What would you know about depression? their eyes ask me. How could you possibly know what I'm going through, you skinny b-word? You have a gorgeous husband and a beautiful house and a college education. You work at a church, for crying out loud. People love you. Life is going great for you. How can you know what it's like?
Previous <<< Changing the Pattern: From Isolation to Invitation
"I do still deal with it," I say in response. "Almost every day, in one way or another. It's just different now. Depression doesn't win anymore."
The thing is, everything in my life now is an outcome of living through the nightmare. Not so many years ago, I didn't believe there would ever be an "anymore." And it's true: I am absolutely, 100% blessed. I'm so blessed it's not even fair.
A recurring theme the Lord has been bringing repeatedly to my attention over this past year is the complexity of living in transcendence, or "dual realities," as a follower of Christ. In faith, truths exist concurrently. I am saved, and I am battling. I am free from sin, and I am susceptible to sin. I am broken, and I am whole. Life is good, and life is hard. It's not a but; it's an and.
And in the midst of it, it is well with my soul.
I was already exploring this theme in Word, prayer, and discussions this week, when I received an email newsletter in my inbox containing the title “Why I See a Counselor.” Considering the specific work the Lord has been doing on my heart lately, and the acutely apparent Spirit timing of this arriving topic, the subtitle alone made me weep… in recognition and relief. “Counseling helped me discover my dual nature,” author Jen Oyama Murphy attests, including both “the put-together leader and the afraid and ashamed woman.”
Exploring the comparison and contrast in Mark 5 between a noted religious leader, named Jairus, and a woman with a 12-year bleeding problem, who is never named, Jen hones in on the dual realities of healing and hurting:
One side of me is well-developed. I’ve worked hard to get to a place of leadership where I am known by name, have a title, and am afforded enough regard and respect to move through the crowd. That part of me doesn’t have much trouble coming face to face with Jesus and asking for help on behalf of others whom I care about. That part of me knows the hurts and needs of others and can use my presence and voice as a ministry leader to advocate for Jesus’ compassion and care.
“The other side of me, however, is like the woman: alone, outcast, and unclean. This side of me isn’t known by name and is only identified by my weakness. This is the part of me that bears the agony of secret wounds and fears, feels broken and exhausted, and is losing hope. I try to fix her on my own, but the hope for a full, rich, passionate life keeps draining away. This side of me longs for healing, but is afraid and ashamed...
“It can be difficult, scary work to examine what has been marred, stolen, or even destroyed in your life. It can be as difficult and scary to explore the goodness, gifting, and glory of what was meant to live and thrive... Jesus blessed the faith of the woman who came forward—and oh what incredible hope, courage, and integrity she had to have in order to share the truth of her story.”
From the office to the kitchen to the check-out line at the grocery store, I'm co-existing. Every new opportunity and every daily responsibility brings its own complexities. Ask me into something like a parent-teacher conference for my stepson, who's in fourth grade at the same school where I graduated, and I'll be walking in the door as the old self and the new self, all at the same time. On the outside, you'll see the calm, capable, Spirit-led adult figure known for stepping in and taking care of business, ready to hear all sides fairly. On the inside, I'll be guarding the anxious, over-eager teenage girl who's constantly under prying and attack, just waiting to be despised.
On the way to the school, I asked my husband, "Do you think I'll ever be grown up enough to walk into this building without it putting me on edge?" He just smiled, because we both know we're fortunate to be invited—and it doesn't have to feel good to function.
I've been fascinated with the characters God calls to demonstrate His power. Ironically, delightfully, I see biblical examples of depressive prophets called to deliver God's redemptive plans. Nowhere in Scripture is God's transcendent glory more evident than in the hardships suffered by His most devoted servants. These were not passive, feel-good puppets preaching rainbows and prosperity. These were real people who were worn raw by the unfair call God was putting on their lives--while they were obeying and carrying the message of God's kingdom and glory.
Elijah complained, "I've had enough, Lord; just let me die." David wept, "My bones are crushed by sorrow; I've been assailed by slings and arrows." And poor Jeremiah, the moody manic-depressive of the Old Testament, in one breath sings, "Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked" (verse 20:13) and in the next swears, "Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!" (verse 20:14)
This past week, I've spent a lot of time in Scripture, listening to Jeremiah—burdened, scorned, outcast Jeremiah, who raged, "You've deceived me, God; I've done everything You asked, and this is what I get for it! I've been abandoned; I've been beaten; I've been mocked and humiliated. I've spoken Your Word faithfully, and everybody hates me because of You!"
It doesn't sound like Jeremiah lived very peacefully or contentedly. Sounds like he had some serious issues with God. Sounds like he was feeling pretty darn sorry for himself at times.
And this is Jeremiah the prophet, an honored man of God, who walked in the ways of the Lord, who went down in Scripture as one of the greatest believers ever born or raised up. This is Jeremiah, who publicly proclaimed God's vengeance on His wayward people, who preached terror on every side for those who would oppose the Lord (20:4). This is Jeremiah, who turned to God in private to wail, "O Lord, you deceived me" (20:7) and then remembered, "But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior" (20:11).
Jeremiah. Isaiah. Elijah. Jonah. Hosea. These are prophets of God. These are men who heard directly from the mouth of the living Lord. These are people who could have no possible doubt whatsoever that God was real, God was present, God was personally involved. And these were men who experienced deep, devastating, heart-rending feelings of anger, loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, suffering, insult, and forsakenness, right in the middle of their most remarkable demonstrations of faith.
This is Scripture. These complex, contradictory emotional battles are recorded right there in God's Word to us. Why?
I don't think God intends for us to just ignore half of the Bible and only pick out the verses that sound nice. These ugly, uncomfortable accounts are in the Bible because God has much for us to learn from them.
This is the story of Scripture. This is the Spirit-breathed Word of God. Every word is in here for a reason. The Bible is God's revelation of His plan and purpose. God reveals Himself through His Word, through His relationships with His people. The story of Jeremiah is in the Bible because God has revealed Himself to us through the story of His relationship with Jeremiah. And Jeremiah tells us it's not going to be a fairytale life. Jeremiah tells us life can be depressing and demeaning. And Jeremiah sings, "Give praise to the Lord!"
Jeremiah knew what it meant to live in dual realities—that truths exist concurrently. Jeremiah knew that God is good, and that following God is hard.
Yes, life looks very different for me than it used to.
Yes, frankly, I look and feel physically better than I ever have--and first I went through decades of binging, self-loathing, self-harming, and substance abuse, and it has been a constant battle against the flesh to maintain anything close to a regular exercise routine or a disciplined diet plan, and both of those things are relatively recent developments in a lifelong struggle to combat symptoms of chronic depression.
Yes, we have a beautiful house--and we had to go through years of grueling, demoralizing, soul-sucking financial amends in order to repair our credit to the point we could purchase a home together, and now we have a mortgage payment that dictates our financial decisions for us on a monthly, paycheck-to-paycheck basis, and it's really difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel some days.
Yes, I have a college education--and it took me 13 years to finish a four-year degree, and I took out tens of thousands of dollars in federal financial aid late in my 20s, and now I'm closer to mid-30s with a monthly student loan payment that limits how much I can give back in other areas.
Yes, life is good--and there is more stress on time, family, finances, continuing education, and future goals than ever before.
And every minute of it is worth all the rest because God can change lives, and we are so blessed, folks. We are so gloriously, amazingly, thankfully blessed.
There is so much God-given beauty in the mess of these chaotic, clumsy, moody, overly complicated lives we live. When we change our tune to praising God, everything else changes. It's not easy. It's not overnight. But the choice is with us every day, in every moment, good or hard, whether we feel like it or not. And it is well with my soul.
Even on the down days, today, it's different. I know now that depression isn't forever. Trauma doesn’t define me. Feelings are temporary. Even in my darkest hours, I know God has already shown me He can redeem all of it—even the worst of it. I was lost and now I'm found. Not so many years ago, that was impossible—right along with all of the other impossible things that have happened since then. I wasn't planning to live this long—and I did.
So do I ever still deal with depression? Yes... and no. I deal with it almost every day, in one way or another--and it's completely different now. "Give praise to the Lord!"