I really didn’t intend for this depression post to be about me. I had initially aimed for it to offer counseling advice to encourage those who may be struggling with hopelessness. However, I realize as I am writing, that it just isn’t possible to convey the power of the gospel to overcome hopelessness, until you’ve gotten a small taste of its work in my life.
In my last post, I wrote that I had been depressed and suicidal for 10 years. I had tried everything I knew to find internal peace and meaning to my life. Finally, I had reached the end of my rope….
It was Chicago, a Sunday in October, 1978. The usual lazy, Sunday schedule my husband and I followed, was to eat a late breakfast (after more than likely staying up way too late on Saturday night). Then, we’d watch football games all day, into the evening. That was our typical Sunday activity, since organized religion had been shunned by us years before. Church had offered nothing to either of us, so we each stopped going when we were single, long before we had even met one another. Consequently, we had never attended church together, nor did we even get married in a church. In fact, we used to think people who went to church were boring. How could you have fun and party with a bunch of do-gooders? We had never even said grace before a meal…. that was reserved for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, when Uncle so-and-so said it from rote memory at a family gathering.
On this particular evening, for some reason, I felt sad and empty beyond belief. I approached my husband and tearfully proclaimed, “I’m done. I want you to call the local mental hospital now, ask for the men in white coats to come and get me, have them drug me up, and I never want to come out. It’ll be up to you to raise our 8 year old daughter because I won’t be able.” My husband seriously looked at me, and then said the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. He said, “Why don’t you go upstairs and pray?” (I thought he was joking.) When he told me he was deadly serious, after I recovered from the shock of it all, I was barely able to speak. I mockingly responded with a sarcastic tone, “And,” as I turned to Mr. Smarty Pants, “just who exactly would I pray to?” He replied, “Pray to God.” Then, he continued with an uncharacteristically soft voice, “I haven’t told you this, but recently I’ve been saying my childhood prayers before I go to bed (like my grandmother taught me as a young boy), and I’ve been asking God to help you. Just try it. Maybe you’ll feel better.” I was flabbergasted! Who was this man? Is he getting all religious on me?After a long, thoughtful pause, I replied, “Heck (to put it nicely), what do I have to lose?” So, I trudged upstairs, went into our bedroom, looked up at the ceiling, got down on my knees (which is when I felt really stupid), and I pled, through a waterfall of tears, “God, I don’t really believe you’re there, but just in case you are, I need help. I desperately need help. If you’re listening (that’s, of course, if you’re really there), please show me somehow that you heard this.” Nothing…. total silence. I’m still depressed. Well, that was a waste. So, I went downstairs and gave the unsuccessful scouting report to my husband. He wisely said, “Let’s just cool our heels for a little while, and watch some TV. Maybe you’ll feel better later.” So that’s what we did… except something very strange and totally unexpected happened. As we were trying to find the football game on TV, for one split second while we were channel surfing, we stumbled upon a preacher whose name was Ben Haden of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who happened to utter the word “depression”….just as we were moving past that channel. (We had never watched a preacher on TV before… to do so would have been laughable. ) When I heard him say the word “depression”, I shouted, “Stop! Let’s listen to this guy.” Amazingly, the sermon was on how depression is just like a grave, and we are hopelessly buried alive, with no way out, except for one, and that one way… is Jesus. It felt just like he was personally talking to me. I listened intently. He said that Jesus came to give me life, and that I could accept Him as Lord and Saviour and be born again into a new life. He said that Jesus would take my burdens if I’d be willing to give my heart to Him. Then, the program was done. The program was over. There was total silence on our sofa. I can hear my own heart beating. My husband and I both slowly turned to tearfully look at each other, and I said with a childlike voice, “You don’t suppose God really heard me, do you?” To which my husband confidently said, “Yes, He did, and that message is His answer to your prayer.” I exclaimed, “WHAT?!! God answers prayer? I can start all over again?” Jesus loves me! Jesus loves me…. just like the song says! The very next day, I called a toll-free number to purchase a deluxe Bible Set from an unknown TV preacher. (I discovered it after looking through the TV Guide magazine.) I couldn’t wait to see what else God had to say about this new life with Jesus. (I’m proof-positive that when the Spirit of God moves to call you, He uses anyone at anytime. I had never heard of either of these preachers in my life. Plus, God used an unbelieving husband to bring me to belief, which in turn, brought him to belief. In God’s sovereign plan, about 3 months later, after seeing the profound change that had taken place in me, my husband dedicated his life to Christ, as well.) Irresistible, sweet, amazing grace.
I love telling that story. But, it was only the beginning of my journey out of the darkness. It surely gave me hope to know there was a meaningful future in Christ for me, but there was so much more to learn. So, if you’ve never given your life to Christ, He is your first and most important step out of the hole. If you already know Christ, there is so much more to think about and take hold of, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
To reiterate the focus of my prior post, Depression: Part I, my topic of hopelessness is not referring to the brief periods of spiritual darkness where a believer may doubt God’s existence, plan, or timing. Even the most solid Christian will go through days where joy seems to be unreachable. The Scriptures are full of individuals who have wrestled in this way. My current posts, however, are about those believers who have become utterly out of alignment with what God is doing to achieve His kingdom purposes, through using their suffering.
Hopelessness, in its purest sense, means we have turned our backs on hope. A heart that is broken in despair, has fixed its sight on this world which has disappointed its quest for happiness. This describes the faulty perspective I had the first 32 years of my life; I had gone down the wrong roads to find peace. But, God, in His mercy, woke me up through the pain of my depression, to show me that I wasn’t enough for myself. As horrible as that time was in my life, I’m certain that God used it for my good. It forced me to look up, instead of continuing to look down at my navel, which always produced victimhood, and which in turn, spawned disappointment and anger.
We really don’t know the definitive cause of depression, but when it has turned to total despair and hopelessness, it has become a spiritual problem. It may have its roots in physical disease, or unrepentant sin, or abuse, or Satan, or unbelief. Surely, it’s productive to figure out the cause, but it’s far more beneficial to figure out the solution. My 10-year solutions were completely empty. I was looking for things of this world to give me purpose and meaning through academic and job success, life-giving relationships, and popularity. Even after I came to Christ, it took me months to realize that only He could satisfy my quest for inner peace. I didn’t understand that what my heart was longing for in this life, was diametrically opposed to the eternal purposes of God, and He was committed enough to me that He used my depression to expose my heart’s treasure of self-gratification. Jesus said in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” My heart’s treasure was my own comfort and happiness, and my disappointment in its emptiness had consumed me. After a time, the Holy Spirit graciously taught me to realize that God was, and is, committed to making me Christlike, not comfortable. I began to see that I hadn’t really cared what kingdom-work God was doing…I had only cared for myself and what this life would give me. That’s why disappointment is so difficult for all of us… pain and discomfort fly in the face of our agenda of being happy.
So, where does all of this leave us? It requires us to confess that we have lived for our own happiness, and “have forsaken the spring of living water”, as the prophet, Jeremiah said. We have to admit that we’re leaky vessels who never get filled up, yet we constantly thirst to get filled by the empty wells of life, i.e. other people, things, status, etc. We all long for happiness and being comfortable. What empty strategies have you used to satisfy your longings? What has been the level of your disappointment when these things didn’t work out? The greater the disappointment, the tighter the hold the false treasure has had on you.
I had not believed God; I had not believed His many promises to care for me, even in the pain. This is called unbelief. These are biblical truths we need to be reminded of daily. It’s not a one-and-done situation; it’s an ongoing part of our maturing faith. It’s hard to confess unbelief in the midst of despair. I know you’re already feeling badly enough already….why heap more coals on your head? That’s our fear; that it will be too painful, that it will take us even further down, that it will feel too condemning. Contrary to your fear, confession is good for the soul. It doesn’t weigh you down with guilt; it actually frees you to take hold of the grace of forgiveness. Christ died for you to achieve that freedom. That’s part of the great mystery of the Cross.
Spend time with God this week, and ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of what to pray, even if you don’t feel like it. I know you may be numb and even angry right now, but God will speak to your soul if you’re willing and open to hear His voice. You’ve probably spent a fair amount of time asking God to help you…that’s completely understandable. Now, spend some time confessing how you’ve strayed from hoping in Him, and instead, have devised your own strategies to find happiness. Confess the false treasures of your heart. Experience the freedom of how the Holy Spirit will cause you to listen, and heed your own mind telling itself, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 43:5)
Turn Around….He is waiting to rescue you from your suffering. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:5)