Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 5)

This is part 5 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.

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Pleasing God In Depression???

I’m sure that those of you who know that I suffered with clinical depression for 12 years knew that I would eventually get around to telling you how this whole paradigm shift came to be. God used it to help me live in the desperation of my depression. God used this precious shift to help me embrace His grace and mercy toward me.

I was asked to share my story about surviving depression to a local MOPS group over a year ago but as I started to learn more and more about the struggles of the women in the group, I realized that depression wasn’t the only sense of shame, dysfunction, imperfection and failure that women all over the world are struggling with! But one of the main reasons I was sought out was because I not only survived 12 years of depression but I actually emerged from it more free and more in love with Jesus than when I went into it. 

I have a story to tell, a life-changing beautiful story about Jesus and not about me. You see, the illustrations that I have given in this series were about me. It was my inner struggle I battled for years. I spent many years banging my head into the wall trying to self-achieve. While I thought I could make the “do it myself” (orange side) work before depression, I was actually trapped in an endless loop of defeat! I’d always keep coming back to “imperfect, failure, defeated, loser, unrighteous” and so I’d head right back off to the right again chasing perfection with sheer will power and determination. 

But God, in His kindness, took away my ability to control anything in my life. I could not self-improve. I could not self-achieve. I was not stronger than the illness. I could not will myself to get better. I could not change the undeniable fact that depression left me utterly depraved.

In my depression: 

  • I would spend days feeling lifeless and dead. 
  • I would sob uncontrollably.
  • I would frequently get really angry for no reason.
  • I couldn’t recognize anything as good in my life.
  • Everything that used to mean something to me meant nothing to me.
  • I couldn’t feel the love of family or friends. I couldn’t even feel God.
  • I was miserable.

But worse than all of these was that all my hopes of trying to convince God that I really was a good person came crashing down. Everything I did PROVED I was NOT a good person. I felt I’d never be able to please God again, and that devastated me! When depression came in and stole away the protective barrier that had masked all my imperfections from the world I was left naked and bare for all to see how imperfect I really was. I despaired for my very life!

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(Find this chart in part 4 of this series- you’ll be lost if you don’t start from the beginning.)

To be honest, nobody showed me a chart like this when I was younger and nobody ever taught me how to accept grace for myself. So, as much as I would like to say, I followed the method on the blue side of the chart during my depression, (leaning into my depression, leaning into my sorrow, and leaning into God) I didn’t. I was clearly in Orange camp territory (“I could do it myself”) and stuck in a cycle of defeat! I was a born and bred performer, clearly trying to please God with my good behavior. It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered the beauty of the blue side of the chart. That’s when I learned about leaning into my imperfection, into my weakness and into my brokenness.

In my depression, I spent the first five years trying to keep clutching the orange side (my own self-control). But finally, I had to come to the end of myself. I said, “I give up. I can’t keep doing this anymore.” Depression is bad enough on its own without the additional self-hatred and self-loathing of my continual defeat for all my well-intentioned attempts. I was left with no other option but to resign myself to my situation. In that resignation, I believed. “I guess I’ll never please God.” 

I thought, “so, this is my new normal, huh? I can either keep beating myself up or I can just accept it.” I wish I could say this was true surrender to God and His purposes but it wasn’t. It was purely self-preservation. I just could NOT live with that burden of guilt and shame and defeat anymore. 

I was what I was. I didn’t like it. I hated my depression. I’m sure no one else liked it, either. But I couldn’t change it. I resigned myself to being the ultimate failure I was destined to become. But as I began to feel more and more pathetic, more and more worthless, more and more of a failure, His Holy Spirit went to work on my heart. That’s when He introduced me to the blue side which showed me His grace bestowed on me in spite of the ugliness of my heart. 

This chart that I have shared in the last blog with you didn’t come to me easily! (go back one step to find the chart I’m talking about) It was brutal. Giving up my ideals of appearing and behaving good any time I wanted to, perfecting my life and proving my righteousness to God literally had to be ripped from my clenched closed fists. It took years… but I finally let go of trying to change my situation. In fact, in time, I came to believe that God wanted me to be content with my imperfect self because I came to believe that instead of becoming ‘better,’ He wanted me to lean into Him for undeserved kindness. 

You see, before depression, I had forgotten that the God of the universe already knew I was imperfect. But He had already accepted me. He already deeply loved me. But I had foolishly believed I could perfect myself so I kept pushing away the free gifts of grace because I had wanted instead to prove that I could do it myself. 

I finally got to the point where I gave up what I most wanted in life and simply accepted where and what I was. In this specific way, I got to be okay with ME just like I was: imperfect and messed up. I refused to let my behavior (my depression) define my worth. Although I didn’t like the depression, I just decided I would show myself kindness. If I had to live my life always worrying about how others felt about me or how I should be feeling in any scenario, I would’ve committed suicide. 

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But, you might ask, “How can you just accept all that ugliness in yourself?

“How can you just accept that defeat? That despair? That darkness?”  All I know is that when I embraced that most awful desperate place, that’s when the mercy and grace of God came flooding into my heart.  I thought it was the beginning of the end and all was lost, but it was just the beginning of a whole new relationship with my Savior. 

At first, He offered me just little tidbits of grace to chew on. He’d say, “Just chew on this for a while, this little crumb of truth. Find it in my Word. Find a song that sings this truth.” It was bitter at first because it wasn’t MY OWN righteousness, but in time, I acquired a taste for HIS grace He was offering me.  But week after week, month after month, and year after year, He showed me more and more of His grace, and took me deeper and deeper into the truths of it.

Especially, on the brief days when the darkness temporarily subsided, I dug down deep and studied the gospel of Jesus’ finished work for me and determined, “He no longer condemns me! Wrong or right, whatever depression is, He no longer condemns me! Praise the Lord!” So, it got to be that the only way I could wake up each morning was to think, “God doesn’t condemn me. I won’t condemn me either!”

In time, I determined that if God, the Just, was satisfied to look on Jesus and pardon me, that I was safe to give myself as much grace as God did. God showed me grace and it didn’t make Him unholy. I felt this gave me permission to preach grace to myself, too, and believe that His same grace wouldn’t condemn me either.  

I determined to extend to myself the very same grace that the gospel extended to me, which was this: My sin and my imperfection no longer made me unacceptable to God!!!!! I was reminded that grace is a kindness NOT based on merit but based on someone else’s kindness.

The more I studied His incredible grace towards me, the more I gave up all the ideals that I had previously wished for my life and spent my life trying to achieve — and just embraced the life God had given me right then and there.

  • Without condemnation! For God no longer condemned me.
  • Without self-hate! For God loved me unconditionally!
  • Without guilt! For Jesus had erased my guilt!
  • God knew that I was imperfect (always had been) yet He still genuinely loved me.
  • God knew I still made mistakes, but there were none of them that weren’t fully forgiven.
  • Because I was forgiven, every punishment due to me was already paid by Jesus. 
  • Because I was reconciled to God, I would ALWAYS be acceptable in His sight!
  • Because His wrath was appeased, I no longer angered the God of the universe.
  • In fact, His word said that I now have peace with God and was a friend of God!
  • Because I was always and already acceptable, I no longer had to improve my behavior to be MORE acceptable or MORE pleasing to God.
  • Jesus had already made me fully acceptable to God.

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I could not make myself MORE righteous to God because my nature kept me from that standard of perfect righteousness, just like I could not become less depressed and more characteristically “BETTER” behaved because the nature of depression kept me from attaining that standard. In both spiritual and physical realms, I realized my helplessness to simply choose to change my nature! I was trapped in a scenario I didn’t like but which was true nevertheless.

When I challenge fellow depression sufferers that the most loving and kind thing they can do for themselves is to simply accept it, most initially reject my counsel.  You see, people feel like if they reject it, it gives them MORE control over it. They tell me, “but I don’t like it! I want to change it!” What they don’t understand is that depression cannot be beat! The illness is so pervasive that control is nearly impossible. What they are really saying is, “I’d rather keep beating my head against this wall.” The truth is that the only true freedom one can find in the miserable life of depression, as unthinkable as it sounds, is to lean into it. Own it; it’s an illness that God has allowed in your life. I didn’t like it! I hated it! But that didn’t mean fighting for the impossible of control was more admirable. It was just dumb. 

Is it right or good to be okay with yourself?

Embracing the reality of my condition (leaning into my depression) doesn’t mean that everything I did in depression was right or good. Being okay with myself didn’t mean I felt justified for anything I was doing; it didn’t make anything that was wrong right! And grace does NOT justify anything you are doing; it is a kindness shown to you IN SPITE of what you are doing! Accepting the grace of God doesn’t mean you think He justifies your sin; it means He justifies you in spite of your sin. 

You see, some of us learned when we were little that we could only be loved unconditionally when we were good, behaved good, did good things or otherwise had earned the privileges from being good. So this goes against everything that we had learned. But GOD’S GRACE loves us unconditionally when there is STILL nothing good in us! Being okay with myself was my way of showing myself kindness I didn’t have to earn because I was imitating God’s grace towards me. It didn’t make the endless sadness happy. It didn’t take away the depression. But it gave me courage and hope to survive it. It gave me peace in the midst of the storm. “God is ok with me. God is ok with me. God is ok with me,” I whispered to myself.

It changed EVERYTHING for me! I finally experienced freedom in my depression because through the darkest hours, I believed God hadn’t let go of me. He hadn’t turned His back on me. He hadn’t abandoned me! He still loved me. He was still pursuing me. He had the power to hold on to me when I was delirious in my dark disease. And I believe now that my faith that God could love and accept me in spite of the darkness of my heart, in fact, pleased Him. I believe that He rejoiced when He got to remind me of His grace when my heart tried to object because depression didn’t look godly. It didn’t look spiritual. It reeked of the depravity of the human condition! But He pleased HIMSELF, He glorified HIMSELF, when He showed me grace because I gave up my right to be perfect and let Him be perfect. 

How do I know that is the heart of the Lord? Remember Ezekiel 20:44? 

“But you will know that I am the Lord, when I have honored MY name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness”

Here’s an important concept to grasp: God’s grace wasn’t as much of a big deal to me before my depression because I was doing pretty ok without Him. I didn’t need His pity! I considered His mercy and grace pity for the weak and the broken. So, I denied the grace and mercy of God from touching me, the very attributes He Himself was longing to bestow, because I felt no desperation of need for it!

But after my depression, I can’t fathom a life without relying on His grace and mercy. You see, they became MUCH to me! They were the only way I could get up in the morning and take a breath. They were the only way I could face life and a future.

God became the only Person whose opinion mattered to me. For a person like me, who felt like she had never been and would never be “ENOUGH,” that’s a big deal. I had spent my whole life trying to live up to somebody or other’s expectations of me, not the least of them being my own, but pretty much, God’s acceptance of me became paramount. More important than anything else I wanted Him to be pleased with me!

What do we as women want more than anything? We want to be fully accepted, yes, even our true self that we don’t like to uncover. We want to be loved unconditionally, yes, even the unlovable self that we try to hide. We want to experience intimacy with someone. We want to know that we will never be alone. We want to know that there isn’t anything we can do that will make us lose the affection we so desperately long for. And while I didn’t have those things from everyone in my life, I had those things from the only One who mattered to me. “God the Just” justified me forever and always. He is the only One who could say, “there isn’t anything you could do to make me think less of you and there isn’t anything that YOU could do to make me love or accept you more.” My God was the One who knew every corner of my imperfect self and STILL chose to see the righteousness of His son in me!

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How could I be okay with me?

Some of you have a hard time even accepting God’s grace because you have been trained that it can only be received via your merit. Because, you see, grace isn’t fair. It doesn’t satisfy justice. It’s in spite of it. But once you can accept the grace of God in spite of your imperfection, then you too can abandon the chains that say, “I’m not okay.” If Christ can accept you as okay, then you can accept yourself as okay. You see, we only want to allow ourselves to be ok IF we deserve it. So, when God offers us grace, we often push it aside because we don’t think we deserve it. 

I learned that I could be okay with me because I finally understood that He would forever be okay with me. Every objection I could come up with had been satisfied. Every objection you could come up with has been satisfied. Every contingency is covered. It was like God stood on his throne and as fast as I could spit out my “But what about…..?” He’d say, “Covered! Paid for! Forgiven! Pardoned! 

If we turn everything on its head and start with God’s view of us:

The ultimate justice and righteous one, and if HE treats me with kindness (extends me grace) even when I don’t deserve it, then it gives me permission to do as God does and accept grace in my own life. And while it seems counterintuitive, the truth of the matter is that grace received breeds mercy in me, which gives me permission to treat others kindly even when they don’t deserve it either.

Here is the thing I want you to consider: 

While some may think it is more weak to accept imperfection (or even depression), I’m here to tell you that it takes more resolve and more confidence and a firm belief in the biblical gospel of grace to rest in God’s completed work of Jesus Christ to make you complete in Him (okay with Him), than it takes for you to work your fanny off trying to achieve some other type of perfection on your own merit. 

(To be continued) 

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