In July of this past summer I was diagnosed with clinical depression. For those of you that know me, this is probably pretty surprising news. I was even surprised to find myself struggling with this new emotional imbalance. I have always seen myself as a very social, friendly, and optimistic person, but for whatever reason, there happened to be many days at the end of my spring semester and into the summer where I did not have much of a drive for anything. I no longer found happiness in the things I used to enjoy. There were days when it felt like a cloud of darkness was encompassing me and suffocating me… Days when I wished I could just be called home to spend eternity with my heavenly Father apart from the emotional distresses of living in a fallen world.
Depression isn’t an easy topic to discuss. Particularly as a Christian, it is something that is not often brought up. For an upbeat guy like myself, anytime these feelings of despair would arise, I would push them down and ignore them thinking I was just having a bad day. Little did I know that pushing these feelings down further and further out of sight was just going to cause them to fester and grow into something like depression. As Christians, we too often grow up with the idea that we are immune to emotional suffering. Too often we think that all will be fine as long as we read scripture and pray daily. This, however, is not always the case. From King David to the great preacher Charles Spurgeon, there have been many strong children of God throughout time who have struggled with periods of deep darkness in their lives. From my own experiences, I can identify with the psalmist’s words in Psalm 69: “I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.” I connect with Spurgeon’s cries for help: “I was condemned, undone, destroyed—lost, helpless, hopeless.” This unexplainable melancholic state is disturbing and uncomfortable. I often found myself complaining to God for allowing me to feel hopeless. If he truly cares for me and desires for me to love him more fully, why would he allow my mind to constantly wander in emotional discomfort and anxiety over the circumstances surrounding me. Why would he allow days in which I wished I didn’t exist?
In times of darkness, it is easy for our faith to be clouded. It is easy for us to allow the hopelessness of depression to cloud our emotional judgment of God’s character and goodness. During one of the days when I was particularly struggling with the unexplainable feelings of sadness late this summer, I wrote this reflection: “Really, I’m just confused. I’m without understanding. I’m hurting. I’m wondering what God is doing. I like to think that I trust he is sovereign, but I’m having difficulty putting that faith into action. I want to trust him, I know I should trust him, but I feel so drained and so clouded that it’s impossible at times. Sometimes I wonder if he’s really there. Sometimes I wonder why I’m even here. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t… I know right from wrong and I know it’s not good as a Christian to be apathetic or to talk about the crappy things in life, but the Spirit continually proves to be weak while the flesh is strong. How do you muster up faith and trust in God when you have no strength? When you feel so empty? This emptiness proves that Christ is the only one that can fill it, but how do I find the faith to rest in him? How do I trust someone that seems to never be there? I’m not questioning you God, I just have questions… Father, help my unbelief.”
Remaining steadfast in God’s goodness
If any of this connects with you, just know that you are not alone. Know that there are many people like you and I that struggle with the very same emotional discomforts. Know that emotional and psychological problems are very real and can strike at the most unexpected times (it sure did for me). Above all else, though, know that God cares for you more than you can fathom. Know that God loved you enough to send his own son into the world to bear the full weight of your sins and the sins of everyone else throughout time. Regardless of circumstance we cannot allow our feelings or inclinations toward despondency to dictate our faith in God. As Psalms 73:26 says, “my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” In times of despair, we must never allow the ominous clouds of darkness to conceal the seed of hope, the seed of joy, and the seed of faith that is in our heart because of God’s indwelling Spirit within us. We must remain steadfast to God’s goodness, even if we don’t think we can see it, and even if we can’t seem to feel his presence. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in LORD, I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” He emphasizes the truth that God’s faithfulness to us is not based upon circumstance. Rather, God is good all the time. There is so much beauty in learning to trust God when it’s not the easiest.
I carry on each day because I know and trust that God has my best interest at heart at all times and in all circumstances. I carry on because the Gospel has transformed my life and taken me from death to life. I carry on because God offers me hope that extends beyond human understanding. Ultimately, I carry on because my affections for Christ cannot be suppressed by challenges this side of heaven. Brothers and sisters, I urge you to continually remind yourself of Philippians 3:13-14, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” And, Acts 20:24, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Keep Christ at the center of your focus, friends. I can assure you that whether or not you feel his presence, he is there. I can assure you that he cares for you and that he will draw you closer to himself through difficult circumstances. For his glory and for his renown, may we continually rejoice in suffering because we know that a moment of suffering doesn’t compare to the eternity of glory and communion we will soon enjoy with our heavenly Father.