Book Review: When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend, by Mark Meynell

Review
08.20.2018

While sitting at a table encircled by pastors, the brother on my right asked the question: “Does anyone at the table deal with depression or darkness on a regular basis?” I listened as the answers went around the table. It was one “no” after another. No. No. No. No. But then it came to me. I was the last one at the table to answer.

“Yes,” I had to say.

By God’s grace, I was truly thankful that those brothers were all able to say, “No.” Also by God’s grace, I can say my experience is not nearly as heavy a weight to bear as other brothers I know. But some of us must, if we’re honest with ourselves, answer “yes” like I did.

In his book When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend, Mark Meynell gives a very public and very personal “yes.” He has written a wonderful help and guide for pastors who deal with depression.

I want to recommend Mark Meynell’s book for several reasons.

REASONS FOR RECOMMENDATION

1. This is a Book By a Pastor for Pastors

Struggling with mental, emotional, and spiritual darkness is hard—and the difficulty is multiplied when you are a pastor. I’ve read several books about depression and depressive seasons. But they’re not written for pastors in pastoral ministry. It’s freeing to read a book about this topic written by someone who understands the ins-and-outs of pastoral ministry. Why? Because it frees us to be okay with our struggle and not feel doubly guilty because of our role. Secondly, it offers specific guidance and direction that’s particular to pastoral ministry.

After reading this book, I felt as though I’d had a conversation with someone who’s been there and done that. While no book can replace a personal friendship or counselor, this book comes close.

2. Width and Precision 

Depression is hard to define and everyone’s experience is different. Furthermore, some depression is the result of sin, some is the result of abuse or tragedy, and still some comes from we know not where. Meynell takes his time to throughly deal with the complexities of depression and darkness while not forsaking clarity and precision. He systematically deals with varying symptoms, causes, experiences, shame, guilt, fear, and more. And he does so in a way that leaves the reader with a clearer perspective not only of “the black dog”  of depression, as Churchill called it, but a clearer understanding of himself.

3. Verbal Footholds

“The word ‘depression’ is a non-starter. I detest it,” Meynell says. Finding our own “verbal footholds,” as he calls them, is hard to do. The term depression means so many things that it has essentially come to mean nothing. How can we explain to others what we can’t even put into words ourselves? Meynell says, “One of the most destabilizing effects of my depression was my complete inability to describe it.” This is a common experience.

Moving from metaphor to metaphor, Meynell helps us get our own verbal footholds. Depression can feel like being stuck on a cliff that has no ledges to even reach for. But he does more than connect emotionally; he dissects experiences often called depression and offers biblically informed and hope-filled language along the way.

4. Faithful, Practical, and Gentle Interaction With Scripture

One of the most confusing and hurtful things for a pastor is to have the Word of God held over his head while he’s in the cave of despair. To help with this, Meynell walks the reader through the depths and breadth of the Bible. He weaves the Word through his own narrative, freeing those familiar with despair to come to the Bible and to find friends and empathy in Scripture. Further, Meynell rightly applies the multi-faceted gospel to this multi-faceted struggle.

From the Psalms to the cross, God as revealed in the Bible is the central hope of When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend.

LAST THOUGHTS

At about 200 pages, this book functioned as a kind of litmus test for me. Am I well enough to give the time and energy to read a book on this when it is for me? I know there have been days and seasons where a book this thorough would have scared me away. Some days, I wouldn’t have had the strength or motivation to even pick it up. Don’t be surprised if you say that it’s too technical (it’s not all stories), that it takes too much energy (it’s not a pamphlet), or that it’s too much to bear (it engages the reader personally).

Meynell’s book is set apart from others in another particular way. Without forsaking biblical instruction, wise counsel, and clear thinking, Meynell offers freedom to shamelessly engage depression more than other books. I’m thinking of other incredible books like Spiritual Depression by Martin Lloyd Jones, Depression by Ed Welch, When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper, and How Long, O Lord? by D. A. Carson. Each of these books offers priceless counsel and consolation. Pastors should read them carefully and be trained by them! But I think Meynell connects more immediately to a pastor who is suffering depression today.

Reading this book is like having a seasoned counselor put his arm around your shoulder and say, “Let’s talk. I’ll tell you my story first.” Meynell is a friend who offers wise and pointed counsel. Simply put, this book isn’t meant to equip pastors for pastoral ministry to a depressed world. It’s a book for pastors who wrestle with depression themselves. What joy to know such a book exists!