Saturday, January 11, 2014

Valuable Depression

            I used to think I was a happy-go-lucky, glass-half-full kind of person.  But then I grew up and realized that life is much harder and more unpleasant than I thought it would be.  The drone of every-day housework doesn’t make you feel like you accomplish anything worthwhile.  The lack of friendships makes you feel like you don’t matter.  The constant struggle to pay your bills makes you feel like you can never really rest and simply enjoy life.  It’s always work, and failure, and struggle, and exhaustion, and loneliness.

            For me, all of this inner turmoil came to a head last year during a four-month stretch of depression.  (Not clinical depression, but really, really, deep discouragement.)  After I wrote that book about my life, I really felt like I accomplished something good.  Something that could help others, maybe deepen our friendships as they learned about my life and then shared about theirs with me.  It didn’t really bother me that strangers on-line didn’t read it, but it really surprised me that no one that I personally know wanted to read.  These are family and friends and church friends.  And all of the ones that I told about it had some excuse for why they couldn’t read it. 
            That hit me harder than anything (since my parents’ divorces).  No one seemed to care enough about me to want to read what came from my heart.  Honestly, it really broke my heart because I tried so hard.  And I took a huge risk every time I told anyone about it.  It’s very hard for me to share my accomplishments with others or to ask them to celebrate me or care about me.  And so I humiliated myself over and over again when I would finally work up the nerve to say, “Hey, I wrote a book about my life, if you’d like to read it.”  And no one would.
            Everywhere I turned, I heard the message, “No one cares.  You don’t matter to anyone.  No one really wants to get to know you or celebrate this accomplishment with you.  You can’t accomplish anything worthwhile.  You have been fooling yourself all this time, thinking you have anything to offer.  You’ll never do anything right.  You are just a joke.  Pathetic, pathetic failure.” 
            Four months of this.  Four months of feeling like I didn’t matter and like I was a joke.  I remember during this time, my six-year-old son once unexpectedly brought me to tears.  He had been busy all day building a stuffed animal (frog, to be precise) apartment out of cardboard.  And I was in the kitchen doing dishes in frustrated exhaustion, tired from being so down for so long.  And I could hear him mumbling something in the other room.  I thought that he was trying to talk to me, but he wasn’t talking loud enough for me to hear.  So I dried my hands in a huff and marched over to him and said, “What?  What are you saying?  I can’t hear you when you mumble.”
            But he just put his hands in his pockets, gazed adoringly at his frog house, and sighed and said, “I’m just so proud of myself.” 
            I immediately melted.  I knelt down by him, wrapped my arms around him and told him how proud I was of him, too.  How creative and special I think he is.  And then, I went into the other room and just bawled.  I cried because I was so thankful that he felt this way about himself, that he could enjoy the things he made and feel good about his efforts.  I cried because he was able to share that joy with me. 
            And I cried because he summed up exactly what my heart was aching for.  How long I had wanted to hear words like, “I’m so proud of you” or “Good job.”  How I wanted to feel like I accomplished something worthwhile and like someone else wanted to share in that joy with me.  But time and time again, no one did.  I felt pathetic and alone.  Wondering where I went wrong and how on earth I could do better.  And I go through funks like these more often than I wish.  I’m just not the happy-go-lucky type. 
            But with the Lord’s help, I slowly work through these times, picking out the truths and discarding the lies.  It’s not quick and easy for me, though.  I don’t often go to other people when I am hurting at times like these.  (That’s hard to do when one of the problems is that you feel that other people don’t care already.  Plus, it’s kinda hard to trust people with your pain when you don’t feel like they even care about your joys.)  And so I work out my pain with the Lord.   
            Oftentimes, I have to go to the Lord in prayer long and hard, asking Him to help me see things the way He does, pleading with Him to help me find some sort of truth that would release me from the hold that my fears and my depression have on me.  And this last time, the Lord led me to several things that helped free me from the “four-month funk.” 

            One:  I was at the library, praying that God would help me find some book that would encourage me.  And as I browsed the shelves, my eyes fell upon a book.  And I knew that it was what He wanted me to read.  One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  I was immediately drawn to the idea of making a long list of the blessings and the gifts in my life.  I needed to do this because I could only see the things that were wrong in my life during this time.  And it only discouraged me more.  And so I started my own list of things I am thankful for, even the bittersweet blessings.  The blessings in disguise.   
            “Thank You that I never really got hugged much as a child, because it made me make sure to hug my kids every day.”   
            “Thank You for the loneliness because it’s driven me closer to You.” 
            “Thank You for the financial struggle because it’s prevented me from putting my faith in money and becoming materialistic, and it’s driven me to rely on You.”
            As well as things like, “Thank You for daisies . . . for goldfinches at the feeder . . . for dragonflies and hummingbirds . . . for warm breezes . . . for walks with my family.”
            And I can’t tell you how healing this was.  I shifted my focus from all the disappointments in my life to all the gifts.  It makes a huge difference in your daily outlook to look for the blessings.  Because there will always be far too many things to get us down in this lifetime if we don’t deliberately set on our minds on the positive things.

            Two:  God helped me to see that whether my book succeeded or failed wasn’t in my hands.  I was listening to the song Blessed Be Your Name by the Newsboys, and the line about how God “gives and takes away” hit me.  He gives and takes away . . . blessed be the name of the Lord. 
            And it dawned on me that, all this time, I was taking the responsibility for the success or failure of this book on myself.  But ultimately, He has the right the “give or take away” any success.  He has the right to prevent it from going anywhere if it serves His purposes.  I knew that I had done my best, tried my hardest to glorify Him with every line.  And now, it was His to do with as He pleases.  And once I accepted His right to say “no” and to “take away,” I was free from the responsibility to “make something happen.” 
            Its success didn’t depend on me forcing something to happen.  It was up to the Lord if it went anywhere.  All I had to do now was focus on doing Today’s job to the best of my ability, for His glory (nothing more than cooking, cleaning, raising my boys, and loving my husband and neighbors), and to let Him have the future.  I needed to be still before Him and receptive to if and when He opened a door, instead of trying to force something to happen.  I needed to listen more and talk less.  Relax and stop striving.  Surf and not water ski. 
            (I don’t much care for water sports, but I like this illustration.  Water skiing is when we start up our own little motor on a still lake, and we attach our own little rope to the boat, and we cruise around by our own little power, saying, “Hey, look at me.  I’m making things happen.”  But surfing is when we sit quietly with our boards, waiting and watching for when the waves pick up and the conditions are right.  And then we jump on our boards and ride the waves that God brought through His power.  One is about leading and making opportunities, and one is about following and taking opportunities.  And I’m learning to surf instead of ski.)

            And three:  God gave me a very healing “vision” that made all the difference to me.  A picture in my mind that made me feel like I mattered.  I had been depressed that no one wanted to celebrate this joy with me, the book that I took years to write.  I never asked anyone more than once if they wanted to read it.  I didn’t want to make them feel like they had to care about me or like I was breathing down their necks, fishing for compliments.  And I also never let anyone know if I was hurt that they didn’t show any interest.  I’d rather just nurse my wounds in private, instead of making people feel bad about hurting me. 
            Anyway, I felt like I was an artist that had sent out a ton of invitations to invite everyone to the opening night of their art display.  And yet, no one showed up.  In my mind, I was standing there by myself on a stage in an empty room, waiting for anyone to show up and care about what I had done.  But no one did.  And it hurt to feel so alone and overlooked.
            But as I talked this pain over with the Lord one day in prayer, He gave me this picture in my mind that really helped heal the pain.  I was still standing there on an empty stage.  The bright lights were shining on me, and no one was in the audience.  Except for one person now.  I looked out and realized that there was one Person in the audience, sitting in one of the chairs.  Someone cared enough about me to show up. 
            And the thing that really meant something to me was that He didn’t even seem to notice that there was no one else in the audience.  His eyes were completely on me as He leaned forward in His chair, looking at me with eyes full of love and delight.  This image only lasted a moment, but it meant the world to me.      
            Well, with that “vision,” I knew that He was delighted with me.  And that was all I really needed!  I can’t tell you how healing that was to me, to know that I mattered to the only One whose opinion really matters.  And it really doesn’t matter that much to me now whether others read it or share in the joy of it with me.  Because my heart has been filled with the joy that comes from the Lord, with knowing that I matter to Him and that He is pleased. 

            I can’t tell you how much all of these things helped me get through this last funk.  Yes, these times are always hard on me.  And I don’t like going through them.  But I am learning that these funks might just always be a part of my life.  But it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with me.  It just means I’m human and I hurt.  And it gives me another chance to desperately seek God’s face and to throw myself into His arms.  And I always come out of them eventually, finding that God met me in the pain and that He brought me a fresh sense of His Love and Truth and Healing.  It enriches my spiritual life in way that “easy and comfortable” never could.  And that really does make them worth it.

            (All that being said, do not take true, clinical depression lightly.  If you suffer from depression and can’t seem to get out of it, talk to your doctor.  Seek help.  Sometimes God works through medicine.  And we should consider this option a blessing if we need it.  It makes sense that our body chemistry might be really messed up considering the toxins and pollution in the air, water, food, etc.  And medicine may be the best way for some people to deal with their depression.  Prayer and medicine together.  Don’t be ashamed if you have to go this route.  Be thankful that God gave us wise doctors.)