There is a certain safety to this oh so public confession. I don’t have to look any of you in the eyes as you read. I don’t have to see disgust, incredulity, or sorrow transform your countenance. I don’t ever know if you read a few words, then close the page, not wanting to deal with me and my drama yet again. Instead I enjoy the sweet relief of confession paired with the validation of page stats that tell me someone is listening.
But not every post is easy. Of all the things I’ve shared here, perhaps the most frightening for me to open up about was the topic of my depression.
Because depression isn’t supposed to be a problem with Christians. We’ve got the joy-joy-joy-joy down in our hearts, down in our hearts to stay. Right?
Let’s be honest- if Christians can follow the Lord and still struggle with depression, that’s faith shaking. It calls into question our notion of the goodness of God. It seems to fly in the face of all those joy verses we love so much. So we make depression a problem with your christian walk. We boil it down to an issue of spiritual disciplines. If you would just read your bible, just pray a little more, just memorize these verses, then you would be healed.
Because we don’t know how to help, we recite the same old verses…
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning
But we have no words for the Christian who stays stuck in the night, who for month after month, does not experience the morning. For the Christian who, instead, doesn’t cease mourning.
We may even label them: weak christian, undisciplined christian, baby christian, or perhaps not even a Christ follower at all?
At the deepest darkest stage of my depression, when all I could do was pray and cry out to the Lord, I had one well-meaning pastor suggest that my lack of joy and peace were signs that I was not following the Lord. No matter how I explained, I could not convince him that the Lord had allowed my depression even though I was, for probably the first time in my life, following him wholeheartedly.
So there it is, the thing we’re not supposed to talk about.
Wholeheartedly following the Lord led me to a place of great darkness.
From the time I got saved at 23 until right before I left Hawaii at 31, I begged the Lord to strip away the idols that I knew I was putting before him yet did not have the strength to lay down for good. Then for more than four years, God faithfully did just that. I was no longer satisfied with my loving little nest of a church; the only two romantic relationships I had been in as a Christian blew up, one shortly after the other; I was drawn away from the island I said I’d never leave; I was forced to move to a city I despised to find work; I felt utterly isolated from all my friends and family; and I lost my last defense against the world when I quit smoking.
I had so long used these idols to keep my past in the past, my sorrow at bay, and a smile on my face, the pit of despair that had hovered at my heels since I was five years old began to engulf me. I was overtaken, overwhelmed and drowning in a sea of sadness that seemed to have no end and no logical source.
And God let it happen.
That’s right. My depression wasn’t caused by a lack of spiritual discipline at all. Quite the opposite. I knew all the verses and was following the Lord. He led me right through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I prayed and I read my bible constantly. I had to; God was the only thing I had left and the only thing holding me together.
In the valley, I came to truly believe that Jesus Christ is enough for me. If all else falls away, He will always be and has always been all I need.
In the wilderness, I developed a relationship of intimacy, trust, and dependence on my creator.
In the desert, I learned to drink deeply from the streams of living water the Lord provides.
God took my ashes, my ugliness and my pain, and allowed depression held in check by his sovereign hand, to refine me. And you know what? The joy did come in the morning, it was just a very long night indeed.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
~Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)