It was my junior year of college, and I had hit bottom. I sat on the floor in the middle of my room, crying and depressed. I seriously contemplated suicide. Suicidal thoughts had come before, but this time I was drowning in all the vicious reasons why I should go ahead and do it.
How surprised people would be if they knew how I felt. On the surface, I was successful in so many ways—academically, athletically, musically. I supposedly had many reasons to be happy. And on the surface, I was. People were used to seeing my smiling face. Yet, I really felt empty and mechanical. I was drained of vitality and feeling.
The collegiate habit of talking with friends about our mammoth lists of tasks had provided more burden than comfort. A swirling list of unresolved problems—a past relationship gone bad, a severe injury that had recently taken away my ability to play sports, and a demanding college course load—made for an unhappy mix. Plus, it didn’t seem as though anyone understood who I really was. I thought maybe they’d appreciate me more when I was gone. All these things together led to an emotional impulsion toward suicide, which felt hypnotic and overwhelming.
But then, something in me woke up. A self-defense mechanism somewhere deep inside me suddenly turned on. Spiritual ideas I had learned in the Christian Science Sunday School resurfaced even though I hadn’t focused on them for a while.
I recalled that God made me and loved me. It seemed natural that He would take care of me and protect me like any good parent takes care of his or her child. Simple inspirations—appropriate to each of my problems—came to thought. For example, I remembered that because God is Spirit, His creation (all men, women, and children, including me) is composed of spiritual qualities. Of those qualities, the one that stood out to me the most right then was joy.
As a result of this inspiration, I returned to a book I had learned to love along with the Bible during Sunday School: Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. I found this quotation: “The sinless joy,—the perfect harmony and immortality of Life, possessing unlimited divine beauty and goodness without a single bodily pleasure or pain,—constitutes the only veritable, indestructible man, whose being is spiritual. This state of existence is scientific and intact,—a perfection discernible only by those who have the final understanding of Christ in divine Science. Death can never hasten this state of existence, for death must be overcome, not submitted to, before immortality appears.”
As I read that passage and others, the initially tantalizing drama of negative ideas gave way to the calm, deeper voice of spirituality. Inspiration from God became warmer and more real. I knew it was worth listening to. I became aware that goodness is more powerful and exhilarating than depression and thoughts about death.
Within weeks, the pull of suicide disappeared. I knew I could face life’s challenges and I saw, as Mrs. Eddy said, that death couldn’t improve anything. Instead, I had to learn how to live, and live with a joy that wasn’t based on superficial things. In other words, I had to seek and find Life, or God, and my own spiritual identity.
I printed out the first half of that quotation from Science and Health and taped it to the inside of my sports locker. I read it almost every day. I began to affirm and even defend the fact that it was right for me to enjoy life.
Joy is sinless when it’s based on a recognition of spiritual harmony. This harmony finds its source in God. For example, there is nothing like the incredible rhythm, teamwork, intensity, and creativity in a basketball game free of selfish ambition, personal conflict, and pride. I started to recognize such harmony in the world around me and to experience it firsthand.
And I began to understand that joy was more than just a right. I saw that as the creation of God, who is always good, my only real state of existence had to include joyfulness. I didn’t have to fabricate my own joy—it wasn’t dependent on what I did; it was a fact of my being.
But I still needed to know better how I could actively recognize and maintain awareness of this natural, constant joy. Along with needing to see life more spiritually, a hymn pointed out:
O, life from joy is minted,
An everlasting gold,
True gladness is the treasure
That grateful hearts will hold.
(Vivian Burnett, The Christian Science Hymnal, No. 249)
When I was tempted to feel depressed, I often worked my way back to joyfulness by rejecting harmful thoughts and replacing them with grateful ones. I might stop to admire the tree outside the window of my room, and the spiritual qualities of Life that it expressed—beauty, balance, growth, constancy, and so forth.
I became more appreciative of my teammates and classmates. And I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in various activities. Each was an expression of spiritual intelligence and strength that had its source in God. Instead of thinking I was facing everything on my own, I began to acknowledge how God was unfolding everything in naturally harmonious, loveable, supportive, and richly interesting ways.
This transformation of perspective didn’t happen over night, but it was steady and healing. The sports injury healed, and since then I have played competitive sports with zest. Now, over 15 years later, I love life so constantly, thoroughly, and deeply that I would never contemplate suicide for an instant. I am at peace. I’ve forgiven myself for the past failed relationship and have had loving and understanding ones since.
In a recent conversation with a friend, he said enthusiastically, “Joy is your trademark. It’s what you do!” And, he’s right. It’s actually true about everyone—it always has been and always will be. We don’t have to die to figure this out. In fact, we need to live to do so. God’s spiritual substance and goodness are ours to feel, appreciate, and enjoy in everything, everywhere, right now. This makes life a rich, wonderful adventure—one worth living.
Life and joy:
Susan Rynerson is a Christian Science practitioner who lives in Malaga, Spain.
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