I made choices about diet, exercise, and schedule, I realized that my power to choose extended to my attitudes toward life. I keep a few of these tough questions I needed to answer posted on the wall near my computer so I would see them often. As a strategy for improvement took shape, my toughest issue was putting what I was learning into daily practice. I had to reckon with the truth that the only way to change my life was to change the way I lived each day.
I suppose the final note I added to my chord was embracing the challenge of using what pain had taught me to help others. I’ve been amazed at how important sharing what I’ve discovered with others has been in reinforcing these points of light in my own life. I’ve heard someone say that we teach what we most want to learn. That has been true for me as I keep strumming the strings of growth and healing.
The book’s subtitle reads “Biblical Meditations for People Dealing with Depression”. What value do you think this book holds for someone who loves a depressed person, versus someone who is depressed themselves?
I’ve learned that a loved one deals with depression almost as much as the depression sufferer. His or her life becomes organized around helping the depressed person see light in the darkness and walk the road toward healing. As is true for many kinds of caregivers, the weight of helping a depressed person bear life’s unusually heavy burdens, along with compensating for the emotional deficit in the family system, can take a terrible toll on the helper. Even more exhausting is the effort some loved ones make to “keep up appearances” or keep the sufferer’s needs a family secret.
I think Seeing the Dark can help a loved one understand the experience of depression and some of the key issues the depressed person faces in finding healing. I also hope the book will give a concerned family member or friend some of the words they need to express their worries and point the sufferer toward hope. The book may even help the concerned friend or family member experience God’s presence in the healing process. God often seems far away to a depressed person. When depression captures a relationship, the one trying to help may also feel they are in a strange dark place and struggle to find God. I want this book to be a kind of star chart that guides the depressed people and those who love them to the places where the light of our Christian faith shines, even in the terrible darkness of depression.
Did anything surprise you while you were writing?
I have friends and family members who know I enjoy writing. From time to time, one of them will ask me if I have a current writing project. I wondered how people would react when I told them I was writing a book about depression. I heard myself using humor to lessen their potential discomfort with the topic, “I’m very excited about a book I’m writing about depression!” I imagined the conversation waning into awkward silence. That didn’t happen. What’s surprised me is how many people, when hearing about Seeing the Dark, have affirmed the need for this kind of resource and expressed gratitude that I was attempting to help depression sufferers. In discussing the book, many people have shared with me their own struggle with depression or the struggle of someone they love. Some seemed relieved I had raised the topic, giving them a greater sense of freedom to share a painful part of their journey and celebrate their growth and recovery.