The church's relationship with depression has been fraught: for centuries, depression was assumed to be evidence of personal sin or even demonic influence. The depressed have often been ostracized or institutionalized. In recent years the conversation has begun to change, and the stigma has lessened—but as anyone who suffers from depression knows, we still have a long way to go.
In Companions in the Darkness, Diana Gruver looks back into church history and finds depression in the lives of some of our most beloved saints, including Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. Without trying to diagnose these figures from a distance, Gruver tells their stories in fresh ways, taking from each a particular lesson that can encourage or guide those who suffer today. Drawing on her own experience with depression, Gruver offers a wealth of practical wisdom both for those in the darkness and those who care for them.
Not only can these saints teach us valuable lessons about the experience of depression, they can also be a source of hope and empathy for us today. They can be our companions in the darkness.
"Through so many people's stories, I've come to understand that a great hardship of depression is the conviction that one suffers alone. This book contradicts that lie, not only with the author's own story but with the words of admired Christian leaders. If you live with depression, you can find hope, comfort, helpful ideas, and people like you in these pages."
"Diana Gruver has written a compelling book. In it she tells the stories of seven historical figures, some but not all household names, who suffered severe depression. Gruver does it just right, avoiding the many pitfalls that could have made the book excessively sentimental or judgmental. She lets the individuals describe their own experiences, refusing to subject them to modern clinical diagnosis. She chooses quotes from their writings that are so profound, human, and powerful that I kept tearing up, drawn into the nightmare of their condition. Her writing is clear and cogent and luminous. She tells their stories with sensitivity and compassion. She gives her subjects voices, as if letting them speak across the years to us. Her commentary and reflections along the way are full of hope. This is the kind of historical writing that is both responsible and moving. I will recommend this book to my friends."
"This book takes us into the hearts of seven people who wrestled deeply with depression and only intermittently experienced a measure of freedom and healing. Diana Gruver, who knows depression well herself, artfully and sensitively opens up their inner pain and the outer difficult circumstances of their lives, raising many big and difficult questions about the nature of intractable depression, its stigma, and why God allows some to suffer so much before taking away their tears and releasing them through death. She draws out helpful lessons from the variety of things that helped these seven men and women to keep going, even when death seemed an attractive option, and to somehow continue to believe and trust in God in the darkness. The author has researched their lives extensively, using letters and biographies to enter their worlds. Her helpful footnotes add more information and useful resources for further reading. This book is a wonderful and sensitive encouragement for any for whom life has become unbearably dark and for those who seek to help them."
"Companions in the Darkness by Diana Gruver is a well-written, deeply touching, and very helpful book that succinctly describes seven saints' struggles with depression and doubt: Martin Luther, Hannah Allen, David Brainerd, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. I highly recommend it as enlightening, edifying, and essential reading on depression."
"Diana Gruver writes with the wisdom and compassion of someone who knows the landscape of depression from the inside. In Companions in the Darkness Gruver introduces us to both well-known and lesser-known Christians who battled with despair and whose stories can speak words of comfort and solidarity to those who ache for healing and deliverance. This is a brave, nuanced, and vulnerable book that offers no easy answers but points unflinchingly to the God who companions us in the darkness."
"This book is a kind friend, written wisely, to steady and comfort. The one who writes it guides us through the dark road. It comforts us to know that she has been there herself and knows the way. You will find relieving care and sturdy hope in these pages. God has given us a company of anxious saints who know how to put one foot in front of the other through the maze. Step by step, they teach us once again to fill our lungs, to shout or whisper the grace-news we'd forgotten: 'Should the darkness surround us, even the darkness is as light to God.'"
"I've lived with bipolar mood disorder for thirty years, so trust me when I say that Companions in the Darkness offers help and healing for those who have lived in the valley of depression. Diana Gruver skillfully frames her own battle with depression around unexpected but real-life stories of saints who trudged through surprising depths of darkness. From Martin Luther to Mother Theresa to Martin Luther King, we see how the many faces of depression can obscure the light and love of God. But most importantly, Gruver shows us why depression and a faith-full life are not incompatible. Discovering these seven saints deepened my sense that I'm never alone in the darkness, that there is always hope, and that there is a well-worn path to follow Jesus in the dark."
"Diana Gruver has given the church a precious gift in Companions in the Darkness. Every depressed Christian and his or her loved ones should read this book. Diana has labored painstakingly to unearth the previously hidden details of the stories of depressed Christians of great faith and told their stories compellingly and compassionately, chipping away at the stigma of depression in the church. The stories we tell matter, and Companions in the Darkness is crucial in telling the historically accurate one, revealing that the illness of depression has plagued people of great faith for centuries. It opposes using faith destructively as a judgmental hammer and instead shows how faith sustains the depressed Christian. The gospel of God's great love for his children, including those struggling with depression, cannot coexist with stigma. Thank you, Diana, for the gift of Companions in the Darkness."
"It is rare to say that there is no other book like this, but with Diana Gruver's Companions in the Darkness she has done something that no other book has done: given us true companions for dark times by exploring the depression of older Christian leaders. She weaves in her own story of depression, offers contemporary psychological insight about mental health disorders, and invites us to take heart; we are not alone. Through her keen eye—an eye sensitive to suffering—she helps us understand Martin Luther's melancholy and physical pain, William Cowper's despair, Martin Luther King Jr.'s exhaustion, and Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul. These biographies are interesting and informative, but more they are manna, light, and hope. Many will be grateful for this very fine and truly helpful exploration."
"With wise insight and palpable compassion, Diana Gruver recounts the oh-so-human stories of Christians revered across the centuries as leaders, as achievers, as exemplars. For all of their fame as 'great' Christians, these saints tasted their own radical vulnerability and knew the anguish of mental illness. To all who seek God yet suffer, there is comfort to be found in this sacred company among the brothers and sisters who lived faithfully amid struggle, the companions and guides who assure us that depression will not have the last word. Practical and deeply personal, Companions in the Darkness is a gift to us all."
Read an article by Diana Gruver on how to invite God into your mental health journey.
Introduction: Defining the Darkness
1. Martin Luther: Flee Solitude—Drink, Joke, and Jest
2. Hannah Allen: Attend to Body, Mind, and Spirit
3. David Brainerd: Leave a Legacy of Faithful Weakness
4. William Cowper: Embrace the Rescue of Art and Friendship
5. Charles Spurgeon: Cling to the Promises of God
6. Mother Teresa: Follow Jesus, Not Your Feelings
7. Martin Luther King Jr.: Drink from the Reservoir of Resilience
Conclusion: The Water Is Deep, but the Bottom Is Good
Appendix: When One You Love Is in the Dark
Brief Biographies of the Companions