RUOK? J.B. Phillips and depression

Vera Phillips & Edwin Robinson,
The Wounded Healer — J.B. Phillips,Triangle, 1983.

From $15 used online. In Public Library system. Reviewed by Ted Witham
110 pages – paper-back

Sometimes an old book comes into your hands at just the right time. I have surprised myself with a severe bout of anxiety and depression: maladies I believed I was exempt from. Apart from the symptoms of feelings of doom, breathlessness and general fatigue, my mental ill-health has stopped me in my tracks, and I have felt I’ve had to give up most of my activities. I’ve stopped (for the moment) teaching French, creative writing and much of my church activities.

I’ve felt a real tension: my therapists warn me of withdrawing from social contact (because being out among people is the best treatment for depression), and yet I simply have not had the energy to keep up with my usual activities.

One of the disappointing symptoms of this depression is that I have lost “the sense” of God. I had had a heightened awareness of the divine when I received communion and in my daily prayers. That has disappeared, just at the moment when it could help.

A friend of mine mentioned that J.B. Phillips, one of the pioneers of translating the Bible into modern English, and the author of Your God is Too Small, suffered from depression. It turns out that Phillips received mountains of correspondence in response to his sales of six million books, and that he answered every letter. Often these letters were to encourage people who opened up to him about their depression.

He also reached out to other notable Christians who had disclosed their depression publicly, seeking their advice, sometimes begging for their help.

Vera Phillips, Jack’s wife, and Edwin Robinson, a long-term friend, have compiled a selection of these letters resulting in a short book (110 pages) of practical help for Christians with depression.

In them, Phillips recounts some of his psychological challenges. He wanted to live up to the perfection he believed his father demanded of him, so was constantly disappointed that he wasn’t the best ever Vicar, or the greatest ever writer. He shows that while these psychological issues were related to his depression, they weren’t the sole or main cause of the illness.

J.B. Phillips was an English evangelical whose faith is attractive and accessible. His voice, the voice of his letters, is practical, compassionate and liberal. I found his advice helpful, and I am sure those who received the letters originally were even more encouraged by their gentle empathy.

Author: Ted Witham

Husband and father, Grandfather.Franciscan, writer and Anglican priest.

2 thoughts on “RUOK? J.B. Phillips and depression”

  1. Dear Ted, I am so sorry to read of your struggle with depression. It is an invidious condition that can creep up on us at anytime. I remember having a mild dose whilst living in Edinburgh in the 1970’s with two small children. The opinion of my rather unsympathetic dour Scottish GP was that the route cause of my condition was Vitamin D deficiency. He recommended a holiday in Majorca or a course of Fish Oil Tablets. I took the latter along with getting outside into the countryside whenever I could. The natural environment seemed to feed my soul.
    Thanks for the book recommendation. I will follow it up and read it. J B Phillips name is familiar to me from my days of running a bookshop which is how I met J W Forsyth!
    With love and my prayers, Anne

    1. Dear Anne, I tried to send a reply, and I am not sure whether you have received it or not. I’m usually good at technology, but sometimes it is bewildering. I really appreciated hearing from you. I am not sure whether anxiety and depression need to have a root cause: my GP thinks it is the chronic pain that has brought it on, my psych thinks I have had too many bereavements and disappointments in a few months, I think both of those contribute, but there is more to it than that! Anyway, in some respects, causes are irrelevant. It is what one does to manage and treat that counts. Trees are a wonderful balm. Rae says to say ‘Hi’. Please give John my warm regards. Blessings to you. TEd.

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