It was a week before Christmas 2014. I sat on a threadbare green couch, an obvious relic from the 1970’s. The office was bright and inviting, despite the cold draft in that old church building. I ran my finger along the frayed edge of a faded green cushion. My voice broke as I choked on my words, “I just feel hopeless. I don’t understand it…”
Numb and unfeeling, in a pit of darkness and despair…I could not understand why I felt that way.
It made no sense.
I mean really, let’s be honest. I was living the “American dream.” I have a great life by most standards. I have a decent job. A beautiful wife. Amazing kids. A new baby. A great marriage. A relationship with my saviour. I was involved in Church life. We were recently financially debt free. We had a plan in place to finish my degree and then head off to seminary, and we were even talking about mission work. There are always the usual tensions in life, but for the most part, everything was looking up for us. Life was good.
How could I possibly be suffering depression?
The darkness overwhelmed me, but there was no substance to it, no object, no reason…and I began to think that maybe I was a little bit crazy. The last time I was in a place this dark was many years prior. I ended up on the wrong road, headed in the wrong direction, and crashed head on into the 18 wheeler of life…and it was my own fault that I ended up there.
My first round with depression started when my dad was diagnosed with cancer about 14 years ago. After his death I slowly descended into a persistent major depression that lasted many years. It was progressive in nature, getting worse over time. After a couple years, it got really, really bad; the darkest of the darkness started shortly after moving to Chilliwack. People would tell me that I was dark and moody. Often I heard things like, “Cheer up, grumpy pants.” People often poked fun at how much I drank at family get togethers…but no one ever told me I was depressed or that I needed help.
Perhaps no one knew, I mean, I had no idea.
The depression took a heavy toll on me. By the end of it, I was a wreck in many different ways. Physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually… Within a few years I had all but completely isolated myself from everyone, including family and church. I had lost contact with all of my childhood friends, and I even isolated from my wife. I was looking to sinful things to numb the pain, which made the depression worse. It was a viscious cycle.
Eventually God pulled me out and brought me to repentance and restored to me the joy of salvation (but that is long story you can read about elsewhere.)
Long story short…back then, it made sense why I was depressed. My dad died and I had turned my back on God and embraced sin, and He had removed His favour from me.
There was no unconfessed sin that I could discern. There was no turning my back on God. There was no cause for the depression that made any sense. I began to have feelings of doubt, not that God existed, but about His love for me. It hurts to admit that I ever doubted God’s love, but it was not unconfessed – I confessed it in brutal honesty as I screamed at Him in angry and furious prayer.
As I sat on that old green couch, my counsellor looked pitifully at me and began to recount to me the promises of God. Biblical platitudes about King David’s depression in the Psalms of Lament. How God’s Grace is sufficient for me. All I heard was stuff I already knew.
I know that.
I KNOW THAT!!!!
I stared blankly at the faded coffee stain on the sofa and whispered…**I know all that.** BUT WHY DOESN’T HIS GRACE **FEEL** SUFFICIENT FOR ME? When I can’t see him…I can’t feel him? Why do I feel this way? Does he really love me? Why this darkness? Why now?
I wrestled with that…a lot.
The funny thing is, that I have told people exactly what my counsellour had just told me. I knew that I was looking at myself, and my feelings, and my despair and that I needed to look to God and his promises. I knew it intellectually, and I theologically understood that He loved me but it did not seem to help me in that time of despair. I felt lost. I can tell you the reason for suffering, Biblically. I could tell you of the covenants and sovereignty and redemption and sanctification, but none of it seemed to help me at that time.
I had to wrestle.
I had to wrestle with the darkness.
I had to wrestle with my doubt about His love for me, with this monster called depression. I learned that sometimes, depression just doesn’t need to have a reason to be there. I learned that sometimes it is ok question God. Why? God? Why are you letting this happen? Why are you letting me me live in darkness?Those are ok questions. King David asked them. Other giants of the faith also wrestled with them – Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, and many, many more.
John Calvin said,
“Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.” Institutes 3.2.17
“For unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth: namely, that God is faithful.” Institutes 3.2.15
What we often tend to miss, the point that Calvin is making here, is that doubt, while not a good thing, is nonetheless a part of our faith experience. We are of the sinful flesh and our fallen human nature cannot fully grasp the amazing goodness of God in the midst of pain and suffering and brokenness. So don’t beat yourself up over it.
I have wrestled long and hard with it.
I have even tried wrestling with God. Unlike Jacob, God did not permit me to prevail against Him…however, just like with Jacob, God showed me great mercy. I struggled hard, and after a while He broke me. He touched my hip and I collapsed. I gave in, but not without hearing his blessing. And I can say with Calvin, “God is faithful.”
He has for the most part lifted the depression from me, and for that I am thankful. Each time I have gone through it, The Lord in His faithfulness has pulled me out.
Some say they are stronger for going through depression and coming out the other side.
Each time I go through it, I realize just how weak I really am. I need him more and more. It is always Him. It is all about Him. Perhaps he permitted me to experience depression to keep me in line. To destroy pride? To train me for something? Charles Spurgeon said of his own depression:
“The cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison. So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fasting gives an appetite for the banquet. The Lord is revealed in the backside of the desert, while his servant keepeth the sheep and waits in solitary awe. The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory.” ~Charles Spurgeon, The Minister’s Fainting Fits, Lectures to My Students, Lecture XI, 1856.
I was defeated. But Jesus wasn’t.
I was in a dark valley. But Jesus is bringing me to the mountain top.
In the end the victory is His.
He is faithful, even when I just want to wrestle with Him.
And despite me, and even when it feels like it isn’t, His grace really is sufficient for me.
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” The Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10