Thanks so much for joining us for our Lights of Hope in Times of Darkness Series! Each post in the series is written by a different author. We hope you’ll be blessed, encouraged, challenged and comforted all at once. Please let us know if you need prayer – we’d love to pray for you!
Depression pulls us into ourselves. We lose our capacity to enjoy life, and meaningfully interact with others. Sadness gives way to apathy. Hopelessness seeps in, and can devolve into despair. How could anything make a difference?
It’s difficult to admit needing help while struggling with mental illness. We feel weak and worthless enough, without saying it out loud. How could anyone understand what we don’t understand ourselves? We fear judgment and rejection.
Inside and outside the church, stigma is alive and well. Sadly, it’s human nature to shun what we don’t understand, to marginalize what doesn’t fit in neat boxes of social acceptability.
Suffering – physical, emotional, mental, relational, spiritual – can, should, draw us closer to God. But, reasonably, as it did Job and the psalmists, suffering can lead us to question.
Where are you, God? Why don’t You care?
Beyond stigma and fear, all suffering sets us apart from others. No one can enter into it with us. Although we can have similar experiences of suffering, we feel it alone. Only Jesus can fully comprehend it; He alone can enter the furnace with us. He not only enters, He lovingly waits for us to stop fighting and sit with Him.
As deep as our pain may be in this life, He knew more.
During Holy Week, I stumbled upon Matt Maher’s You Were on the Cross. The titular refrain answers the question of Jesus’ apparent lack of concern during various painful situations. Although our Savior eternally defeated death, remembering His suffering, on our behalf, is necessary.
The cross leaves no room to think we should be exempt from suffering. The tragedy is when we don’t let if fulfill its blessing of deepening our intimacy with Christ.
In severe depression, we lose the fight with persistent lies that tell us we’re worthless. We spiral downward into the despair of suicidal depression, knowing that everyone would be better off without us.
We fall beyond the reach of grace.
Or so it seems.
Grace reaches us, surrounds us, even when we cannot feel it. It sustained me when I believed it had rightly been taken from me. Why would God keep offering me something I repeatedly turned my back on? What is despair if not denying God’s goodness and turning away?
Turning one’s back on grace is a reasonable definition of despair, but oversimplified.
I have a glitch in my brain, classified by my psychiatrist as bipolar disorder. I’ve never experienced full-on mania, but what is known as hypomania. Hypomania can be wonderful, making me feel positive, energetic, and productive. Oh, how I wish I could live there! It can also be miserable, making me want to escape from my life, my spinning thoughts, my own skin. Hypomania with horrific depression puts my disorder in the bipolar 2 category.
I take medication to keep my broken brain from crashing into the utter darkness of suicidal depression. It’s my safety net. I probably wouldn’t be alive without it. Yes, medication can be a vehicle of God’s grace.
Doubt can still turn my head with its reasonable lies. As Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, lies can even whisper around God’s words of Truth.
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Lightas He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7, NASB
Where does this leave someone like me? If God is Light, how can a believer ever be surrounded and filled with profound darkness?
In You Were on the Cross, Matt Maher alludes to Jesus’ abandonment by His friends in Gethsemane. I doubt Jesus felt surrounded and filled by Light that night in a garden.
But that didn’t change the reality of His Father. The darkness that seemed to win in Gethsemane and at Golgotha was part of God’s plan, not its defeat.
Just because I couldn’t see Light, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. I don’t walk in darkness; I walk in light. My faith has grown. I’ve found a ministry, using my words to comfort others with the comfort I have received.
One thing about repeatedly surviving the darkness is that each time I found myself back in the pit, the Light didn’t seem so far away, though I couldn’t see it or feel its warmth. Grace seemed closer, even when I couldn’t believe in it.
If you’re struggling in the darkness of severe depression, wait a little longer. God will reopen your eyes to the Light, and your heart and mind to grace.
God can heal. God does heal. But God doesn’t always heal. We must let go of the false belief that healing from all infirmity is how God is most glorified.
God is glorified when we live in His strength, for His glory, not in our own strength.
Melinda VanRy writes about faith and mental illness on her blog Fruit of Brokenness. She, her husband, their three homeschooled kids, and too many cats call rural Central New York home. Yes, rural New York. More cows than cabs, closer to Canada than NYC, and not far from Lake Ontario, which she loves.