Icebreaker Question:When have you laughed the hardest in your life? Is there anything that never fails to make you laugh?
Open With Prayer
Originally, I didn’t have this one in the Bible study. But over the past few years (and more), I have really struggled with depression. (If you read the introduction to the Bible study, you can get a sense why, although there are other reasons, too.) And on-line and in real life, I have found a lot of other people who are struggling with it, too, even Christians.
And the sad thing is, not only do they already feel guilty and alone . . . but then other Christians make them feel like “bad Christians” and like they should be ashamed of themselves for having depression or taking medication. They condemn and judge the hurting person, instead of extending compassion and grace and help. And that gets me mad! Freakin’ boiling mad!!! (Oh, it gets me so mad!)
And so I decided to combine parts from a couple posts that I recently wrote over at myimpressionisticlife.blogspot.com and add them as part of this Bible study. I wrote it for the hurting, depressed person who is ashamed of themselves for hurting, who is afraid to speak up about it for fear of being condemned, and who feels alone in their struggles and like there must be something wrong with them.
And I wrote it for those who have no compassion but only critical judgment for those who hurt. I wrote it for those who lack the humility to connect to fellow, broken human beings. And I wrote it for those who don’t realize how many hurting people there are out there and how many of those “happy people with huge smiles” are hiding incredibly shattered hearts.
I wrote it so that we could start talking about this issue, so that we could grow in understanding and humility and compassion, and so that we could maybe learn to come alongside each other and help each other on our journey through life. We’re all human, after all. Aren’t we?
This one will be long. Really long. Longer than any of the other topics I wrote about. (And just to warn you, it will be a bit “improper” at one point. You’ll see what I mean.) I chose to not edit it down for space too much because I know how important it is for the hurting person to hear about what others are going through and how they have gone through it. I know how I have immersed myself in good books from other people who struggled and how I ached for more when I got to the last page. And so I added all that I wanted to say, without worrying about length. This one is really close to my heart, and I wanted to do it justice!
(So if you’ve been reading the lessons together as a group, I recommend reading this one on your own before you meet together. It will take a long time to read. Or if you really don’t need to read all about this because you don’t struggle with it, you can just skim it really fast. Even if you just skim, you’ll still be able to answer most of the questions just fine. And I think your group might want to take a few weeks to discuss the answer section, if everyone is willing. There is a lot to talk about.)
So here it is, a little modified for this study:
Is Depression a Sin?
This issue came up recently when I was talking with some women from church. Someone had read off a list of sins (written by a pastor) and it included depression. And one of the women asked the rest of us what we thought about that. As someone who struggles with depressed feelings a lot, it got me really wondering if it’s right to call it “sin.”
Of course, the word depression doesn’t appear in the Bible, so this issue requires some speculation, some outside-the-box thinking. But my first reaction to this question was: “Calling it a sin isn’t going to help anyone who is struggling with it. You can’t just say, ‘You are sinning and you need to stop it,’ and expect that someone is going to be able to go, “Oh, you’re right. I’ll stop being depressed now and start feeling joyful.’”
It doesn’t happen that way. And it may actually be more harmful to talk like that. In many ways, I think calling depression a sin is irresponsible. It will only add to the pain and self-loathing someone feels instead of helping at all. It will make them want to clam up more and not tell anyone that they are hurting, causing them to feel more alone and to not reach out and get the help they need.
And when there are people out there who hurt to the point of taking their life just so they can end the pain, the last thing we need are Christians who say, “If you are depressed or taking medication, you are sinning. Just give it all to the Lord and be joyful. In fact, thank Him for the trials and the pain. God did this for your own good - because He loves you and wants the best for you.” Talk about heartless and irresponsible! (Seriously, Christians, just keep your mouth shut sometimes!)
I’ll be honest. When I was a happy, shiny, exuberant, young Christian, we talked about this kind of thing once. And my thinking was that depression was a sin, of sorts. Because you were not “having joy in the Lord” like a “good Christian” is supposed to. And you were choosing to look at all the negatives about yourself and your life, instead of focusing on Christ’s love for you and on your trust in Him to carry you through life. You were more focused on yourself than on God, making your pain and heartache an idol. And that is sin. A kind of pride, acting like your view of yourself has more weight than God’s view of you.
I’m not saying that I now think that view is wrong. There is a lot of biblical truth in it. But as I have gotten older and struggled with more losses and heartache, I have come to realize that it’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black-and-white issue. And it is irresponsible, insensitive, and uncompassionate to simply say “depression is a sin,” as though it’s in the same realm as other sins people commit and can stop anytime, such as stealing, lying, cheating, having an affair, etc. (And it doesn’t take into account hormonal or chemical imbalances, a history of family mental illness, different personalities, broken families and broken hearts, and what people might be doing to work through it.)
Oftentimes, depression isn’t something you choose to do; it’s something that happens to you, even though you don’t want it and maybe did nothing to cause it. And it takes a lot more than “stop sinning and be joyful” to work through it.
To me, that is exactly the kind of “pat answer” or simplistic, judgmental Christian notion that I have been shedding over the years as God has broken me in many ways, as He has stripped me of my own cocky, confident wisdom and ideas of how everything “should be.” It’s the kind of thing someone would say who has never struggled with real gut-wrenching depression but who is passing judgment on someone who has. Or someone who has successfully gotten through it and is looking down smugly on those who are having a harder time getting through it. (In fact, maybe we could add “uncompassionate, simplistic judgmentalism” to that list of sins. Because even though those words are not in the Bible, the idea is there, especially when you look at the Pharisees.)
The way I see it (remember this is just my opinion and you don’t have to agree) is that we cannot simply say “depression is a sin.” It needs to be explored and unpacked more. What do we mean when we say “depression”? What is the depressed person doing in response to the depression? Are they fighting against it in godly ways or wallowing in it, clinging to it as part of their identity so they can have an excuse for why they are the way they are?
It’s not the “being heartbroken” part that is a sin; it’s the “what are you doing in response to the depression” part that makes all the difference.
According to the Oxford American Dictionary, depression is a state of being really sad or hopeless feeling, oftentimes resulting in physical symptoms.
Is it a sin to be excessively sad for any stretch of time?
Let’s say you were abused as a child, sent into foster care, never knew a warm, loving home, and never had anyone make you feel like you mattered or were worth something. And then, as you got older, you would see everyone else getting together with their families for the holidays and having a good, loving time. And it made you feel excessively sad for awhile. It made you depressed regularly throughout the year. Is it wise and right for anyone to say, “It’s a sin to let yourself get sad like that”? (And for the record, this isn't based on my life.)
I don’t think it’s the sadness that is the sin. We will all feel sad. We will all struggle with negative feelings about ourselves. Some a lot more than others, especially if you did not have the warm, loving families and upbringing that other people had. But sadness is a feeling. And feelings are neither sinful or not sinful; they just “are.”
“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:26-27)
It’s not feeling angry that is a sin; it’s what you do with the anger that makes it sin or not. And I think it’s the same with sadness, with depression.
I think when people call depression a sin, what they mean is that to hopelessly wallow in depression is a sin, to give yourself over to it is a sin, to embrace it is a sin.
But there is a difference between struggling with depression and settling into depression.
While there are short times that I might settle into depression (giving myself over to it for a day or two or more), for the most part I struggle with depression.
[And in my case, I am not talking about severe clinical depression, but more like intense sadness and ache. Some people have postpartum depression; I have “post-problem depression.” Depression brought on by too many problems in life, too many discouraging trials and heartaches.
If you struggle severely with depression to the point where you cannot function and are thinking of harming yourself, you need to seek professional help! And remember that we are all human. We all need help sometimes. We take our turns being the helper or the helpee, so don’t be ashamed when it’s your turn to be helped. Someday, it will be your turn to help someone else. And most likely, the best help you can give will come from the struggles you went through. So no shame! Only growth!]
Settling into depression is wallowing in it without taking any godly steps to fight it. It’s making depression your heart’s home. It’s choosing to put down your spiritual weapons and to agree with Satan about all the negative things about yourself and your life. It’s agreeing with him about all the ways God has been unfair to you and with the idea that God couldn’t really love you, care about you, handle your problems or make anything good out of your pain. It’s choosing to let go of your faith in God because life is just too hard and discouraging and you don’t think you can trust Him anymore. It’s trading in hope for hopelessness. And if sin is “missing God’s mark” then, yes, this is sin. It’s missing the mark, what God wants for your life and your faith. If we choose to let go of God and to cling to our feelings instead, then we are living in sin.
But, as I see it, struggling with depression is not a sin. Struggling with depression is choosing to battle against it, even if the battle is long and hard. Even if it’s a daily uphill climb, full of setbacks and obstacles.
Quite honestly, isn’t that just life anyway?
I have been struggling with depression for a long time as I have had to deal with shattered dreams and hopes and relationships over the years. And I can pinpoint when my struggle with depression started. I was eighteen and sitting on the floor in my bedroom, reading some letters that my biological father sent me when I was in my early teens. (Some of the only letters he ever sent me.) And it dawned on me that I never got to go to a “daddy-daughter” dance. And that’s when it hit me that I never really had a “daddy.” And suddenly, an ache entered my heart that wasn’t there before. (Actually, the ache that I had denied and stuffed down for so long finally came to the surface.)
My biological father and mom divorced when I was about two years old. And I virtually never saw him, maybe once every three years or so from when I first “met” him at fifteen years old. I’ve gotten a couple letters from him over the years, but I never got birthday cards, Christmas presents, emotional support, comforting hugs. I never got to hear from him (or any of my two ex-step-dads who vanished or current step-dad), “You are amazing. I love you. You are so special. That’s my girl. I’m here for you.” And my bio-father never really cared to know me. I’ve never revealed much about myself to him in the handful of visits we’ve had over my lifetime, and he’s never really asked. He died about eight months ago. I felt nothing. And that's sad.
I have never known what it feels like to belong to or matter to a father.
And this (along with quite a few other trials and heartaches) causes my heart to ache. Regularly. At holiday times. Whenever I see a father carrying his little daughter. Whenever I see other families enjoying each other’s company. (I am so happy for them, always glad to see families who are doing it right. But it still stabs my heart a little.) Or when I really need support or encouragement, someone to help hold me up when I have no strength to stand. (I am so thankful for my husband, but sometimes you really need a dad.)
It really messes with your self-view when your own biological father had basically nothing to do with you, when you don’t feel like you have a place in your own family where you fit in or matter or belong. When you don’t have family to turn to, to lean on. (Thank God for my husband and children and one or two close friends!) I’ve always felt like I was on the outside of everything, looking in. I just don’t fit inside with everyone else.
But I have worked hard over the years with God's help to get through all of this - to examine my heart and mind for what needs to change, to change what I can, to embrace what I can't, and to always try to bring it back to God's love and truth. And it's been quite a long, painful journey. Painful, yet rewarding!
Yet my heart still aches regularly for a dad to really love me and value me. Is that sinful? I don’t think so. And I don’t think we ever outgrow the desire for a parent to love us, to lean on, to hold us up and make us feel like we matter. So I don’t think this ache will go away anytime soon.
I know that struggling with depression (to one degree or another) will probably always be a part of my journey. For me, it comes back to family history. I can’t change my history. I am not responsible for what happened. But I do have to learn to live with it, to do the best I can and be the best I can, in spite of it. And instead of wallowing in my sadness over it, I have to regularly hand it over to God and trust Him to make something beautiful out of it, despite the constant ache that is in my heart. I have to be deliberate about fending off Satan’s fiery arrows every day. But this isn’t always easy to do. It is a long process and daily battle sometimes. And sometimes, I am just too tired to fight it.
Saul vs. Job vs. Job’s Friends
Let’s look for a moment at a couple people from the Bible.
In 1 Samuel 18 and up, we read how King Saul gives himself over to negative thoughts and feelings. To jealousy and fears. He broods over them. He nurses these feelings until they consume him. He had everything he could want, but he took his focus off of God and put it on his feelings, on all that was bothering him about his life, about David. And losing his focus eventually led to his demise. That was an unhealthy way to deal with his feelings. It was destructive and it was sin.
But then there was Job, who was a righteous man. He did nothing to deserve the tragedies that God allowed Satan to bring into his life. He lost everything, but he eventually found a more pure faith. And it had to do with how he responded to the pain.
Let’s look at what Job did in response to the horrible circumstances God allowed into his life.
First, even in his extreme anguish, he humbly threw himself before God’s “God-ness.”
“”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
“Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)
Despite the incredible loss and pain, he threw himself at God.
And then for a short time, he sits there with his friends in silence. Job wallows for a little while, unable to pick himself up, to make himself “happy.” There is a sense of “I can’t go on yet. I need to sit here and process this.”
And I don’t think we can accuse Job of sinning here. Life has knocked him down hard, taken the wind out of him, and he needs to process, to let it all sink in, to sort it out, to come to grips with what has happened and how it has affected him. He is stunned. And all he can do in his stunned state is sit there in the ashes and scratch at his wounds with broken pottery, reevaluating what he knows of God and of life and of himself. I’m sure he had a lot to think about.
[I have recently gotten to a point like this (again) – where I can’t seem to pray and I don’t know what to do or how to make things better or how to enjoy life anymore or how to even want anything anymore. I am almost afraid to want anything, to hope that things will be different. Because it feels like when I hope for things and when I work for change, I crash and burn in a flaming heap. My heart and spirit get broken over and over again. And after years and years of this, I am tired. I am done!
And like Job, all I want to do now (spiritually) is sit before the Lord in silence, in brokenness. I don’t want anything else and I don’t want to do anything else, other than just be broken before Him for a time. I want to be still in my spirit. Quiet. To let my silence and my brokenness be my prayer. I want to pray nothing other than “Thank You for all the blessings You have already given us. Help me be content with life as it is. Give me only what You want me to have because I don’t know what I need anymore. Help me do my best in my daily job and to not worry about anything else. And regardless of the trials, I believe in You, I trust You, and I love You.”
Maybe I am in a kind of deep depression and discouragement. I don’t know. Maybe I’m giving up. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I have tried and tried to make things better . . . and I have failed. And I am tired of trying. I am tired of thinking that I know what I need. I am tired of wanting. I am tired of waiting for things to be better. I am tired of being tired. I’m just . . . tired!
And so for now, I am going to simply sit in “Job silence” for a while - until it’s time to get up, dust myself off, roll up my sleeves, and get back to it. There will be a time for that eventually. But now is the time for spiritual silence and stillness, for doing nothing more than my daily job (waking up every day and putting one foot in front of the other and doing the tasks of the day) and learning to count the blessings and to praise Him in the pain and to say, “It is well with my soul!”
You know, I tend to get all upset with myself when I get into these funks, like there’s something majorly wrong with me and like I have to get out of it as soon as possible. And in some ways, these efforts to claw my way out of the “depression” only make it worse, making me feel like more of a failure.
But maybe it doesn’t need to be so distressing. Maybe it’s just a part of life, of being human.
So I’m going to do it differently this time. I am not going to be distressed that I am in a funk. I’m not going to worry about being some super-human, some spiritual giant who can “fix it all,” who is a shining example of what a “good Christian” is supposed to be. I’m just going to be okay with being human. With being broken. And I’m just going to let this funk happen and let it pass, waiting at the feet of God until it does.
And even though it might look like utter despair, I think it’s okay. I think there are times when wallowing in the dust is all we can do. But as long as we are wallowing in the dust at the feet of God, it’s okay. And I’m okay. Because I trust in a good, loving, sovereign God.]
Anyway, back to Job’s story. In his despair, he sat there in complete silence for days.
But what did his friends do, in their efforts to help? They go into all these pat-answers of how Job went wrong and what he should do and how God operates. They act like they have it all figured out and that if Job can just see it their way and do it their way then things would be better. Their wise, godly, loving support basically includes pearls-of-wisdom (paraphrased) such as these:
1. Who are you to be so discouraged about what God is doing in your life!?! (Hmm, sounds a bit like, “You are sinning by letting yourself be so depressed. Be joyful because God is in control.”)
2. You must be living in hidden sin, and so you got what you deserved because God wouldn’t do this to a righteous man.
3. Your kids got what they deserved!
4. You have no idea what you are talking about.
5. You are putting your faith in the wrong thing, not in God, and this is what happens to people who put their faith in the wrong thing.
6. God is using this to teach you a lesson, to mold you and make you a better person. So you should accept it as a blessing.
7. If you would just listen to this wise, godly advice that God personally revealed to us, you would get back into God’s good graces and everything would be better again.
8. You need to be rebuked for the things you cry out against our mysterious, holy God. Who do you think you are!?!
9. What has happened to you to make you so angry, to make you say such things about God? (Umm . . . DUH!)
10. You need to set aside this anger and extol His work, praise Him, for He is magnificent and far beyond our understanding.
11. Basically, Job . . . you are doing it all wrong!
They seem to have such godly-sounding advice for people who have never gone through that kind of pain before. Great friends, huh! I mean, it really did sound wise and godly. There was a lot of truth in it. And they were defending God’s character and actions against Job, who (in their judgment) was saying things that no wise, good Christian should say. And this only further confirmed for them the idea that Job was in sin and being punished, which gave them more ammunition against him and made them “more righteous” by comparison.
But Job doesn’t buy all that nonsense. He knows he did nothing to deserve what happened. And he still has too much wrestling to do with himself, his faith, and his God to just spring back up again and get on with life right now. It’s not time to get up off the ground yet. He is still processing. It takes time. Yet I can just hear his friends saying, “You are in sin. Just get up and be joyful.”
It might look like Job is wallowing just like Saul was, giving himself over to depression. But unlike Saul who turned from God, who let go of God and grabbed onto his negative feelings instead, Job turns to God. Job is struggling with faith issues and negative views of himself and of God. But what makes all the difference here is that Job brings them to God, he lays it all out before Him in prayer. He holds nothing back, even if it sounds ugly and harsh and self-righteous and untrusting. He cries out to God in transparency, giving vent to thoughts and feelings (paraphrased) such as these:
1. Cursed be the day I was born!
2. Cursed be my life!
3. I long to die!
4. I have no strength left to hope.
5. God Himself has taken aim at me with poisonous arrows.
6. I don’t think God is listening to my cries and pleas. In fact, I think He would just multiply my wounds for no reason.
7. I did nothing to deserve this!
While Job’s friends were busy teaching Job a lesson and defending God with righteous-sounding arguments, Job was doing this: “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free reign to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1) Job was not concerned with sounding like a “nice, good Christian.” He was pouring out his heart honestly. But the thing is, he was not just talking to his friends about his bitterness. He was talking to God about it.
His friends were busy talking about God, but Job was talking to God!
1. Even when I am resting, You terrify me with visions and dreams.
2. What is man that You think of him, examine him, and test him?
3. Why won’t You look away from me and leave me alone for a moment?
4. What have I done to You? Why am I Your target?
5. You shaped me and made me. Why would You now destroy me?
6. Why didn’t You just let me die at birth?
7. Hear my cries, Lord, and answer me! Why do You hide from me and consider me Your enemy?
All throughout Job’s replies to his friends, he speaks to God, too. And he doesn’t polish it up. He is in intense pain, and he speaks out of his intense pain. He doesn’t try to talk himself out of it. He doesn’t say, “Well, it’s a sin to be angry, depressed, and to lash out at God, so I better stop it and just accept what has happened and be happy.”
No, he gives full vent to his fears, doubts, thoughts, feelings, and pain. Sometimes, you have to go through this. There is no way out sometimes – no way to acceptance - but through crying out honestly to God!
To be fair, there was a lot of truth and wisdom in what his friends said. It sounded like inspirational sermons you might hear at church.
But the problem was . . . they had no idea what they were talking about in this particular situation. They had all these fancy, godly-sounding arguments and they thought they were speaking up for God, but they had no idea what they were talking about. They did not stop to consider Job’s particular circumstances. They simply applied their pat-answers and blanket-statements and smug judgments to a situation they didn’t truly understand. In their pious, self-inflated ignorance, they passed judgment on what Job was going through and how he was going through it. And in comparison, Job looked like he was less godly, less righteous-sounding.
Surely a good Christian wouldn’t talk like that. A good Christian would humbly and compliantly submit to what God allows into his life, accepting it in thankfulness and finding “joy in the Lord” because He is God and we are not. A good Christian would not let themselves get so depressed and upset and angry at God!
But let’s look at what God says, after the friends have defended Him and given all their wise advice and after Job has wallowed in his pain for awhile and poured out all his bitterness to the Lord.
The first thing God does, in Job 38, is put Job in his place. He reminds him that He is God and that Job is not, that He has created all things and holds all things in His hands and that there is no way that a simple human could compare to Him.
Yet I happen to think that even as God is saying this, it’s not in anger at Job. I think that while God has to correct Job and put him in his place, there is a sense of admiration and tenderness for Job. Because Job was willing to pour himself out honestly before the Lord - whereas the friends simply spoke about God in haughty, “we know better” ways.
And what does God say about the difference between bitterly-honest Job and his pious, lofty, God-defending friends?
I think it’s interesting to note that God spends a lot of time talking to Job, correcting him, reminding him of who He really is. But He barely speaks to the friends. Here they thought they were so righteous and knew God so well and were protecting God’s character from Job’s outcries, yet God barely bothers to respond to them.
And even then, the only thing He really has to say to them is in Job 42 when God turns to Eliphaz and says, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” And He doesn’t just say it once; He says it twice. And then God asks Job to pray for them so that He does not deal with them according to their folly.
Although the friends had all sorts of godly-sounding, God-defending arguments meant to shame Job into becoming a more “proper” Christian, they did not speak rightly of God. It’s not that there was no truth in what they said; it’s that they were not applying the right truth in the right places. They were using truth to shame and judge Job, instead of having compassion on him and considering his particular circumstances.
And on top of that, their one main message – that Job must be getting what he deserved because God would not allow such trials into a righteous person’s life – was not correct. In this main argument, they were not speaking rightly of God, for God did indeed allow incredible loss and pain into a righteous man’s life. (And I think that’s why Job spent so much time wallowing and processing. His views of God and life and faith and himself were shattered, and he needed time to sort it all out, to assimilate this new information about God, the fact that He would allow such pain into an innocent man’s life.)
While Job sought to figure this all out and to examine his view of God and life and faith, his friends simply kept defending their preconceived assumption that God doesn’t do this kind of thing to righteous people.
And why couldn’t they concede the point that Job was righteous and yet still experienced these losses?
I think it’s because if it could happen to Job, it could happen to them. And they would much rather believe that as long as they behaved properly, these things would never happen to them.
In their minds, God was like a formula for success. And as long as they followed the formula, things would always go well for them. They simply couldn’t accept the idea that God is more wildly mysterious and uncontrollable than they think He is, that He cannot be manipulated, that He does “unreasonable” things sometimes.
I’m also going to speculate that all their fancy arguments to defend God and accuse Job were meant to earn God’s good graces. Like the scared kids on the playground who join the bully’s side . . . as long as they show their allegiance to the “bully,” He won’t come after them. They were probably terrified to see what happened to Job. And it probably shook their view of God, too, and made them feel vulnerable. And so they had to keep accusing Job of wrong-doing because they did not want to believe that this kind of thing could happen to godly people.
Isn’t this something all of us deal with? Isn’t this often what’s behind our faith struggles and depression and fears? We want to think that our obedience and godly living will earn us the easy, pain-free life. We have expectations of God and how He works and how He rewards us. And heartache and tragedies blow our expectations and assumptions out of the water. It shakes us to the core. Because not only do we have to face the pain, but now we have to reevaluate how we see God and life and faith and ourselves.
But as we do this, as we wallow in the dust and scrape at our wounds and process what’s happened and evaluate what it’s teaching us, our simplistic “pat answers” and faulty expectations and childish assumptions are replaced with a clearer, more accurate view of Him. And as we see Him more clearly, our faith grows. A faith not based on misconceptions but on hard – and sometimes painful and confusing – truths.
Job was willing to let his assumptions and misconceptions be changed. He was willing to begin seeing God for who He really is – a God who does not have to do things the way we think He should and who does not have to answer to us, but a God that can be trusted anyway.
But the friends were not willing to have their simple view of God-as-a-formula changed. It would make them feel vulnerable and not-in-control. And as God said, they did not speak rightly of Him.
As much as we might hate it, God is not a formula. And bad things do happen to godly people. Job had to process this, to get through the confusion and pain and anger, to get to the point of seeing God for the wild, mysterious God that He is.
And maybe that is exactly the point of the trials sometimes: to humble us, to get us to understand God better, to purify our faith, and (as we see in the interaction between God and Satan in the very beginning of Job) to force us to decide if we will believe in Him and cling to Him no matter what comes our way (as Job did) or if we will cling instead to our misconceptions, assumptions, and expectations of Him (as Job’s friends did).
As Job shows us, sometimes there is a time to vent to God, to wrestle with Him over our fears and doubts and pains, to struggle with our expectations, misconceptions, and assumptions. Instead of worrying about the “proper” way to respond, Job basically called God out, saying, “Let’s get in the ring, God. You and me. Gloves off! Bring it!”
Did you ever see Forest Gump? It’s been a long time since I have, but there’s this part where Lieutenant Dan rails at God from the boat, fists waving in the air, shouting all sorts of angry things at Him. And I don’t remember exactly what he said. I just remember that it was with an attitude of “I’m angry with You. Let’s get it all out in the open now! We’re getting in the ring, gloves off! Bring it on, God! It’s You and me! Let’s do this!”
And I used to think, How horrible and disrespecting toward God. God must hate that! Lieutenant Dan would earn himself some serious punishment with that kind of displeasing, impolite outburst.
But as I’ve gotten older and learned more about God and learned to be more transparent with Him and let Him into the sealed-off parts of my heart, I now realize, Lieutenant Dan is doing it right! That’s what pleases God more than quietly shrinking away from Him, hiding the hurt parts of our heart in order to be “pleasing” to Him, nursing our wounds in private. He’d rather have us rail at Him in all honesty than pull back in a false form of trust and humility. He wants us to wrestle with Him if wrestling is what will create a deeper relationship and stronger faith, to give it our all, to cling to the very end, to passionately throw ourselves at Him and not let go until He blesses us.
I think wrestling with God is something we will all have to do at some point in our lives. In the trials and heartaches and unanswered prayers and unfulfilled dreams and shattered hopes and the failures and doubts and fears and questions.
And it’s okay to wrestle with Him. To grab on and say, “I won’t let go until You bless me, either with an answer or with wisdom or with peace and joy in You alone.” He’d rather us grab on and cling to Him, even when we are angry or in pain, than have us turn from Him and grab on to something else.
We will wrestle with Him for different reasons throughout our lives. I definitely have. But if we cling long enough, we will be blessed. Either with the answer we want or with the grace and peace that comes from Him to accept the one we don’t. And sometimes the greatest blessing that comes from wrestling with Him is just having been near Him, having been in His presence, letting Him walk with us through our hard time and yet learning to find our joy in Him and not our circumstances.
Among others things, wrestling with Him helps us . . .
- learn that He is God and we are not, and to be okay with that.
- put down burdens that we were never meant to carry.
- learn to need Him. Not just want Him, but really, desperately need Him.
- understand what it means to “walk by faith, not by sight.”
- learn to recognize and listen to that “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit.
- let go of the control we desperately cling to and to cling to Him instead, in trust and reliance.
- root out self-sufficiency, pride, expectations, misconceptions, demonic footholds, selfishness, laziness, lukewarm-ness, weak areas, ungodliness, hidden sins, etc.
- learn to rest in Him and to wait on Him and to be faithful, no matter what.
- become more honest and transparent with Him and with ourselves.
- uncover any lies we might be living or believing.
- learn to accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive others.
- learn to see Him as He really is and ourselves as we really are.
- open our eyes to other people’s hurts and needs.
- prioritize our lives and goals as He wants us to.
- live with eternity in mind.
- get back on the path He wants us on.
- learn humility and obedience and to seek righteousness.
- trust His love, and learn to love others and let ourselves be loved.
- learn genuine thankfulness and contentment.
- learn to praise Him in the pain, to find our joy in Him, and to learn that His grace is sufficient.
- learn to rely on God’s Word and prayer and Jesus’ name.
- make peace with the life we have and the things we don’t understand and the unclear future.
- grow through the trials, instead of just whining about them.
- learn to hold things loosely so that we can allow Him to do whatever He wants with what we have.
- lighten up and not take things so seriously.
- learn what grace really is and how much we need it and how to extend it to others. (I have never really understood and loved the word “grace” so much, not until I broke so bad. And now, I want to share it with others, too.)
Job poured himself out honestly to the Lord. Job wrestled with God. And even though Job said things that were harsh-sounding and not very “godly,” God still says that Job spoke rightly of Him.
And it’s not that everything Job said was true, because God took time to correct Job’s misconceptions. It’s that Job got real with God! He didn’t stuff his feelings and put on a polished, Christian, “joy in the Lord” smile. He didn’t let his misconceptions cloud his view of God. He chose to let his view of God be corrected. And he brought the broken parts of his heart to God, instead of just talking about God like his friends did. Job drew near to God! And so God drew near to Job! Even though it meant that first God had to set Job straight.
It’s not the pain and heartache that is sin. It’s what you do with it.
Like King Saul, do you turn away from God and grab onto the pain, letting it shape your life and your self-views? Like Job’s friends, do you throw around “truth” as a way to judge how other people are doing in their walks with the Lord or cling to your misconceptions because accepting the truth would be too scary?
Or like Job, do you turn to God and bring Him all the pain and ache that is in your heart, choosing to draw near to Him even when you have doubts and fears? Do you let God purify your faith by correcting your misconceptions, faulty assumptions, and off-base expectations?
King Saul settled. Job’s friends scolded and shamed. But Job struggled.
And struggling is not sinful. It’s part of the process, of trying to work through the pain in your heart, your negative self-views, your doubts and fears about God. In fact, it is healthy. If you do not work through these things, they become stumbling blocks in your heart and faith, walls in your relationship with others, with yourself, and with God.
Maybe sometimes, depression is not much more than “adjustment disorder.” It’s the struggle to learn to adjust to your life instead of expecting life to adjust to you. It’s the struggle to learn to trust God when things go wrong instead of demanding your way.
[And some of us will never be able to get to a point of being "super happy" all the time. And I don’t necessarily think that should be our goal. Because, like it was with Job, some kinds of pain change us forever. And we will face reminders all throughout our lives of things we lost, ways we hurt, people we ache for, unmet longings, broken dreams, etc.
But God-willing, it will become like an old, healed scar. It might be a little tender when it's poked or bumped, but we can get on with living a full life without it hurting so much and getting in the way everyday. And sometimes, that has to be good enough. If you can’t have the life you want, live the life you’ve got, letting God’s love, help, grace, and mercy carry you through. Is there really any other way?]
It’s easy to turn away from God and to lose yourself in your bitterness when things don’t go your way, like Saul. And like Job’s friends, it’s easy to judge, scold, and point fingers at how someone else is doing on their spiritual journey.
But it’s hard – so hard – to get real with God like Job did. To take off the “happy” mask, put away the “good Christian” etiquette, ignore the criticism and judgments, and to get into the ring with God and lay it all out there honestly. But sometimes, it’s the only way to adjust, to maintain and to mature your faith in the midst of pain you wish you didn’t have.
Part of the Journey
Jesus went through a period in the Garden of Gethsemane where He was in extreme anguish, so much so that it caused Him to sweat blood. Would we say that He was in sin to feel so badly, to be so upset, to want something else? Was it sin to appear like He didn’t trust the Father with His life, like He didn’t trust His love and goodness?
No! It’s not the feelings that are harmful; it’s what you do with them that makes all the difference. And Jesus poured out His pain to the Father. And I think He knew that it was the only way to get to the point where He could say and really mean “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
There is a need for and wisdom in working through the pain and heartache instead of just plastering on a “good, polished, Christian smile,” acting like it’s all okay because “God is in control and He loves me, loves me, loves me.” (And remember that Jesus drew near to the hurting. He had compassion on the brokenhearted. He even cried for Martha and Mary when He saw the pain they were in after Lazarus died. His heart hurt for them. Never did He scold anyone whose heart was broken or who reached out to Him in their pain.)
Many times, we need to struggle through those hard, dark, emotional times in order to get to the point of truly accepting God’s Will for our lives, accepting what He has allowed into our lives, choosing to cling to Him no matter what, and figuring out how to glorify Him anyway.
Jesus knew this. Job knew this. But Job’s “wise, godly, righteous-sounding” friends did not. They did not see the benefit of wrestling with the pain and wrestling with God. They would rather cling to their pat-answers about something they never experienced.
There may be times in our lives when we cannot pick ourselves up off the floor, when our views of life and ourselves and God have been shattered and we need time to process and work through the pain and doubts and fears and heartache. Some of us might go through only a season of this, and some might go through it regularly. Some might work through it quickly, and some might deal with it in a more chronic, slow, long-term way. But the key is to draw closer to God in humility through the pain, instead of pulling away from Him and embracing your feelings instead.
Recently, a friend was telling me about a relative of hers who is stuck. He is stuck in an “I am the victim” mentality. And his depression over this and over things that have gone wrong in his life have become part of his identity. Not only does he use it gain attention and sympathy and to retreat from life, but he uses it as an excuse for every unhealthy thing he is driven to do.
And he uses it as a way to manipulate others. He puts expectations on them to do things his way. And then when they don’t, he gets upset and blames them and makes them feel guilty. He is oversensitive about what others say and do, even when it has nothing to do with him, and he reads into everything, always making it about him and how he is wronged and how nothing goes right for him.
And yet, he refuses to let go of this “victim” self-view and to see it from any other angle. He has made his depression and “victim-ness” a major part of his identity. He has defined himself and his life according to it. Over the years, he has nursed this view, brooded over it, and learned to use it, to find some sort of power in it. And he won’t let go of it. He refuses to grow out of it, which would involve taking some responsibility for who he has become, for how he is living his life, and for doing the hard soul-searching work to change it. He’d rather be stuck!
If you are wallowing in it like Saul or embracing it like my friend’s relative then you are on a destructive path. If you are pulling away from God and from healing, refusing to let go of your emotions and your depression because it is your identity, then you are headed for trouble. Emotions are just emotions. And if we do not rule them, they rule us. If we give them free reign to run our lives, we will never truly heal or grow in necessary healthy ways.
But if, in your wallowing, you are drawing nearer to God, even honestly laying out your pain and fears before Him, you are on a path to healing. It may be slow, but it is sure.
Consider the Psalms. (I never much liked the Psalms until I faced depression.) Over and over again, the authors honestly pour out their pain and doubts and fears. But after they do this, they remember God’s character and promises. They feel the pain and heartache and despair, but they call on God’s truth and love to encourage them.
“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5-6)
“I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes. Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping.” (Psalm 6:6-8)
“Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. . . . Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call on you. Hear my prayer, O Lord; listen to my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 86:1-6)
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? . . . But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13: 1-2, 5-6)
Does singing God’s praises – does having joy in the Lord – mean that we have to deny our pain, buck up and “be happy”? No. All throughout the Psalms the pain comes first. Wrestling with the hard stuff comes first. But the authors don’t get stuck there. They let that pain propel them into God’s arms. They basically preach God’s truth to themselves, reminding themselves of who God is and what He has done.
Yet for Psalm after Psalm, they still face these dark thoughts. Over and over again. There is a bit of wallowing there. But it is not a hopeless kind of wallowing. It is the kind where they get very real about what’s inside of them and they let the pain push them into God’s arms and God’s truth.
Depression is either a temporary stop on the road to true joy in the Lord or it’s just a stop, a tar pit of hopelessness that you can’t get out of. And the direction you are facing – toward God or away from God – will determine if you are headed to joy or to hopelessness.
Even Paul, who learned to sing hymns while in chains in prison, found himself despairing at least once. Yet he did not give himself over to it completely. He let that despair drive him closer to God, to help him learn to rely on God more and not on things in this life or world.
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered . . . We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we even despaired of life. Indeed, in our hearts, we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9)
Are you . . .?
Are you ignoring the pain inside, running from it or stuffing it down so you don’t have to face it? You can’t overcome what you won’t face.
Are you nursing your wounds in private, keeping your real thoughts and feelings hidden from God so that you don’t “offend” Him or so that you don’t look less-Christianly to others? He can’t heal what you won’t be honest with Him about.
Are you trying to work through your pain yourself, in your own power, wisdom, and strength? He can’t fix the broken things you refuse to give Him.
Are you clinging to your misconceptions, assumptions, and expectations about God, refusing to let them be challenged and corrected? If so, you have a shaky, unstable faith, based on half-truths and things you wish were true.
Are you clinging to negative emotions, letting them rule you, using them as an excuse to be irresponsible, to be stuck, to disengage from life and from others, to not praise Him, to not do your daily job to the best of your ability, or as an excuse for why you are the way you are? You know, the “it’s just who I am” excuse?
Are you engaging in destructive behaviors when you are depressed: drinking, drugs, loss of self-control, harmful daydreaming, berating yourself over and over again, comparing your life to other people’s lives?
Or. . .
Are you willing to do the hard work of facing the pain and heartache, working through it with God’s help, and letting God heal it? Are you bringing Him all the doubts, fears, thoughts, and feelings inside of you?
Are you clinging to Him, scouring His Word for what He really says about you and your life and Himself, letting His truth replace the lies and heal the wounds and letting Him purify your faith by correcting your faulty views??
Even in your sadness, are you still engaging in life and with others, getting up every day and being faithfully obedient, doing your best to do your best for His glory in the jobs He placed in your path today?
Are you looking for the blessings, finding things to praise Him for? You won’t find the blessings if you are intent on looking for all the negative things.
Are you careful to not engage in destructive or harmful things when you are depressed? To protect your heart and mind from Satan’s fiery arrows? Do you recognize spiritual attacks as spiritual attacks, and treat them as such?
In your depression and sadness and heartache, are you griping against Him about all that is wrong, like the Israelites in the desert? Or are you talking to Him about all that is wrong and all your hurts, like Job and Jesus and the authors of the Psalms?
The answers to these questions will help you know if you are in sin or not! If you are handling depression in an unhealthy way or in a healthy way!
My Panic Attack
I’m going to branch off a bit from my “Is Depression a Sin?” post. I wrote this in the post called “Random Facts about Me. Just for Fun!” It is #64 on the list. But I will repeat it here because it relates to depression and stress and negative thinking and trying to keep your faith in God in the midst of it all. (You can just skim this really fast if you don’t want to read it all.)
I’m adding it because I know how helpful it can be for those who are struggling with emotional issues to read about others who have gone through similar things. So if you’ve ever had a panic attack, maybe you can relate and know you are not alone. (I hope you can’t relate, though. Because panic attacks suck! I actually wrote this months after writing the “Is Depression a Sin?” post. So it just goes to show how much I cycle through all this messiness over and over again.)
64. I had a small panic attack three days ago (which would be May 30, 2016.) It’s the first one I’ve ever had and I don’t plan on ever having another one. [I also once had a minor nervous breakdown during my parents’ very messy divorce. It was so bad that the only way I could start breathing and stop crying was to flee from everything, to jump in the car with my husband and two kids and run away to the middle of nowhere for a little while.]
This panic attack started after a walk I took around the block in the morning. My mind was filled with thoughts of all the things that have gone wrong in life and that I don’t have control over: broken family, broken home, broken dreams, broken friendships, and particularly my frustration and heartache over the neighbor’s moldy garage which is still blowing all over my garden, for the third year now.
[I have to cover my face when I am out there for more than a minute or two. It’s breaking my heart. This was my last “sweet spot,” the place where I felt closest to God, where I still found some delight when everything else was going wrong, and where I invested my heart and creativity when I felt so defeated in every other area of life (except when it comes to my amazing husband and kids). But for three years now, my spirit has been crushed by this moldy garage. And to make matters worse, a dead tree from the neighbor’s yard destroyed my garden last year. It ruined my desire to have any dreams for myself anymore.]
And so my mind was swirling with all of life’s problems and how trapped I felt by them. And I could feel the panic rising. I fought it off for about an hour, doing every relaxing thing I could think of, from slowing down my breathing to praying to distracting my mind with tasks.
And then I started thinking about lung problems we could get from the moldy garage (on top of the mold from the last place we rented). And so I started to take deep breaths to see if I had the same amount of lung space as before, to see if I could take as deep of breaths. And, of course, in my panicked state, I didn’t feel like I could breathe as well. So I kept trying, taking deeper and deeper breaths.
Well, everyone knows what happens if you take too many deep breaths. You start to get tingly and dizzy. So I started getting tingly and dizzy and I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t get away from the problems and, before I knew it, I was drowning in panic. I was freaking out that I couldn’t breathe, and I felt like I needed to rush to the emergency room because I was about to throw up and pass out and die of suffocation. I was spiraling into an other-worldly state of mind. It was really weird, so unlike level-headed, stoic me.
I was moments away from telling my husband to drive me to the hospital, but I decided to try one last thing. I told my husband that I thought I was having a panic attack and that I needed him to pray for me. And then I started sobbing about how much I hate life and how hard everything is and how wrong everything is (except my amazing family-life with my husband and kids) and how I am tired of trying, and tired of hoping, and tired of being tired.
And then he prayed for me. It was a wonderful prayer. And as he talked, I felt myself calming down and my body relaxing. I needed him to pray for me because I couldn’t pray for myself. I needed to lean on him because I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. And when he was done praying, things felt a little lighter. Still sad and disheartening, but lighter.
But it’s amazing what a panic attack does to you. How much it wears you down. I was exhausted. And the rest of the day, I shuffled around like a weak, tired, old lady suffering from arthritis and osteoporosis. And my guts were basically liquefied and my stomach was so tight that I couldn’t eat anything. It took me all day to eat a child-sized Subway sandwich. And it took me all day to feel even somewhat okay again.
Unfortunately, the next day (yesterday) I was still wiped out. So I laid down a lot. But one time, I woke up with a neck-pinch that I get sometimes which makes me vomit. And so on top of being exhausted and having eaten nothing, I started vomiting. Three or four times I threw up the nothing that I had in my stomach.
I was a miserable wretch. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t move without my neck hurting, couldn’t handle noise. So I stayed in bed all night until this morning, when I woke up at 3:36 a.m. and ate a cracker. And amazingly enough, I kept it down okay, along with the banana that took me hours to eat. Slowly but surely, I am working my way back to normal. But I am wrecked.
Today (the third day APA – After Panic Attack): I am still shuffling around slowly and not eating well. And this morning, I could feel the panic tickling the edges of my brain, looking for a weak spot to come in. I think I was misinterpreting tiredness and hunger, thinking they were precursors to panic. But just the idea of panicking and remembering how it felt made me want to panic.
So I called a friend and told her what was going on, and she offered to pray with me right there on the phone. I felt so much better after that, to have someone else pray for me when I couldn’t pray for myself. Just having someone listen and care felt really good.
I have been up and down all day today, praying very different prayers.
First, when I was ready to crawl in a hole, I prayed, “Lord, I’m broken. Please, I am just falling before You broken. Pick me up. Carry me. I can’t do it anymore. I am falling apart. Put me back together again.”
Later on, I once again got so frustrated thinking about how we are once again subjected to mold and how there’s nothing we can do about it and how the city won’t do anything about it and how other people get to enjoy their homes but I’ve never really had the pleasure and how we are in the same situation we were in 6 years ago when we were trying desperately to get out of a severely moldy rental and how just 6-ish years before that I was dealing with the incredible stress and heartache of my mom and step-dad’s divorce and how I can’t catch a break and how everything just feels so unfair, even like God Himself is being unfair. Sometimes it feels like one problem and one health concern after the next. So discouraging. Makes me feel so trapped.
And so I prayed a rather unedited prayer in my frustration, “I don’t f*cking care anymore, Lord. I don’t f*cking care about anything. I don’t care what You do. Do whatever You want. I give up. I don’t care about the f*cking garden or the f*cking house. I can’t f*cking care anymore. It’s hurts too much! What have I done? Am I that bad that we can’t catch a break? I have always tried to do everything right. And look where it’s gotten me!?! No wonder people turn bad and lose faith. I won’t turn from You because I know You are real, but I don’t care about anything anymore. Do whatever You want. My prayers don’t do any good anyway. I’m done!”
[If I didn’t have that nighttime demonic harassment happen to me awhile back, I would have lost faith by now. I would be totally doubting if there really was a God, if He cared, if we mattered, if faith makes any difference, if I should even bother “being good” anymore because what benefit is it to you. Thank God for that demonic harassment! It is what always reminds me that there is an unseen, supernatural world out there. There is a God! And I choose to follow Him, even when He seems unfair!
The funny thing is – once the demonic harassment stopped and things got quiet, I had a feeling that the “quietness” was going to be a harder test for my faith than the obvious demonic harassment. It’s so much easier to cling to God when you are going through attacks and struggles than it is to cling when you feel like He’s put you in a big, dry, lifeless “desert of discouragement” and then pulled back and left you out there all alone.]
And then a bit later on, not too long ago, my prayer shifted to this: “Lord, I still believe in You. I trust You. And I have a big problem, a neighbor’s moldy garage that is ruining my health and my joy and my heart and my mind. But You are big enough. And I have to believe that You care, that You hear me, and that You have a plan. Please, Lord, I know You have a plan. Please, do it. Show me what You can do. Because I can’t do anything. And help keep us healthy and safe until then.”
It’s been a terrible several days. And I know it’s not over yet, and I don’t know how it will all work out. But I never want to go through a panic attack again. I’ll take depression over panic any day.
I know one of the big effects of a panic attack is that you get afraid that it will happen again, so you over-analyze every little sensation. I can already tell that I am afraid to take too big of breaths. But I am also afraid to not breathe enough. So I have to think about my breathing more.
And I feel like something broke inside, in my mind. Like I am more fragile now and could crack any moment. I have to be careful what I watch on the news or bad things I hear or thoughts that enter my head. I feel like everything around me is ominous and closing in on me, from the loud sounds of the cars driving by to the fact that I am beginning to hate my own backyard to the bright, flashy commercials that are giving me a headache. I hope this fades soon. Maybe after I get more sleep and food.
But you know what I decided? I decided that everyone deserves a panic attack and a nervous breakdown at least once in life. And I have had both of mine. And since it took me forty years to get this panic attack, I’ll simply schedule the next one for forty years from now. (I hope it works out like I planned.)
Update – Day 4 APA: I was out in the garden this morning for a few minutes gathering strawberries when I realized that the wind was blowing the other way and I couldn’t smell the mold too much. And I prayed, “Thank You, Lord. That is a blessing!” (I do think it’s important to always be thankful for whatever you can be thankful for. There is so much we overlook.) And then as I left the garden . . . I got stung by a bee in the foot, which caused a pain that hurt all day. I texted my husband about it, and he replied something like, “That’s the way life seems to work out, isn’t it?”
And then just a couple hours later, as I was starting to relax and eat again and get the house cleaned for the multi-person birthday party we are hosting tomorrow, I got a call from my brother who I haven’t talked to in years. And he tells me that my mom overdosed on pills a couple days ago, went to the hospital to get her stomach pumped, and is now on a psychiatric floor under supervision for three days. He said she tried to kill herself.
Yep. That’s how life goes. Serving up one crap sandwich after the next sometimes.
[I know this post is a little “improper.” The cussing thing only recently started, after I got too tired of trying and trying to do the right thing, only to constantly fail or fall on my face. Or so it seems. I’ll get a handle on it soon. But for now, I can’t really care. It’s my version of venting the pressure. I know it’s not right, but it could be so much worse. You know what, don’t read anything that I write. Seriously.
And to be clear, when I say “cussing,” I do not mean “using the Lord’s name improperly.” While I might let a few four-letter words slip out, I am very careful about never using the name of God, Jesus, or Christ in a disrespectful way, even in something as common and benign-sounding as “Oh my God” or “OMG!”
Unless you are talking about Him or to Him when you use His name, you are most likely using it in an inappropriate, disrespectful, or “bad word” way. And to me, that’s in a whole different camp than other “cuss” words we might use. In fact, “don’t use the Lord’s name in vain” is in the top three of the Ten Commandments. And it says that anyone who uses His name in vain will be held accountable for it. Is it worth it?
Also, I do not like to use the word “damn” about anything because you are essentially expressing a desire to “damn” something. And I have always wondered about the power of our words, such as the curses that people in the Old Testament have uttered against others, and the fact that these curses seem to come true for many of them. What if our “damning” something has an effect or opens the door to evil? I think it’s best to not even go there.]
Anyway, that sent me into another sobbing fit, nearly hyperventilating. I knew that if I kept crying like that, I would go into another panic attack. And I CAN’T go there again. So I gathered myself together and reminded myself that I knew this could happen someday, that I have been prepared for this moment since my mom’s really messy divorce when things got really bad, potentially suicidal or homicidal bad. I have always been prepared for things to turn out bad.
The rest of the day, I alternated between sitting there and staring, trying not to work up my nerves at all, praying, cleaning house, and crying when I thought of her feeling so discouraged that the only thing she felt she could do was end her life, hurting and broken.
After having gone through the depression that I have gone through, I can totally understand and have compassion for anyone who feels that broken and hopeless. While I’d never do anything to myself, I did get to the point where I thought, So this is the point people get to when they decide to kill themselves. This is how it feels to just want it all to end, to think that there is no way out of the pain but through suicide.
I can totally understand the hurt that drives people to do that or to do something like cut themselves. And my heart breaks for them. For all of those who hurt that deeply. My goodness, it breaks my heart! (I think only broken people can truly understand and have compassion for broken people.)
[For the record, I don’t struggle with cutting. But feeling the deep, smothering pain that I did made me realize how enticing something like that could be, wanting to just feel alive again even if it was through physical pain, to release the hurt that is coursing through your veins, feeling like you are suffocating in your own skin and like you just need to get out of it and into the air where you can breathe. I can understand. And for those who struggle with that, “You are not crazy! You are just hurting and you are human. And I pray that you find the help you need . . . because you are worth it and you matter!”]
Well, later in the day as I contemplated if I needed to cancel our trip to Iowa for my dad’s memorial (he died one year ago from something he wouldn’t go to the doctor for and was buried on his property in a coffin he made himself, no funeral or service or goodbye) so that I could jump on a plane and go down to see her, I decided first to call my step-father and ask what’s going on. (Sadly enough, no one called me to tell me that anything had happened until two days after she went to the ER. Yep. That is my family.)
I really should have called him earlier because, according to him, it’s not as dire as my brother made it sound. I thought she was basically on her deathbed but it sounds better than that. Yes, she was completely out of it, acting like she overdosed or was drunk, but they are not sure yet what happened, if she really did try to kill herself or if it was something else, maybe something in the brain. (She said she went on a drinking binge but they found no alcohol in her system. Strange!)
She was admitted to the ER (never had her stomached pumped, though) and she was involuntarily admitted for “suicide watch” for three days on a psych floor. And that’s all I really know right now. It might have been a suicide attempt or it might not have been. I would really hope it’s something other than suicide because it would break my heart to know that hers was so broken. I am waiting for a call later when they know more. But at least from what my step-dad says, she is not in as grave of danger as it first seemed. She is stable now. We’ll see what really happened when they know more.
[To my sons who wondered why mommy was so tired and sick all week, lying in bed and barely able to smile: This is the kind of week I had. And it broke me. Humans break sometimes and need a little time to get it back together. And you know what? We’re all broken in some way. And if we’re not now, we will be someday. We’re all broken. And we’re all okay.]
Update – Day 5 APA: Well, my mom is out of the hospital and home again and doing a bit better. Apparently it was an overdose but not necessarily intentional. She had taken her normal pills. But when she couldn’t fall asleep, she began taking Nyquil. And she kept taking Nyquil when it wasn’t working. So it was a bad combination of pills and way too much Nyquil (which would explain the drunk-like state). The psychiatrist on the psych floor ended up adjusting her pills because one of them has been shown to cause seizures. So who knows if that was part of it or not? But there was no foul play or intentional self-harm. Thank God. What a messed-up situation.
But my mom is out of the hospital, she didn’t attempt suicide, the birthday party is over, I am starting to eat nearly normal again (after losing 6-8 pounds this week), and I feel pretty good. I’m just going to chill today, sit around and do nothing but relax, pray for no new excitement, and gather my strength for the Iowa trip coming up in several days. All in all, it’s been a good day.
Update – Day 7 APA: I’m not liking getting up in the morning much anymore. I am tired and dizzy and that makes me feel like I could get panicky. It’s still a bit of work to keep myself calm. And I want calm to come more naturally. I want to not have to think about it, to not work at it so much. That counteracts the whole idea of “calm.”
Anyway, I was gathering strawberries again this morning, holding my jacket up to my nose to keep the mold smell away, and I was thinking about how hard it is to hang in there, to hold on. And I started to feel trapped again by all the problems and broken dreams and heartache and hopeless world problems. And I could feel panic starting again.
“Lord, I don’t know what I did to deserve this. But I know there are people who have it way worse. They would kill for a house to live in, even with mold and construction problems. I have it good. I really do. But I need help getting back to normal. I’m barely holding on here, Lord.”
And that’s when it dawned on me. What am I trying to hold onto anyway? I can’t even really identify what I am struggling to hold onto. I guess I am holding on to broken dreams and unfulfilled desires. But that means that I’m really holding onto nothing because they are not even there. So I am struggling all this time to get a better grasp on nothing. No wonder I’m so exhausted and defeated. You can’t get a better grasp on something that’s not even there.
“Lord, I don’t even know what I’m trying to hold onto anymore. But the struggle to hold onto it is killing me. I’m done. I’m letting go. I’m going to stop trying to hold onto vague ideas and dreams that I can’t attain. I know that the only thing I really need to hold onto is You. But I don’t even know how to do that anymore. I have prayed so much over so many problems, pouring myself out for years to the point of tears and exhaustion. And it doesn’t seem to do anything. And You still seem silent. Yet I will trust You.
Why do I still trust You? Why haven’t I lost faith? Because I know You are real. It is not just a wish or dream. You are real and You are the only option I have. So if this is how You have allowed things to be, I have to accept that. Because there is no other God but You. So I will let You be God. Like Job, I say, ‘Will we accept good from God and not the bad?’ And ‘Though You slay me, yet I will trust in You.’ There is no other. I need to hold onto You. Not some dream or hope or desire. I am letting go of my efforts to hold onto anything else because it’s just crushing me anyway. And I am falling into Your hands. Help me learn how to hold onto You again because I don’t know how to do it anymore.”
After that prayer, after letting go of my efforts to hold onto things that aren’t even there, after telling God that I will still hold onto Him but that I need Him to help me figure out how to do that, I felt immensely better.
You know, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past depressing years, it’s that faith is messy sometimes. Faith hurts sometimes. And the trials and heartaches challenge us to answer these two questions: “Do I really believe in God? And why do I believe?”
I have asked myself this before, when things got really bad and yet He still seemed silent. And the answer I have come to is “Yes, I believe in God. But I don’t believe in Him because I think it will fix every problem or because it’s fun or because it gives me an emotional high. I believe in Him because He is real. Because He is good and faithful, even when life is messy and it hurts and prayers don’t work.”
I think our faith becomes more real and strong as we face the hard times and trials. It’s easy to “have faith” when life is going like we want it to. But that’s not really faith, now is it? It’s gratitude that life is good. It’s happiness because we are getting what we want. And many times, it’s idolatry in disguise.
But when the trials come, we have to struggle with our views of God and ourselves and life and faith. And we gradually, painfully move from a naïve, untested, “gimme” faith in a version of God that we created in our minds to a genuine, hard-won faith in God as He is - a God who is mysterious, who can’t be manipulated by us, who is far above us, who has His own plans and timing, and who is sovereign over all, knowing when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” Through the trials, we learn who we really are and we learn to have faith in Him for the God that He really is. And that is a faith that helps us cling through the hard times.
If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either. If we can’t follow Him when the road gets rough then we’re not really following Him to begin with.
And finally, we have faith in God because this life isn’t all there is. There is a spiritual world out there. There is an eternity out there. And there are only two options: Life with God or life without God. And I’d take a painful life with God before I’d take an easy life without God.
I trust that someday He will work all this mess into something beautiful. But until then, I can’t expect life to be easy and fun. I can’t expect God to do everything my way, fulfilling my dreams and wants and desires. But I can expect Him to carry me through, to guide me on the right path (even if it hurts), and to make it all right in the end.
I don’t have to know what to do. I don’t have to make things happen. I don’t have to have the answers or know what the future holds. I just need to hold onto Him and let Him hold onto me. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: God is good. And because God is good, life is good. Even when it’s not. I’m gonna be okay.
[Side Note: I wanted to explain something, why I left the cuss words in this section instead of editing them out like a “proper” Christian would do. I thought about editing them out so that I could present that good, proper front. But I left them in on purpose, for a few reasons.
For one, it’s the truth of what was going on in my head, even in that prayer I prayed. That might have been the first time I used cuss words in prayer. Now, I don’t condone it, nor do I walk around using that language flippantly or out loud. But I have been using it in my head recently. Because it seems to be the only way to really express the depth of what I am really feeling. (And because I am in an “I don’t care and I am tired of holding it all together” state.)
And I didn’t edit it out because I want non-Christians to understand that Christians are human, too. I think sometimes we Christians try to polish ourselves up so much and “do the right thing” that we seem un-human to non-Christians, like we are not real or something.
And we are always setting ourselves up on a higher level and shaking our fingers at everyone, saying “No, no, no, don’t do that.” But in reality, we are really on the same level-ground that they are. We just fail to show them that. And if we always present the “good, clean, polished side” but never the “human, raw, real side” then we might end up presenting to them something they feel they can never be. They might feel that if they could never be that “good, clean, and polished” then they could never be a Christian.
But deep down, we Christians know how human and real and sinful and improper we can be. We just never let it show. But I wanted to let it show, to humanize Christians, to show non-Christians that we are not robots and we are not perfect. We are broken, sinful people, too. We hurt and we struggle and we doubt and we get angry and we do things wrong. But God’s grace covers all that. God can forgive all that.
It doesn’t mean we should flaunt sin or willingly, regularly engage in it - for our lifestyle and choices will demonstrate if our faith is real or not. But it does mean that we are not as “good, clean, and polished” as we might look on the outside. We are human, too. And God understands that and loves us anyway and covers our sins. There is grace for all of us, for the messed-up sinner who wants out of their lifestyle of sin and for the messed-up Christian who has hit a rough spot and is struggling on the journey.
I also left the cuss words in because I wanted to “test” fellow Christians, in a way. I think we Christians can judge others harshly for the “improper” things they do while totally overlooking their hurts and needs and humanity. I wonder how many Christians that read this thought, Oh my goodness, what kind of Christian is she!?! How could she use those words and call herself a Christian!?! Shame on her! And yet they completely overlooked the deep hurt and ache and struggle.
Sometimes, we fail to see people’s hearts because we are too focused on their “improper” externals, on if someone measures up to our idea of “godly enough.” We make mountains out of molehills, judge the quality of someone’s faith by the things we don’t like about them or the things that they do wrong. We focus on their speck while ignoring our plank.
Of course, a genuine Christian will be working towards godliness and will feel convicted about sin. So if someone continues to flagrantly sin without any remorse or repentance then you would have to wonder about their faith.
But my point is, even genuine Christians struggle and hurt and need help. But sometimes their attempts to reach out and be heard and get help are ignored because others are too focused on their flaws or sins instead of seeing the person in need.
So I left the cuss words in, to test the Christians who are reading this. To challenge them with this question: “Which did you notice more? The heartache or the cussing? Did you feel compassion for my pain or did you scoff because I was dropping F-bombs.” Just wondering.
And I wonder, which would God notice? What does He see when He looks at us?
I think He sees our pain, our hearts, our insides. And for the Pharisees among us, He sees past the polished surface and sees the rough, ugly, broken inside. The polished, proper people look very much the same to Him as the unpolished, improper people ... because He sees the inside. And He loves us anyway. We don’t need to polish ourselves up before He will accept us. He knows we are broken, hurting sinners. And He loves us as we are. And He died for us as we are.
And He wants us to come to Him as we are, in all our ugly, un-polished honesty. It’s okay with Him that we are broken because He is the one who can put us back together again. He will help us grow and strive towards godliness as we walk with Him.
But never let your ugly brokenness stop you from turning to Him. Even if other Christians reject you because of your imperfections, God never will. Come to Him as you are. It’s what He’s been waiting for and it’s what you need.]
Update – Day 14 APA: I had a wonderful trip to Iowa and haven’t felt any sense of panic or dread since last week when I let go of the “nothing” I kept trying to hang onto and asked God to help me grab onto Him instead. I don’t necessarily feel any great ray of shining hope or anything. But I haven’t felt any darkness or panic this past week. Thank You, Lord. Thank You.
Update – later that summer: While I can’t really go into it all now, I will just say that things got a whole lot worse the next month, due to various circumstances. But after days of being stress-sick, lying in bed, unable to move or eat, and losing another 6 pounds or so, things slowly got better.
It’s been the worst summer of my life. But I’m going to be okay. I feel like I am finally coming to life again a little, after years of depression and a summer of panic and stress. (I just wish life wasn’t so hard sometimes. Can’t wait for Jesus to come back again!)
(Now back to the “Is Depression a Sin?” post)
Joy in the Lord
There will be pain to work through in life. There will be heartaches to face, brokenness to deal with, disappointments to learn to embrace and live with. There will be a need to learn to praise God in the pain and heartache. And there will be a time to wallow in and wrestle with our fears, doubts, shattered heart, shattered faith, and with ourselves and our God.
But when it’s time to wallow . . . wallow before the Lord, wallow with the Lord. It’s the only way to work through it all and get to the point of saying, “Whether You give or take away, blessed be Your name. And not my will, but Yours be done!”
And I think for some of us, it’s the only way to finding true joy in the Lord. Denying heartache, stuffing down “unacceptable” thoughts and feelings, polishing up your “good Christian” mask, and applying your simplistic pat-answers will only bring you a false kind of joy. The kind that you drum up to make it look like everything is okay. But it is just a bandage on a deep, infected wound. And it might just stunt your spiritual growth. (And it might just be that you are mistaking happiness for joy!)
But I think true joy in the Lord does not mean that you have to be “happy” and carefree, that you have to deny your pain and heartache and doubts and fears. And it isn’t something you can get simply by saying, “I think I’ll stop being sad and start being joyful now!” True joy in the Lord does not mean a lack of pain and sadness. True joy means finding your strength and worth and value and comfort in the Lord, especially when you hurt and are sad and are in pain.
You can only know true joy when you have known true pain. You can only know true joy when you have reached the bottom and found that God is there waiting for you, that He is faithful, even in the dark times. You can only know true joy in Him when you have been stripped of the things that bring temporary joy and fulfillment, when you have had to grab His hand in faith and say, “Things are really bad right now, but I still trust You and believe in You.”
And this kind of joy is not a happy-go-lucky, la-di-da, I-can’t-stop-smiling kind of joy. (That’s happiness!) It is a joy that reaches deeper than that, that settles deep into the most broken parts of your heart, applying God’s healing and truth and love to the hurting wounds. And oftentimes, it takes pain to get there.
This joy is not about skipping and humming all through your day; it’s about learning to carry on through the hard times in His strength and in His peace. It’s learning to praise Him even when you hurt and to say “It is well with my soul” even when it’s not well in your day, in your life, or in your emotions.
It’s a joy that can find contentment in the worst of circumstances. Not because you are “happy” but because God is there and He is at work and He will make something good out of all the messes. It is a joy that comes after wrestling with yourself, with faith, and with God. And like Jacob who wrestled all night with God, it is a joy that leaves you with a limp. It’s a broken, bittersweet hallelujah!
And I guess, I’d rather have that kind of deep, battle-tested, fire-purified joy than a naïve, la-di-da kind that makes me feel happy but that hasn’t stood the test of time and trials.
And I think that all of us, at some point, will find our joy and our faith being refined by going through the furnace of trials, of fire. To purify it. To strip us of all the false ideas we have, all of our pat-answers, all the ways we judge other people’s spiritual progress, and all of the things outside of God that we cling to and find our fulfillment in and our value in.
Many of us will find ourselves someday stripped of everything we had faith in and of all confidence in ourselves. We will be sitting in the dust like Job, scraping at our wounds with broken pottery, wrestling through our doubts, fears, and faith, wondering what happened to us and how we got to where we are.
We will find ourselves wallowing, depressed, on the ground, and unable to get up again . . . until we make one decision:
“Will I turn away from God because of this trial or turn toward God? Can I say, ‘Though You slay me, I will trust You still. Blessed be Your name! Your will be done!’”
It is through the trials, through the perseverance, that we can get to the point of being able to say and really mean those things. And it is then that our faith becomes unshakable and our joy becomes genuine and complete.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
Notice that it doesn’t say “be happy.” I don’t see anything here that says it’s a sin to be sad or upset. It says “consider it pure joy.” Basically, he’s saying no matter the trials or heartache, count it as a blessing because it will grow your faith. It’s not a command to change our emotions as much as it’s a command to change our thinking.
“. . . but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 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 5:3-5)
Once again, “rejoice” is not a feeling. It is an action. This is saying that even if you are not feeling happy or joyful, you can still rejoice and praise God because your mind knows that these trials will teach you how to persevere. And learning to persevere through hard times will grow your godly character. And godly character will bring you true hope because you will have found your strength in God and in His love for you, instead of in yourself or in anything this life offers.
The interesting part to me is that hope comes at the end of this list. True hope is not necessarily what gives you the strength to get through the trials, as many of us seem to think. It’s the reward for persevering through them and letting them grow your faith.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
Sometimes praise is a sacrifice, something that hurts and that we don’t want to do. But praise is an action, not a feeling. It’s what we do because of who God is, because of what Jesus has done for us, not because life is peachy and because we are happy and fulfilled with earthly goodness.
And I think praising God, even in the pain, is for the health of our spiritual relationship and our hearts and minds and for spiritual protection. And we can do it, even when we don’t feel like it. If you start keeping a list a things you are thankful for, it is amazing what it does to your outlook on life and on God.
[However, be aware that there are Christians out there who will try to squash your joy. They can’t stand it when others are filled with peace and joy and contentment. They would much rather that all other Christians were forlorn and despondent, like they are.
I once volunteered with a Celebrate Recovery group, a 12-step program for people dealing with different hang-ups. And during one meeting, I was sharing how God helped me through a lot of hurt and pain I was going through. I was beaming with joy and thankfulness because I had been through a lot and felt that God had been really good to me. Even the women in the group were celebrating with me, saying, “I feel like God’s here right now!”
Well, everyone was celebrating with me . . . except my co-facilitator. She immediately brought the tone down by assuming a solemn attitude and bringing up her struggles, clearly implying that we need to remember that life is hard and that we can’t celebrate too much because there are others in the group who are struggling and that being somber is the more appropriate, godly way to lead the group.
And then apparently she went home to her husband (the man who was heading up CR at the time) and tattled on me for being too joyful. Because at the very next facilitators’ meeting, this man abruptly switched topics when he saw me walk in late and began talking about how we need to make sure to not be too joyful or to act too healed. He said we are trying to reach people who are broken and hurting . . . and they don’t want to see us celebrating our victories or acting more healed than they are. So he recommended that we downplay any successes and that we highlight our struggles.
I wasn’t acting “better” or “more healed” than anyone else. I was just sharing something that God had done in my life that was very healing for me. I didn’t stay with CR too long after that.
There are joy-squashing Christians out there who would rather we all act like exasperated, frowning, self-sacrificial martyrs. So while some of us will be criticized for struggling with depression, others of us might be criticized for living joyfully. And if you are prepared for this possibility, it won’t confuse you as much.]
My Personal Plan of Attack
Like I said, I might have some days when I get stuck in depression, when I unhealthily wallow in it like, “Woe is me,” blowing up balloons and throwing confetti, thoroughly immersed in my own little pity-party. But most days, I tackle it head-on like this:
1. I have to read my Bible every day. It’s the only way to get through it with your faith intact. Depression is a spiritual battle and you have to be covered in God’s truth and immersed in the Lord to battle it effectively. And, if you want to, write down the verses that speak most to you and post them where you can see them. And then use them as a sword to battle the negative thoughts that pop into your head.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-19)
2. I have to pray all day long. And what I mean by “pray” is “talk to Him.” When negative thoughts or fears or doubts pop into my mind, I talk to Him about them like I would to a friend. I tell Him what I am thinking, feeling, and struggling with, and I ask His help in learning to see things the way He does. I ask Him to replace fears and pain with His truth, healing, and peace. I tell Him that I have no joy of my own and that I need His. I admit that that I can’t do it in my own strength, that I am faltering and need Him to carry me. And sometimes, I just say, “Lord, help. Please, just help.”
And as I already mentioned, we need to be praising Him for whatever we can praise Him for. It helps keep our focus where it’s supposed to be, helps us to remember just how blessed we really are, and helps keep evil away. (Evil thrives on and is attracted to negativity.) And learn and repeat this phrase if you can’t say anything else, “I trust You, Lord, regardless of my circumstances. I trust You.” (And if you don’t trust Him, ask Him to show you why.)
And pray for insight to know where this depression is coming from, what is feeding it, and what you should do about it. God is willing to guide us and help us, but so often we don’t ask for His help because we are ashamed and because we feel like this is our burden to bear alone. But it’s not. He is waiting to help shoulder that burden, if you will let Him.
And ask God daily to send His heavenly angels to surround and protect you and your heart, to keep evil away. And learn to recognize spiritual attacks as spiritual attacks. You cannot fight spiritual battles in your own strength, with earthly weapons. If the thoughts and guilt that plague you are from the enemy, you cannot battle it without facing the enemy. And you cannot face the enemy without the Lord.
3. I have to write things out, such as on my blogs. It helps me to get it out of my head and to find ways and areas where I can apply God’s truth to what I am thinking and feeling. Basically, I preach God’s Word and truth to myself every day, and I write it down. It helps me to read it later, to see the journey that I have been on and the good that has come out of it. The lessons I have learned. It doesn’t seem so dark and depressing when I see where I have been and what it has taught me and how I have grown because of it. In fact, even though it is hard and circumstances may not change, it strengthens my faith. It might not take away the pain, but it shows how good has come out of it.
4. I have to be deliberate about counting my blessings, even the blessings in disguise. Such as “I am thankful I wasn’t hugged much as a child or told ‘I love you’ much because it has made me more conscientious about hugging my own children and telling them ‘I love you’ every day.” (My family was a good family; we just weren’t touchy-feeling.)
(Personally, I think praising God out loud, thanking Him for whatever you can thank Him for, also helps to keep evil away. Demons thrive on negative emotions. They are “welcome mats” for them. But praising God repels them and puts a hedge of protection around you.)
5. Part of praising God is keeping godly and encouraging music on the radio. If I am left alone with my thoughts for too long, they go to dark places. So I like to have good, inspiring Christian music on (and sometimes, it’s just good non-Christian music, to be honest). It helps to keep my thoughts from straying into dark places.
Can I make a music recommendation here for when you are losing faith, when you’re barely hanging on and want to despair of life? Get all of albums that you find from The City Harmonic. They are INCREDIBLE! Seriously incredible!!! Absolutely majestic!
I ordered their first album not too long ago. And after listening to it once, every fiber in my being went, “I must order ALL of their albums NOW!” And I did. And I was not disappointed!
I love Jeremy Riddle and The Newsboys, too (and the phenomenal version of “The Sound of Silence” from Disturbed. It’s not Christian but it deserves being mentioned because it’s amazing! So powerful! And it’s even better during a snowstorm!), but nothing has touched my heart and restored my faith as much as the City Harmonic.
Every song just speaks so deeply to life, to pain and fear and heartache, to the times that we are weak and barely able to stand, to the faithful and the faithless. I am often brought to tears – good tears – while listening to them. They make my heart feel like praising even when it’s hurting.
In fact, when I am really struggling with prayer, it helps me to put on their music and listen to the words and let my heart “pray” along with the words they are singing. (Especially the one where they sing The Lord’s Prayer. It’s called “Manifesto.”) I simply let it fill my heart and mind and nod along to it, acknowledging that it’s what my heart wants to say to God, too. Sometimes, that has to be good enough. Until I can gain more strength to think of my own words.
Buy their albums and listen regularly. It will help you hang on when you’d rather give up. (Have I mentioned that they’re incredible!?!)
[Another suggestion: Google “inspirational Youtube videos” or “Youtube restore my faith in humanity” videos. I have never really watched anything on Youtube, except that Dover police officer singing along with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” while on patrol. So enjoyable! But sometimes it helps to be reminded that there are good people out there still. So try to find some heart-warming videos.
Side note: I think that if we really thought about it, we would realize that sometimes our “losing faith in God” is really more about “losing faith in other people.” We have a tendency to act like God is responsible for when life goes wrong or people let us down or hurt us or don’t do what they said they would do. But while God does speak to people’s consciences and call them to do the right thing, He doesn’t force them to do the right thing. So it’s not His fault when they do the wrong thing. And while He does intervene at times, He oftentimes doesn’t prevent the bad from happening. He allows life to happen and He allows people to do what they will. But He does promise to make something good of it eventually. I am learning to try to not hold God responsible for mankind’s faults, but to have faith in Him that He will use it for good. Even if it hurts in the meantime.]
6. Have a good hobby or keep busy in some way, even just making sure you do what you are supposed to do each day. It does no good to sit around and mope and let things fall apart around you. Clean something, take a class in something, cook something, exercise, garden. Do something to better yourself and your surroundings and your life. It won’t make everything all better, but you will feel a little better to see that you accomplished something instead of just sitting there and moping.
7. Likewise, open your windows and let the light in. And get outside regularly, even if it’s just taking daily walks. Siting in your house alone all day, keeping your misery company, isn’t going to help. You need to be outside in God’s creation. It’s healing and encouraging and makes things seem less dark.
8. If possible, talk to someone about what you are going through. Sometimes, just saying the words, “I am struggling with depression” helps to take away some of the power it has over you. I don’t know exactly why, but it does.
But for some reason, when this friend asked us if we thought depression was a sin, I felt compelled to finally say out loud, “I struggle with depression often, and it takes a lot to work through it every day. Joy doesn’t come easily to me. I have to scrape through dried-up, parched ground with my bare hands to find every little bit of joy that I can find. And then I have to cling to it for dear life.”
When I went home that night, I thought, Oh no! Did I just share that out-loud. What are they going to think of me? I have just ruined any chance at real friendships with them because they are going to see me as faulty and a risk. They are going to view me differently now. And I have worked so hard to seem godly, wise, and pulled-together. Why did I share that out loud?
I guess I shared with them honestly because I know that when someone calls something a “sin,” it’s easy to fall in line. It’s easy to agree because no one wants to look like they don’t recognize sin, like they are somehow disagreeing and calling something “not sin” that others clearly call “sin.”
Like Job’s friends, it’s easy to spout off and sound so godly and wise about things we haven’t struggle through before, to pass judgment on how other Christians are doing in their struggles when we haven’t been in their shoes, especially when we are talking about vague ideas that don’t have a face attached to them.
But I really believe this issue is more complex than that. And I guess I wanted to swim upstream, to put a person’s face on “depression,” to make it personal, to cause them to stop and think before jumping on board and making blanket-statements like “depression is sin.” This is not a clear-cut issue, nor does the Bible ever say “depression and extreme sadness are sins.” That’s why I spoke up. (And for the record, there are a lot of areas where it is clear in the Bible whether it is sin or not. But this is not one of those areas!)
One thing I noticed after I shared my struggle with them was that things didn’t seem so dark anymore. I think that trying to hide our feelings and polish ourselves up only gives these hidden feelings more power. Because it takes energy to hold them down and to cover them up and to keep smiling when we want to cry. And this energy is exhausting and only makes us feel worse.
But saying it out loud sets us free to a degree. It makes it seem less threatening, less controlling. And maybe that’s it . . . maybe opening up about it is a way of taking control of it instead of letting it have control of you.
9. Lighten up about whatever you can lighten up about. Find things to laugh about. Not everything is that dark every day unless you let it be that way. Find the bright spots, the things that make you smile.
And I love to watch the birds at my bird-feeders or get down close to my flowers and watch a bee fly among them, looking for pollen. It’s soothing to my soul.
When the problems seem so big and overwhelming, narrow your focus down to one simple thing. Enjoy one tiny moment! Marvel at one tiny wonder! There is still beauty and goodness and delight in the itty-bitty and mundane things that we overlook every day!
10. Also, it may be wise to consider why you are depressed. Think about what depresses you or if there are any negative self-thoughts behind your depression, such as “I am worthless.” If you notice a pattern or a trigger, pray over it and ask God to help you figure out when these thoughts or feelings first started.
Did some wound in your childhood cause you to feel like you are unlovable, leading to your depression? Sometimes, simply identifying when these feelings and thoughts started helps you to see more clearly and to replace the lies with God’s truth.
Did some sin, bitterness, refusal to obey, or unforgiving attitude get you off-track with God, leading to a breach in your relationship with Him that eventually led to depression? Don’t just wallow; make it right. If God reveals a way for you to make it right, do it. Or else you are responsible for lingering in depression and sin.
Are you depressed because you are not getting all the toys you want, because others have more, because God isn’t moving as fast as you’d like Him to, because He said “no” to a prayer request and you are unable to accept it, or because you are not getting the recognition or attention or success you crave? In cases like these, your own expectations about life and what you “deserve” are helping cause your depression. And you need to own up to that and bring it before God.
But maybe it’s that you did nothing to cause your depression. Maybe you had a terrible childhood. Or you try and try to make friends but no one responds. Or you have a chronic health condition or have experienced great loss or have been greatly taken advantage of. And your view of yourself and your faith in people has been shattered, and you are not even sure you can trust God anymore or that He cares. You didn’t do anything to cause the pain, but you are stuck in it.
In these cases, you need to draw near to God and immerse yourself in Him and His truth. Because you cannot be expected to dig yourself out of this kind of pain on your own. It is far too great of a burden for you to carry alone and you need to fall on God. And if it’s possible, on other Christians.
And you need to be careful where your thoughts go. Your feelings will follow your thoughts, which is why it is so important to set your mind of godly things and godly truths and to stop unhealthy thoughts before they take root. It is one thing to be honest with God about your pain; it is another thing to nurse your pain and negative thoughts until they become so big that they consume you. Confess them to God immediately and ask Him to replace them with godly thinking.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:2)
I’m sure there are more ways we can work through depression. But these are just some of the things I have to do regularly as I wrestle with depression. It is a battle. And I have to be active in it.
In fact, the spiritual life is a battle, no matter what your struggle is. Are you in it? Or are you sitting on the sidelines, trying to comfortably live a happy little life with little regard for the spiritual battle that is raging all around you?
Don’t let anyone tell you that “depression is a sin.” That is a blanket statement that isn’t always accurate and that doesn’t help anyway. (However, it is sin if sin or rebellion against God is what led to your depression, if you sin while depressed, or if you have turned from God and embraced your feelings or Satan’s lies instead.)
Some of us will always struggle with depression and sadness and heartache, with pain that we didn’t cause but that we have to deal with. But that doesn’t mean you are sinning. It means you are human and you hurt. And God knows this! It’s not a surprise to Him that we are human!
Settling into depression involves turning away from God and the help He offers, but struggling with depression as a Christian means turning toward Him, running to Him with your hurts, asking His help, waiting before Him in humility, engaging in the spiritual battle that is all around us, getting to know Him as He really is, and finding joy in Him instead of in what this life offers. And you can hardly call that “sin”!
“The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:17-18)
“Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him, . . .” (Job 13:15)
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
1. Is there anything you want to talk about here or anything that stood out to you? Any other Bible verses you want to bring up or talk about?
2. How do you define “depression”? Do you know someone who has dealt with depression? Or have you? What’s it like? (And what are some things that look like depression but that aren’t?)
3. How do people tend to view and respond to those in depression? How do Christians? How might this affect the person who is struggling? (And what other struggles could we include while we discuss depression? Anxiety? Low self-esteem? Bitterness? Etc.?)
4. Why do some people resist admitting that they struggle or are depressed? Why might some people be unable to be compassionate towards others who hurt?
5. What makes some people crack easily under pressure while others can withstand a lot more? Should we “compare” one person’s pain and struggles to another person’s? When might this be helpful and when might it be hurtful?
6. Do you think depression is a sin? (Remember, it’s okay to disagree with me.) Does it show lack of faith? Thanklessness? Discontentment? (Or maybe a better question would be “When is depression sin and when is it not sin?”)
7. Do you agree with me that it’s not the feeling that’s a sin, but it’s how we respond to it that makes it sin or not?
8. What is the opposite of depression? Happiness? Joy? (How do you define “joy”?) Do you have to be happy about the pain and trials in order to be considered a faithful “good Christian” who is “not depressed”?
9. Why do you think I keep putting “good Christian” in quotes like that? What do you think I am trying to communicate?
10. How and when might we choose to be depressed? And how and when might depression “choose” us? (How does our negative self-talk, assumptions, limited views, and wayward thinking affect our feelings? Do our feelings lead our thoughts or do our thoughts lead our feelings, or is it both? Can we cause our own depression, or feed it and keep it going? And when might it just “hit” us, even though we did nothing to cause it?) What are some ways we can respond?
11. Should it (or any ailment) be treated by prayer alone, or is medication okay? How about seeking help through counseling, or should it be “the Bible alone”? Can we be dogmatic about our opinion on this or is there room for differing opinions?
12. What does the Bible say about depression and struggles like it? Examples? Instructions? Advice?
13. Do you have any thoughts on other differences between King Saul, Job’s friends, and Job? Are there other things we can learn from them?
14. Does God cause everything that happens, for our own good, or are there other reasons for pain and suffering (such as our own sinfulness, other people’s sins, Satan’s interference, etc.)? What role does God, His sovereignty, Satan, sin, mankind, etc. play in this world when it comes to suffering? How might our view of this affect our faith? Can you think of examples from the Bible or from life?
15. What do you think I mean when I say “pat answers” and “simplistic, judgmental Christian notions”? Why do you think I am so bothered by these? Should I be?
16. Can you think of other “pat answers” or “simplistic, judgmental notions” that you have heard before? What kind of advice and criticism is not helpful when people are hurting or struggling? (Can you think of examples of things we say that might hurt more than help?) Have you had any experience with this? And if so, how did it affect you, your faith, and your relationships?
17. Is there anything you’d like to say in response to those kinds of pat answers, judgmental notions, or bad advice? What do you think would be a more helpful, godly thing to say or do when someone is hurting or struggling?
18. Has God stripped away any “pat answers” or “simplistic, judgmental notions” that you used to have? How did He strip them from you and what is in its place now?
19. Why is it so easy to judge others? What makes us do this? What effect does it have? And what kind of Christian qualities might be missing in someone who is judgmental and who spouts off pat answers and simple judgments? Grace? Compassion? Humility? Wisdom? Maturity? Etc.?
20. (Skip this question if it is too painful to talk about, such as if someone had a loved one who committed suicide.) Is suicide a sin? If so, do you think God forgives suicide? Do you think it affects our standing in heaven?
21. How can we balance grace and compassion with the need to speak truthfully when someone is struggling? When might we have to intervene and to speak up and confront someone who is struggling? Do you have any examples of this? Maybe any times you didn’t but should have?
22. Do you think that our ideas of what “should be” might affect our faith, life, relationships, view of self, and view of God? How?
23. I think that we sometimes assume that God causes bad things to happen so that we can learn a lesson, and if we can just learn that lesson then He will take the bad thing away. But then when the bad things don’t go away, we get confused and turn away from Him because He didn’t do what we thought He would do after we “learned our lesson.”
24. Have you known “joy stealers” or people who try to keep you back from finding healing and wholeness? Why might they do this? How can we respond or deal with them? Examples?
25. In the lesson, I said that “There is no way out sometimes – no way to acceptance – but through crying out honestly to God.” What do you think about this?
Do you agree that it’s okay to be real with God about all the ugliness inside, even our fears and doubts and negative thoughts about Him, our life, and ourselves? Or is it improper? Will it make Him angry? How do you feel/think about God's response to Job when he cried out honestly? (If you think it’s too improper for a Christian to do this, then how should we handle the ugliness and brokenness inside?)
26. But if it’s okay to show God the “ugly” stuff and to be real with Him and to wrestle with Him, why might we have such a hard time doing this?
27. Besides the stuff I suggested, what else might we learn through the wrestling? What else might wrestling teach us?
28. The last thing I wrote in that list is that wrestling helps us learn what grace really is and how much we need it and how to extend it to others. And I said “I never really understood or loved the word ‘grace’ so much, not until I broke so bad. And now I want to share it with others, too.” What am I saying here?
29. I suggested that sometimes depression might not be much more than “adjustment disorder” - the struggle to adjust to your life instead of expecting life to adjust to you, the struggle to learn to trust God when things go wrong instead of expecting Him to do things your way. Do you think this is the case sometimes? How else might you describe it?
30. When I talked about my panic attack, I said that I realized that I was trying to reach for and hold onto things that weren’t even there – such as broken dreams and unfulfilled desires – and that it exhausted me and depressed me. Because you can’t get a tighter hold on something that is not even there. What other kinds of things do we try to reach for or hold onto that might hurt us and our faith?
31. What are your thoughts about this section:
I have asked myself this before, when things got really bad and yet He still seemed silent. And the answer I have come to is “Yes, I believe in God. But I don’t believe in Him because I think it will fix every problem or because it’s fun or because it gives me an emotional high. I believe in Him because He is real. Because He is good and faithful, even when life is messy and hurts and prayers don’t work.”
I think our faith becomes more real and strong as we face the hard times and trials. It’s easy to “have faith” when life is going like we want it to. But that’s not really faith, now is it? It’s gratitude that life is good. It’s happiness because we are getting what we want. And many times, it’s idolatry in disguise.
But when the trials come, we have to struggle with our views of God and ourselves and life and faith. And we gradually, painfully move from a naïve, untested, “gimme” faith in a version of God that we created in our minds to a genuine, hard-won faith in God as He is - a God who is mysterious, who can’t be manipulated by us, who is far above us, who has His own plans and timing, and who is sovereign over all, knowing when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” Through the trials, we learn who we really are and we learn to have faith in Him for the God that He really is. And that is a faith that helps us cling through the hard times.
If we can’t say “Blessed be Your name” during the hardest trials then we don’t really mean it during the easier times either. If we can’t follow Him when the road gets rough then we’re not really following Him to begin with.
And finally, we have faith in God because this life isn’t all there is. There is a spiritual world out there. There is an eternity out there. And there are only two options: Life with God or life without God. And I’d take a painful life with God before I’d take an easy life without God.”
32. How about your thoughts on this section? Do you agree or disagree? Is it true or an exaggeration?
And this kind of joy is not a happy-go-lucky, la-di-da, I-can’t-stop-smiling kind of joy. (That’s happiness!) It is a joy that reaches deeper than that, that settles deep into the most broken parts of your heart, applying God’s healing and truth and love to the hurting wounds. And oftentimes, it takes pain to get there. This joy is not about skipping and humming all through your day; it’s about learning to carry on through the hard times in His strength and in His peace. It’s learning to praise Him even when you hurt and to say “It is well with my soul” even when it’s not well in your day, in your life, or in your emotions.
It’s a joy that can find contentment in the worst of circumstances. Not because you are “happy” but because God is there and He is at work and He will make something good out of all the messes. It is a joy that comes after wrestling with yourself, with faith, and with God. And like Jacob who wrestled all night with God, it is a joy that leaves you with a limp. It’s a broken, bittersweet hallelujah!”
33. I said that we take turns being the helper and the helpee. Why might it be harder for some of us to be the helper? And why might it be harder for some of us to be the one being helped?
34. How might denying our pain or our struggles stunt our spiritual growth? Why and when might admitting to depression and other struggles help us and make us feel better?
35. Do we (especially Christians) tend to focus on people’s outsides more than their insides? On the bad words they say more than their broken hearts? On their bad habits more than their personhood? On their bodies more than their souls? Etc.? Why do we do this? What effect does it have?
36. Do you think “losing faith in God” can sometimes be “losing faith in humanity” in disguise? If so, where are we going wrong in our thinking? And what can we do about it?
37. I said that “It’s ok with Him that we are broken because He is the one who can put us back together again.” Your thoughts on this?
38. Why do I say that faith is harder in the quiet times (the “desert times”) than it is in the times of clearly demonic harassment (or maybe call it times of great struggle)? Do you have any experience with this or examples?
39. Do you understand what I mean when I talk about being in a time of “Job silence” right now, because I am having a really hard time knowing how to pray? That I need to just sit quietly at the feet of the Lord and stop trying so hard to change things and just let my silence and my brokenness be my prayer for now? Am I wrong for thinking this way? And what else could a Christian do to cling to their faith when they get to a point like this?
40. “Brokenness” is a confusing idea. And I use it sometimes to refer to a “good” kind of broken and sometimes to a bad kind of broken. How would you describe it? What are some good, healthy ways to be broken? (What are some things we need to be broken of?) And what are some bad, unhealthy ways? (What are some of the “broken” things that God wants to heal?)
41. Like what I wrote in the “Are you . . .” section, what are other indications that you are handling depression in unhealthy ways? In healthy ways?
42. I talked about someone who is stuck in an “I am the victim” mentality, how he has embraced his feelings and made them part of his identity and won’t let them go because he has found power in it and excuses for his behavior. Do you know someone like this? Someone who complains, gripes, and moans about their pain and struggles to gain sympathy or control others, but who doesn’t want to change or get advice or make it better? Have you ever done this? Why might we do this, instead of seeking to get healthier? What is the result of doing this?
43. I gave some advice for those who are struggling with depression, things that have helped me. What else would you add to the list?
44. In the advice section, I said that when I am having a really hard time praying (I referred to it as my time of “Job’s silence”), I listen to the songs of The City Harmonic (an excellent Christian band) and let my heart “pray” along with their words. I said that this has to be good enough sometimes.
45. Define “healing” when it comes to depression? What might it look like? What can we expect? Does it mean we will never feel the pain again, or does it mean that we will be able to bear up under the pain and use it productively? Examples?
46. How do you think God views the depressed, hurting person?
47. I said that only broken people can truly understand and have compassion for broken people. Do you think this is true or is it an exaggeration? How might being “unbroken” affect one’s view of and treatment of broken people? How would you describe “unbroken” verses “broken”?
48. What do you think we mean when we say that there is “grace for each day” and that “God’s mercies are new every morning”? (What is “grace” and how to we get it and give it, in practical ways?) What did Jesus mean when He said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4)?
49. Can you think of other Bible verses that speak to this or that you have found helpful?
50. Are there any other thoughts you want to add or questions you want to explore?