We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken… We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe… Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise! So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. (2 Corinthians 4:1-16 MSG)
“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough
to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.(J.I. Packer)
The last true episode of depression I experienced was during late March through April of 2014. It ranked at the absolute top in intensity and lasted all month. It culminated with Bill being away on a business trip during the last week of the month. He almost never went away without me, but this particular time, his hands were tied; the trip was required training for his new part time job and, furthermore, I was not welcomed to join him.
For the most part, his departure was just fine with me. The episode I was in had brought such intense anger with it (in fact, I was actually enraged), so we weren’t doing well as a couple. But then again, my depression tore the rug out from under my relationships every time and the first relationship to go was always ours. So, I didn’t think twice about the fact that since I was in a depressed state, I would be angry feeling he was abandoning me for so long while I was experiencing such intense suffering.
But I remember very distinctly it being one of those times when he asked me before leaving, “Heidi, why are you so angry? Are you angry at me? Is it because I’m leaving? I have to leave!” Even after twelve years of this terrible illness, he was still asking me questions I could not possibly answer! When I was well, we might have been able to have a conversation about it, but I was lost in a rage I didn’t understand. This particular episode was so intense and was so pervasive that it figuratively had me by the throat.
This time, as he pushed and pushed me to answer, I actually shouted at him, “I don’t know, Bill! I’m just angry. I’m not angry at anyone and I’m not necessarily angry for any particular reason. I’m just mad.” I was mentally and emotionally controlled by this and the rage that was building up in me was confusing and frustrating. But, even recognizing that I couldn’t think of any specific reason why I was actually angry, I still couldn’t shake it. Whether a “symptom” of my lack of control or a “result” that I had lost emotional control of my life, I didn’t know, but it got worse by the day.
In addition to the anger, the despairing sadness and grief was taking its toll. Normally, I knew that if I just relented and waited for the sadness and emptiness to pass in a few days, 7-10 days at most, I would eventually see my way out to the other side. But this particular episode was strangely the most intense I’d ever experienced and was not letting up. That confidence that it was a temporary setback wasn’t there; it didn’t feel like I’d ever come out the other side. Worse yet, now I was alone in the house. My husband was busy in North Carolina with his work and could not stop to check in on me, but even if he had tried (and he did try), I didn’t answer my phone, I didn’t answer my texts, I turned off my “read receipts” and I refused to read his emails. I wanted nothing to do with him. The fact is, without anyone else to be angry at, he was the only one left besides myself that I could focus my anger on. So, I was alone in every way, not only was I physically alone in the house, but I was completely ignoring him.
Mind you, God had already taught me so many life-breathing truths about Himself during the former 11-12 years of my illness that had completely overwritten a false view of Him and His everlasting love, kindness and grace. I was trying to use my coping strategies. I was trying to calm my mind with soothing music and a quiet, tranquil space. I took my daily walks. I even listened to my “depression playlist.” I reminded myself of the grace of God, but it felt meaningless. My self-talk that what was happening to me didn’t define me nor did it reveal my true self, fell on deaf ears. The things I had learned to do to get through my episodes weren’t working. This time, rather than caring how God felt about me, or how Bill felt about me, or anyone else, I just simply did not care. Most of the day, I felt mentally incapable of emotion. When emotion squeaked through (against my will), none of it was appropriate. It certainly wasn’t spiritual. But I digress…
My point was that I was in the darkest place I had ever been in. I remember heading out for my walks, anyway, and forced myself to listen to my playlist of songs. But this week, I just really wasn’t in the mood for these songs. I was angry at every one of them, especially those that spoke about God. Yet, in my heart, I knew that those were the very things I needed to force myself to hear. So, even though they were still an offense to me, I willingly cracked the door open in the hopes that “Truth” would get in and speak to my brain what my heart was unwilling to say or even to think. But I certainly wasn’t ready to believe them.
The Week I Almost Went “Home,” and God Told Me, “Not Yet!”
So, I’d lie there and cry, weeping uncontrollably for a period, then when I’d had enough of that pathetic, weepy person that I hated, I stuffed those pathetic, weepy emotions down as far as I could, and forced myself to become emotionally empty. “There, now I don’t feel anything.” Empty felt better than out of control and pathetic. Still, I felt lifeless, suffocated, dead, alone, and abandoned. I began to see myself from the outside in. I watched myself be pathetically ill; I was a mental basket case. I perseverated over what a wreck my life was and had been (also despairing that it would likely continue to be so until I died as, obviously the Lord wasn’t healing me). It was like I was watching myself from the doorway of my room and thinking, this girl just needs relief! If only she could just die and go to Heaven, she’d be done with all this suffering.
Of course, then, as if there were two little devils on each of my shoulders, the other whispered, “It’d be the kindest thing you could do for your family who has had to endure this long enough. Your poor husband serves you like a nurse (cooks for you, feeds you, cleans for you, runs interference for you) and yet, you are the most unkind to him because he is the closest. Though, he might grieve for a while, your death would surely bring him relief. After a period of grieving, he’d recover, go on to another ministry he is longing to do and be able to embrace good memories with his kids and grandkids. I bet he can’t wait to remarry so he could find relief in replacing you.” Of course, this made me rage.
Then, I thought of my kids. For most of my youngest’s life, her mom was mentally ill, in bed, nasty and testy. She was the most likely of all the kids, near the end, to become my husband’s comforter (getting him cold drinks, trying to take care of some of the household duties, spending time keeping him company, and taking care of him)! Although, I felt sorry for my husband, it always made me mad that people seemed to feel more compassion for him, but became frustrated with me, the one who was sick. I felt invisible and unnecessary as a mom, because “mom is messed up;” I felt more like a stepmom whom they didn’t have to concern themselves with, as I wasn’t in my right mind.
The older kids started getting married, (2007, 2008, 2010), so their visits felt more like, “Well, mom’s sick, but we can still go over and spend time with dad.” I felt like (though, now, I’m sure it wasn’t so), if I were gone, after a short period of grief, they would all be able to reestablish a happy familial environment when they came home to visit. The saddest realization for me was that my grandkids would never know a sweet, loving, fun “Oma” (grandma in German). It was likely mortifying for them to come over and observe what a scary person Oma was, always crying, never sweet and tender and not at all fun. I’m sure they could sense that the whole family was walking around on eggshells when Oma came downstairs, everyone waiting to see if she was depressed or was in a non-depressive period when they could treat her normally.
You see, though I had experienced a degree of suicidal ideation in prior episodes, during this descent lower and lower into the pit, it was becoming less about how much I was currently suffering, and more about how I just could not imagine how I could live—that is, suffer—this intensely forever, years and years, thru old age until death. I started to actually believe the kindest thing I could do for them (though it might take time for them to recover) was to just find a way to end my life so that they had some hope of living the rest of their life without the burden of my life among them.
For the first time, I started to spend some real earnest time, trying to think of a way I could kill myself. Walking into a train? Too gory! Slicing my wrists? The failure rate was too high! I didn’t want to go thru the effort of killing myself only to end up a vegetable in a care facility. Now, where could I get a gun? That might be quick! I wonder if the river down by my house would give me hypothermia before it pulled me under, or whether I would have to die the suffocating death of drowning, as it would surely, eventually, pull me under, instead! You see, I was clearly trying to create a successful plan.
During this period (nearing the end of Bill’s business trip), I wrote him an email. An email was very unlike me, but I didn’t want him interrupting me, questioning me and dismissing my despair as abnormal. I wanted him to know that I had decided that I couldn’t live life like this anymore. I bemoaned every sense of loss and spilled out every despairing thought. I was angry that our relationship was in shambles and might forever be. I told him he couldn’t possibly understand the depth of my pain. Then, I told him, “I am just tired of living this life in this way!” The haunting thing about reading this email now, five years later, was the finality it expressed between the lines and in the specific phrases I was using. I was expressing that this whole never-ending battle to just stay alive and keep enduring the excruciating mental and emotional anguish was just too much. There was almost a peaceful tone to having finally come to that point where after 12 years, I was ready to give up.
Yes, I’m writing a book about my 12 years with a depressive illness and mood disorder. In fact, we are doing the final editing now. The working title is “Discovering God’s Grace in Depression: A Personal Account of Suffering and Discovering God’s Intimate Love and Sufficiency for My Brokenness.” I thought some of you might want to start reading a portion of it. In light of that, here is Chapter One. Feel free to leave a note at the end.
CHAPTER ONE: IMPLOSION
2003 had been a rough year to say the least. In fact, up until that point, it had been the worst year I’d ever experienced. During the previous two years, we wouldn’t just live through some major transitions and experience a few nuisance stressors, we’d find ourselves swallowed up and drowning in deep waters. We’d live by barely surviving from one day to the next, neck-deep in those tumultuous waters. As a couple, my husband and I had experienced various ups and downs growing up and subsequently in our eighteen-year marriage, but for the most part, I didn’t believe it had been a bad life. In fact, I might have even called it good. Then, in a matter of twelve months, it all crumbled down around me.
TRANSITIONS ARE STRESSFUL
Starting at the beginning, in the Spring of 2000, almost every area of our lives changed simultaneously. Bill, my husband, graduated from seminary and a little community church a few towns over would call him to be their pastor. We’d spend the next year living either at home, or at church, or halfway in between. Added to that new stress, it would be a tent-making pastorate (which basically means that he’d have to support his family with a secular job on the side so that he could devote himself to pastoring without additional undue financial hardship on the small church). He continued his full-time secular job as a professional firefighter, meaning he’d be gone two or three 24-hour shifts a week serving the department. This would still allow me to stay at home with the kids and home-school them. We’d juggled ministry like this for twenty years so we were pretty sure we could make it work.
It wasn’t too long before we started looking for a new home in our church’s new community. Unfortunately, we found we were unable to afford most of the homes there, so we decided we’d just build our own home. Bill was a handyman and was fully capable. Besides, several of our friends were building their homes as well and it was a perfectly doable project. “No problem. Instant equity.”
So, we sold our home, bought some property, moved 95% of our stuff into storage and bought a 37’ travel trailer. There was no way we could rent a home and pay for a construction loan, so we convinced ourselves we could temporarily live in a travel trailer on our property which would allow us to build in our “spare time.” We had experienced seasons of stress before; we’d simply put our heads down and just get through it this time, too.
As if things weren’t crazy enough, the property we purchased didn’t yet have power or water. So, after looking for a place to park our new temporary home, we landed in the back lot behind our new church. There we were, my husband and I, our four kids (ages 6-16), a dog and 4 cats, living a few steps away from our new church.
We knew going into it that the church wasn’t very healthy when we arrived. It was understood that this was a rescue attempt; the physical, mental and emotional demands were exhausting. It was kind of understood that one’s first pastorate after seminary graduation shouldn’t be expected to be an easy one. No healthy, established church was going to take a chance on a young, untested, wet-behind-the-ears seminary graduate no matter how much youth ministry he had under his belt; we’d have to pay our dues and prove ourselves worthy first. So, besides the overwhelming time and energy it takes to lead a small church without solid, healthy leadership in place, it was a stressful period of change that wasn’t always embraced by our new flock. We seemed to spend a lot of energy the first couple years putting out fires; it was difficult, but we assured ourselves that anything worth doing was worth the investment of time and energy. “It was just a season,” we thought.
This was also a season of change for our children. Our older girls transitioned from home-schooling full-time to attending the new local public high school. Our son transitioned from public grade school to being home-schooled and our youngest daughter transitioned from a Christian school to a public school. It seems crazy but it made sense for us.
In some ways, the burdens seemed to ease a bit. My husband stepped outside our “home on wheels” and stepped right into his office at work. I’d spent several years as an administrative secretary at a very large church before we were called to this new little church, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to jump into the role of church secretary here. It wasn’t a paid position (it never was), but I had always been my husband’s secretary in our former ministries. I found a great deal of gratification being so intimately involved in his ministry. The work was something I was good at and I felt useful.
But even though we felt an incredible sense of fulfillment and joy serving in our new church, we really were unprepared for how much time and energy it took to pastor, to work a full-time firefighting job (Bill) and to build a house. There were days we’d work all day, go back to the trailer to eat dinner, then go right back over to the office. There was also a sense that the church’s very existence depended on our ability to bring this little church into the 21st century. We chalked it up to embracing it as a “season;” we would invest every ounce of energy for the promise of a better, healthier future.
The kids often stretched out into the church building where they’d find a quiet room to work on homework. The church was our younger kids’ playground. If we needed a second bathroom, the church was only a few steps away. If we started to experience cabin fever, we could step out of our 330 square foot home and into the church building. We were doing it; and everyone was just fine, we thought.
As if we weren’t swamped enough with doing ministry together, Bill holding a second full-time job and keeping both the county building inspectors and the bank happy, we’d have to do as much of the work ourselves as possible. This meant first pricing out everything it would take to complete our home (acquiring all the bids and estimates, submitting it to the bank and the county, then obtaining the permits and the financial backing to do so).
There was incredible financial pressure having undertaken multiple loans to make all this life-change possible. Building a home with a construction loan is not for the faint of heart. The bank required accountability. The county who granted us our permits demanded progress and accountability. The church required accountability. We tried to balance family time with church life. But truly, we were being pulled from multiple directions. Every day seemed to require just a little more from us.
Of course, no sooner did we begin building but we ran into setback after setback. Not the least of which was getting utilities to the site. This was completely unforeseen; even the power company was unaware of the easement predicament that kept us from hooking up to the grid.
But we trudged on anyway; we’d adapt, and we’d get through this. Up until sheetrock, we’d run all the power tools off one small contractor’s generator. During late nights at the site, freezing cold, we’d sit down around a little kerosene heater wrapped up in coats and blankets, warm up some microwave dinners (yes, we ran our little microwave off the generator, too) and then go back to the various jobs my husband had assigned us all. That was “family life” for months. But it was only “a season.”
Finally, in the early winter months of 2003, we were able to hook up to the power grid. We moved our trailer onto our property. We were glad to be out from under the public eye of every church member and we were finally independent again. There was a huge sense of relief that the end of the daily stress that I’d gotten used to would soon come to an end. Yay!
However, trailer living in the mud and in the cold reminded me that my stress was far from over. There was dirt everywhere. The trailer began feeling increasingly smaller as we started to accumulate more stuff inside. I don’t think we realized how much we had depended on being able to spread out into the comfort of the church offices when trailer life was closing in on us.
We soon decided with six individuals needing a bathroom, we’d better order a Honey Bucket. So, there we were, living in a dust/mud bowl, in our little home-on-wheels, with a Honey Bucket outside our front door. Our children were stacked like cord wood on one end in bunk beds. Our bedroom, on the other end, was crammed with as many of our personal belongings as would fit and still allow us to crawl into the cave-like space which contained our bed. The living scenario was chaotic and claustrophobic.
But, “this was just a season of life.” So, we trudged on, determined that none of these difficulties were too much to handle in and of themselves. “Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do,” we thought, “period.” Some days I was surprised at how well we all took it all in stride! How deluded I was! Like the lost boys in the movie, Hook, I felt like life was calling out, “You’re doing it, _____.” (I’m sure you know the character.)
However, on other days, I was simply overwhelmed by the exhaustion of it all. Throughout this insane process, we juggled, and we managed. We spread ourselves thin, but we gave each area of life its due time allocation. Usually, I worked on church administrative stuff from home while my husband held office hours at the church. Then, he’d come home, and we’d work into the night wiring or plumbing or something or other. What we naively missed was the quantitative effect all of this had on us, but especially on me.
By the spring of 2003, the church had doubled, maybe tripled in size. From all appearances, people seemed happy and excited about the progress and direction of the church. For three years we had completely spent ourselves; especially draining was the prior 6 months. Sheetrock had just gone up in the house. We were almost to the finish work. I couldn’t wait to bring this season of my life to an end.
And then, just when I thought life would ease up for me, it all came crashing down. As if our physical exhaustion wasn’t enough, we experienced “death” that spring when the birds did not sing, and new growth didn’t take place. A cancer had begun to grow in our little church, but we were too naive, immature and busy to see it for what its potential was. Before our eyes, our little church imploded. That little flock whom we loved with all our heart split right down the middle. Personally, and emotionally, we took terribly painful hits. As is frequent in church splits, somebody always has to play the part of the villain. There were lies spread about us and betrayal by some of our closest friends and church family. The power struggle that ensued began the demise of unity within the body and Satan used that to divide and destroy.
On Good Friday of April 2003, Bill sadly submitted his resignation in hopes of preserving the unity of the body, but it would prove to be too late. The freight train of destruction was already too far down that hill. The irony that this occurred on the day we remember Jesus’ betrayal before His crucifixion was not lost on us.
That Easter Sunday would be the first Easter in our lives we didn’t go to church. “How did this happen?!” we thought. We now had no church to pastor, no church family to cling to, no Christian brethren who actually knew fully the details of what had just happened to us let alone who were willing or able to comfort, console or counsel us. It had happened so fast. We were absolutely stunned. We were crushed, devastated and utterly broken.
Besides Bill losing his pastoral job and our family their church home, allow me to point out the other, maybe less obvious traumas our hearts experienced. We lost our closest friends and our co-workers. You see, when you pastor, your very closest relationships are developed inside the church and when you lose that, you lose all the people who mean so much to you and whose support you have come to depend on. We were isolated and lonely; there wasn’t an outside support system to whom we could turn.
Our motives and character had been called into question, but nobody stopped to wonder what our side of the story was. Worse yet, we felt it would be unbiblical to defend ourselves with the truth because it might defame our accusing brothers. (Unfortunately, that kindness didn’t work both ways). Our work and lives’ calling appeared to have been nullified in one devastating blow and we felt like all the good things God had accomplished in the prior few years had been completely erased. Maybe even worse than that, we pondered how much we must have disappointed our Savior. “How could we have been so reckless as to allow God’s flock to be dismembered and destroyed?”
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD
What I naively missed during the prior year was that just because a body and a mind can experience on ongoing, chronic, high-intensity level of stress, tragedy and emotional trauma, doesn’t mean it’s okay. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer the consequences of such self-abuse.
The hormone, adrenaline, is an amazing life-saving tool God gave us. Its miraculous function is to help us to survive critical, traumatic scenarios. It’s called the “fight or flight hormone” and it’s secreted by your adrenal glands. If you were to encounter a bear in the wilderness, it would help you run faster than ever before. Stories abound of people who have lifted cars off people after an accident, with seemingly super-human strength, because of the adrenaline that kicked in.
However, it was not designed to be used in a constant state of hyper-drive. The hormone was designed to be turned on when our lives are at stake or in short term, high stress situations when a kick in the pants is necessary, but to be clear, it’s supposed to be turned off during the normal routine of life so your body and mind can replenish and restore itself.
But as I lived the former few years, adrenaline was being used more and more just to get through each day. The reason I woke up amazed at my ability to cope during my high stress life especially during the preceding six months was adrenaline! It pushed me past just feeling stressed to “I need to survive this.” When I crawled out of my bed in the morning, I was already under an intensely heavy load of stress. It said, “Get up, get moving. Here’s a snort of adrenaline to help you survive everything that’s going to come at you today.” And off I’d go, with my new best friend, adrenaline.
Unfortunately, because the stress didn’t dissipate, more and more adrenaline was needed to get through the day. I got so used to having it turned on that I didn’t realize that it never had the opportunity to get turned off.
And how did I truly feel I was doing? I thought, “I’m doing just fine. I’m coping! I’m surviving. I’m okay. In fact, I’m amazed at how well I’m doing!” Frankly, I didn’t see any other choice; the situation demanded that I just keep pushing through it. Either I’d survive this, or I’d fall apart, but quitting at this point wasn’t an option.
Already at the end of my rope, the church tragedy kicked my legs right out from under me. I had already been exhausting my body’s supply of adrenaline for daily activities. When everything blew up, I still had to cope with daily, ongoing stress. We were still living in a trailer because our house wasn’t completed yet. In fact, the majority of the portion we had planned to do, the finish work, was just beginning. But after we experienced devastating blow after painful blow, there was nothing left in me, no adrenaline for my emotional or physical reserves to help me deal with the trauma of the experience. Not only was there incredible sadness and grief and even anger, but I could barely crawl out of bed in the morning. I was absolutely exhausted. There was nothing left in me to deal with either the trauma or daily life. I felt so incredibly weak, like Superman who had been given kryptonite.
TRYING TO MOVE ON
Some mornings, I just laid in bed and cried, overwhelmed at the cruelty life had dealt us. How cruel people could be! How wearying life could be! How devastating it could be after trying to give the very best of ourselves for others, only to be tossed to the curb, not to mention vilified. We sacrificed all for the sake of that ministry and now it was gone.
Some days, I felt like I could hardly breathe; it hurt so badly. Other days, I would actually be surprised by the resiliency of the human spirit to be able to experience such hurt, such exhaustion and such tragedy and still be able to get up and face another day, then another, then another, not at all joyful or triumphant, but just able to take another breath, then another, and another. In all of this, we both remained confident that the pain would lessen, and life would eventually get better. We’d grieve this loss and move on. So, that is what we did. We grieved and then we moved on. Or… so I thought.
During the next three months, solely dependent on Bill’s continuing income as a professional firefighter, we busied ourselves completing our unfinished home. It was exhausting labor, sunup to sundown and into the night. We still lived in a trailer, with our four children, two of whom were seniors in high school, trying to complete senior projects and term papers and all that.
During those few months, God brought a few of our wounded sheep back to us; we found a calling in trying to help them heal from the violent bloodbath they had witnessed. They needed a shepherd and God knew we needed a church family, so we began meeting with them on a weekly basis.
Six months later, with our home freshly completed, we were entrusted with a new baby ministry (praise the Lord). We had a supportive church family and had developed new friendships (praise the Lord). “We were healing,” I thought, and life was getting better. The seasons of life that almost took us out were behind us.
THE FIRST HINT THAT I WAS BROKEN
But personally, I still found myself utterly, physically exhausted. I felt numb at times and tearful at others. For the first time in my life, I asked myself, “I wonder if this is what ‘depression’ feels like.” I kept that question private, not even sharing it with my husband. “It couldn’t be,” I convinced myself. “I’m more resilient than that.” Plus, God was putting our lives back together. I generally dismissed any notion of depression pretty quickly. After all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Yay, me! Right?
Yet, some days I didn’t even bother getting out of bed. Whatever this was felt like it was suffocating me; it seemed to reach its little fingers into every area of life and stole the good and the joy from every situation. I just lay there motionless feeling next to nothing and the tears would just roll down my cheeks. I’d wonder again if this is what “real depression” felt like. It felt pretty crappy, to be honest. It felt so different than simply being blue, sad or discouraged. It was absolutely incapacitating. “But, nah… Christians don’t get depressed,” or at least shouldn’t, I’d been told and had come to believe. My religious training told me, “depressed people were individuals who wallowed in self-pity, choosing to remain in a sad, defeated state, who refused to get over sin or to let God strengthen them.”
Bill and I both spent a lot of time individually, with each other and with our little flock grieving, and learning about and practicing biblical forgiveness. It hurt, sure, but life goes on, right? “Get over it.” The hurt, though not gone, was dissipating. The sting of betrayal and grief over the loss of our friends was painful but now new friends had surrounded us and were sustaining us. Our new house was complete and beautiful. We had begun a new ministry. Things were getting better, or at least should have been.
So, daily, I’d try to force myself to do as I had been taught, to pull myself up by my theoretical bootstraps and do whatever the “next thing” was that needed to be done. But it just wasn’t happening. I was losing the battle on a daily basis and this new helplessness was quite uncomfortable. I felt myself slowly slipping into an unknown emptiness and darkness I’d never experienced before. It was a void where nothing felt alive anymore and I felt dead.
SOMETHING IS TRULY BROKEN
I faced each new day telling myself, “Just get through the next thing.” The next thing on this particular morning was visiting my gyn doctor for my annual exam. Besides what generally occurs at these exams, I intended to ask her whether I might be experiencing premenopausal symptoms or whether there might be something wrong with me hormonally that was making me so weepy and often lethargic. I knew that perimenopause sometimes makes life emotionally and physically difficult on women, so I figured that must be the reason I wasn’t bouncing back. I reasoned that it was simply the change of life knocking at my door. “Why not?” I thought. “It doesn’t hurt to ask, as long I was there.”
“The first lie depression told me was that I did not have depression.” 1 Kelly Jensen
The kind motherly midwife sat me down and asked one of those psychologically leading questions that literally could have led the conversation anywhere. “So, what’s going on, Heidi?” Transparently honest, I replied, “I just don’t know!!! I’ve been so emotional lately. It seems I’m breaking down into tears for no reason multiple times a day. I’m tired, almost lethargic. I really think my hormones are out of whack!” I looked hopefully into her eyes, looking for that “aha” look which would assure me that she’d have a pill or cream or something to magically make my life less emotional and easier to cope with.
Instead, I’ll never forget her words (verbatim): “Honey, I think you’re clinically depressed.” I’m not sure I physically rolled my eyes at her or whether I just thought it in my head, but I responded, “I really don’t think so…” and then went on to list my reasons. “First, I am a Christian and we have a faith and a hope that just doesn’t jive with people who get depressed.” Wasn’t that spiritual? I just witnessed to her. “Second, if by some chance, I do have depression, my husband is a pastor. He counsels people for a living, and we’ve talked things through thoroughly. If anyone can help me and would have by now, he was the most qualified to help counsel me from a spiritual perspective.”
She persisted, “Has anything happened recently that has been more stressful than normal?” I chuckled, I think, and then started to list a few of the things that had happened recently that had been stressing me out. Intentionally vague, I was also clear to add that what I was feeling had nothing to do with those things.
“Well, we just finished building our house after living in a travel trailer for over a year with our four kids. My oldest daughters finished their senior year of high school from a trailer equipped with an outdoor Honey Bucket! Did I mention we also had three cats and a dog? It was an enormous strain trying to complete it and do life and ministry. But that was last year and now our house is done. It’s beautiful and we’re living in it. It was a rough year but it’s great now,” I tried to convince her. “Wow!” she responded, “That’s an incredibly stressful situation to live through.” I quickly assured her, “Ya, but that’s over and done with now.”
She went on, “So how are your relationships and your family life?” I smiled and said, “My relationships are great. My husband is the sweetest man; we’re still in love and we are great friends.” She smiled acknowledging me.
“What about your job and ministry and your other relationships?” she naively asked. “Well…,” I responded, “that area has endured a lot of stress and there has been a lot of hurt but that sometimes happens in life.” I dismissed it as if I were brushing a leaf off my shoulder. I was careful to try to represent the Lord well and not give a bad testimony to this unbelieving midwife. I left out the horrors, the backstabbing, the untruths, the betrayal, and the loss of people in my life whom I loved but had abandoned us. I did admit that my husband had to give up his ministry (“a job loss,” she would call it later in the visit, as if losing your life blood and passion is just a job loss) and that we had lost many friendships over it. But we now had new supportive friends and a new ministry with people who loved us very much (looking for the bright side to turn my sob story into a story of redemption). She saw right through me, “That sounds like it’s been a very difficult year of transitions for you.” I admitted, “Yes, I suppose so.”
She went on to explain to me that sometimes when life hands us such extreme stress and tragedy that sometimes our brain and body finally say, “Enough!” The avalanche of stressors can trigger several things in our body chemistry to stop functioning correctly and cause our brain to go haywire. “This chemical meltdown,” she said, “can trigger what we call clinical depression. Sometimes, people just need a little support to help their brain reset itself.”
“I could start you on an antidepressant,” she urged me. “No, thank you,” I responded. “I’m sure I don’t need antidepressants. Isn’t it most likely because I am beginning the change of life and that my hormones are messed up?” In my mind, she wasn’t listening very well. I privately reasoned with myself, “As a Christian, all the emotional pain was something I could and would overcome with the Lord’s help in time.” I was talking to her about lethargy, fatigue, being unable to sleep, being unable to keep up mentally, a lack of energy to function in the most menial of tasks and being unable to hold it all together.
Obviously, I had forgotten that all the while I was trying to convince her that I was fine emotionally, I had been sobbing buckets of tears. She was visibly uneasy, I believe, by a feeling of helplessness yet felt a strong sense of responsibility to help me whom she recognized was denying what was as clear to her as the nose on my face.
She tried a different, back-door approach. She explained that sometimes the brain needs a little help normalizing its chemistry so that a person can start to process things correctly. By correcting the brain’s chemical imbalances, the individual is better capable of absorbing healthy counsel and implementing their own spiritual strategies, whatever that religion is. She told me, in fact, that my brain was likely unable to use my own strategies for spiritual living in its currently broken state; it just couldn’t use those learned mental pathways that I used to depend on. She warned that if it were allowed to go unchecked and untreated too long, it could actually keep me from recovering at all. She did admit that hormones could indeed have something to do with it, as that is simply just another stressful life event, I was describing.
“So, here’s what I recommend,” she said. “Would you consider starting a very mild antidepressant for just a short period? Three months to start, maybe six at the longest, just to help you get past this emotional and mental strain that you’ve found yourself in? You don’t have to be on it a long time. Just long enough to reset your brain. Maybe you just need it long enough to help you clear your head to work through everything with the help of your own faith and your spouse and all the other resources you say you have. Would you be willing to just try it and see if it helps you get over this bump in the road and then… if you want to stop it, you can choose to do that?”
“Very keen, that midwife,” I thought. I reassessed my condition by the pile of soaking wet Kleenex in my lap. Exhausted by the line of questioning and shaken that some of the things she was saying were starting to make sense, I finally agreed. “I’ll take something mild for a short time and that will be all I’ll need to get past this emotional roller coaster I’ve been living on and get back to normal life,” I reasoned. “It’s just another season! Like for a respiratory infection, I’ll take a pill for a couple months, to strengthen my immune system, then I’ll be as good as new.” On the way out the door, she also recommended a book about women’s hormones and how they relate to emotional mood disorders. It would come to help me understand from a medical standpoint what might be happening to me hormonally. 2
Embarrassed and ashamed, I stopped by the fire station on the way home to admit to my husband that my midwife diagnosed me as having “clinical depression,” whatever that was. (As if, you know, it wasn’t the bad or good depression but the “clinical” one). I asked if he was okay with my filling the prescription. I was really feeling ashamed and pathetic asking for his permission to medicate my emotions but assured him that it would only be “temporary.” It’d just be to help me get back on my feet; I was sure I’d bounce back, and I’d be as good as new soon.
He agreed, in fact, encouraged me to go down this road. We both understood that for the past several months, I had clearly NOT been bouncing back, clearly not coping, clearly an emotionally wreck, clearly overly fatigued, having a very hard time getting anything done with my time and absolutely confused by my lack of resiliency (hmmm, look at that list of symptoms that are the epitome of diagnosing one with clinical depression).
Ashamed but hopeful, I took my first pill. Within a week, I started to feel somewhat differently but wasn’t quite ready to admit it. But within two weeks, I felt as if the weight of a hundred men had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt myself doing something I hadn’t done much of for over six months; I could smile. I didn’t feel happy or giddy; I just felt normal again. I felt a calmness and a peace; I felt the joy of my salvation again. “Wow! Where has that been for so long?” I sensed the Holy Spirit’s refreshment. I’m not saying this world’s medicine gave me joy; I’m saying the barrier that blocked my brain from experiencing it was removed and the joy the Holy Spirit gave was available to me again.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel like life was too much anymore. It was manageable. The extreme sadness and despair lifted; I was healing. “Praise the Lord,” we both thought. There was a renewed sense of identity in my life and a new sense of purpose in our new ministry. I felt a positive sense that we were going to be okay. God was putting the mess in our lives back together.
WHAT I LEARNED
This would only be my first year into and through my journey with depression. What did year one teach me? Christians can and do get depressed! Sometimes illness, traumatic experiences or long periods of stress can trigger a once healthy brain to become “broken.” Sometimes the world’s resources really do have scientific credibility. And… sometimes medication really is necessary to help normalize one’s brain chemistry so that one’s healthy natural emotions and feelings, even spiritual ones, can be reawakened and renewed.
PRECIOUS LORD, TAKE MY HAND
“When I am exhausted, completely poured out and the well of my strength has run dry. When it’s so overwhelming, the needs come in waves and there’s no way to hold back the tide. When all that I am is still not enough; when fatigue and frustration speak louder than love. [chorus] Precious Lord, take my hand. Without You I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.
“When my heart is breaking ‘cause I know the end and I’m looking for someone to blame. When I’m pushed to the limit, emotions are raw, and the anger erupts hot like flame. When every last ounce of patience is gone, when I feel like a failure who’s getting it wrong….
[chorus] “Precious Lord, take my hand. Without you I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.
“When reality is more than my shoulders can bear, Lord, give me the grace to care the way that You care—when tasks go undone and I’m aching for sleep; when there’s not enough time and there’s no time for me.
[chorus] “Precious Lord, take my hand. Without You I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.”3 Steve Siler and Scott Krippayne
Most depressed Christians don’t fully reject God as they experience their depressive symptoms, but they call out for and worship the King expecting Him be victorious for them, expecting them to rescue them from their suffering. What rarely occurs to them (or what their heart is unwilling to surrender to) is that Jesus may not desire to remove their suffering. He might want to be “Emmanuel” to them. What does Emmanuel mean? It means “God With Us.” In other words, it means God, present with us!
The same Jesus came to offer Himself as “Emmanuel” to the Jews. He came to offer His presence among them, for the purpose of saving them in relationship rather than establishing an earthly victorious Kingship. He longed to offer them intimacy with the Godhead. He longed to offer them reconciliation with the Father. But, the Jews rejected that, thus rejected Him and what He came to offer. They wanted victory or nothing.It was all about them and how they wanted to use God to escape their hardships.
Maybe, you experience depression but you fight it and fight it and fight it. You beg and plead for victory and for your suffering to end. Have you ever considered that your depression was intended to make you appreciate God’s loving presence in your suffering instead of your healing? Maybe, He’ll heal you; maybe He won’t! Maybe, He’ll rescue you; maybe, He won’t! Maybe, He desires you to call Him in invitation into your suffering and show you what “Immanuel” can mean to you!This I know: “Immanuel” is one of God’s names so I can claim confidently that whatever you suffer, He wants to demonstrate “Immanuel” to you. He wants you to experience His intimacy in presence with you!
When believers can only see God as a God who always takes away suffering, who always gives us victory in our life situations, who always overcomes and destroys the things that painfully assault us or come against us, there is nothing left in their paradigm where their suffering, their disability, their sickness, their hurt, their pain, their depression, or whatever it is has been ordained by God. They miss the sweet presence of God ,and that my friends, makes Jesus weep! Because He is pushed aside for a God who will act to give them what they want, instead of embracing the God that He is, One who desires intimacy with us.
How can I claim that? Because He demonstrated this before His triumphal entry, shortly before He was rejected by the Jews, and then crucified shortly thereafter:
Luke 19:41–44 (NIV): “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Has peace been hidden from your eyeswhile you suffer because you haven’t welcomed Him into your place of suffering and experienced His tender presence, “God With You?!”
Note: The Greek words for “God’s coming to you” means: the act of watching over with special reference to BEING PRESENT, visitation, of divine activity. (BDAG)
In essence, it took years of living in this tension before I could I retell my OWN story from a gospel perspective. If God’s story in the history of mankind is to weave His gospel thread of redemption through all of man’s lives, and His overwhelming mercy, in spite of their depravity, what hurt me the most eventually led to my ultimate peace and my ultimate redemption.
My story became a story of ALL about GOD; and none about Heidi. My story became one of 100% grace and mercy towards me (HIS love story), and surprisingly, not only was God pleased to bestow it on me, but I was pleased to offer my weakness back to Him as my sacrifice.
The calling He had in mind for me, (MY personal calling) would require my giving up my efforts so that He could show me what He had ALREADY done for me, and how He would glorify Himself at my expense by taking pleasure in HIS own acts of mercy, (because “justice was no longer in the way.” (Reference toPhillips Craig and Dean song, “Mercy Came Running!”) His calling for me was to be His trophy of grace and mercy. And I was ok with that. My peace was found in a confidence that this was HIS calling for me.
My Relationship With Jesus
After He Removed My Depression From Me
Grace! This was what our relationship would now be built upon from here on. The 12 years of my depressive illness was the quality time He was using to draw me into His bosom. On this end of it, I still can’t listen to someone tell me what I HAVE to DO to please God! For me, it offends and degrades the very intimacy I found in the heart of God toward me when I was in a state where I couldn’t do what I thought God needed me to do to please Him. Though I disagree with them, I have to remember to show them grace, too, and remember that that may still be their own calling.
However, just because it is God’s calling for ME, doesn’t mean it is God’s calling for YOU! Nor does it mean that just because you don’t experience depression doesn’t mean that there aren’t some lessons that you can learn about self-righteousness and trying to earn God’s favor through works. It just may be that God wants you to learn “All God! And zero of you,” too.
So, I’m not here to tell you what God’s calling for you is. I am just reminding you that God does call us all to different roads. Some to strength; some to weakness.And just like He told Peter to take the gospel to the gentiles for the first time, when no one had ever done that before, He may just be calling you to a different kind of obedience. One in which you’re WEAK and HE IS strong. Not you’re weak and then HE makes YOU strong. Just…. you’re weak. He’s strong.
Jesus’ Final Lesson To His Disciples
I think there is a lot of significance to the last thing we see Jesus do with his beloved disciples before He gave His life on the cross to redeem them to Himself, reconcile them to His Father and pay for their sins. He washed their feet. Good old Peter resisted. He wanted to be the one to demonstrate His love for the Lord with his actions, but what the Lord wanted was for them to experience His loving tenderness on their behalf.
He could have used those last few hours as an opportunity to teach them how to obey and serve Him better, and the importance of their duty to Him, BUT instead, He chose to demonstrate the lesson He had told them about several times before. More than anything, the God of the universe wanted them to witness what Christ could do FOR them. Specifically, when Peter said, “No, I want to be the one to do the washing.” Jesus corrected him, “No, it must be about what I will do for you.”
And here’s Jesus’ demonstration: John 13:3-8 “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash MY feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “NO,” Peter protested, “you will NEVER wash my feet!”
My Translation: “Um, Lord, surely you want ME to do something to serve YOU?!?!? This can’t be! Please let ME demonstrate MY love for YOU.” But…..
“Jesus replied, “(Peter) Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
My Translation: Jesus said, “Peter, roll over and lie on your back, Now stay! … And Wait! I want to show you what’s in my heart. Look into my loving eyes. Unless I wash you, you won’t be clean. Unless I do the washing, YOU’LL NEVER be clean!”
The lesson Jesus was teaching was, 1) That He loves the weak because they know they are weak. 2) And That He would much rather SHOW MERCY than receive sacrifices of service, and 3) most importantly, that His GREATEST joy is that we KNOW him, NOT in our sacrifices. (Hosea 6:6 says, “I want to show LOVE … I want you to KNOW me more than I want burnt offerings.”)
In essence, He was demonstrating, “Since I have one more thing I can do on this earth before I pay the ultimate penalty for your sins, I choose to leave you with this as your final lesson that I most want to imprint upon your hearts. I’m glorified MOST, when I get to be the one who does the washing. I’m glorified MOST, when YOU let ME do the washing.”
How did I find peace in depression?
You see, before depression, I thought I knew God. But I only knew OF God. But my view of God was warped and twisted. I’d come to learn that I had loved a God I never really knew, for the God I knew was one to be feared for I could not reach His standards of righteousness. Oh, I loved Him before but always hoping that He’d see my love as righteousness and that it would earn me favor in His eyes, too. I had been a true believer for 35 years but never fully understand the loving heart of God. But now, after God’s kindness to me during my period of depression, I echo Job’s declaration, “I had only heard about You before. But now, I have seen You with my own eyes.” (NLT)
So, what about JOY?
First of all, if you are in the throes of depression, you won’t be happy and you won’t feel joyful. Your brain is broken and unable to process those emotions. But I experienced utter RELIEF that my relationship with my Savior didn’t rely on me at all. My joy was Jesus, the One who bridged the gap. HE was my ENOUGH. HE was my PEACE! HE was my JOY!
I found the smiling face of Jesus in my depression. He called me to orient myself to the gospel story that HE was writing with my brokenness, a story of HOPE in spite of my DESPAIR, a story of PEACE in spite of my TURMOIL, a story of GRACE in the face of MY sinful condition and a story of MERCY in contrast to MY efforts. Jesus spent all those 12 years, continuing to reach down to me, His wounded struggling lamb, picking me back up and drawing me back to His bosom, and embracing me with compassion and THAT was better than any gift I could’ve given Him before.(This concludes this 4-part series.)
Third, God taught me that when I couldn’t reach God’s standard for righteousness, God Himself bridged the gap.
“When all you can do is all you can do, then all you can do is enough.” I call this my “Enough” principle. If on any given day, I was given the grace to behave somewhat righteously, I was HS filled, I did all the right things, I served in the church, I was kind to my family, I lived in the joy of the Lord, I still wouldn’t be able to attain the righteous holy standard of God Himself.
But, whatever I lacked in perfect righteousness, God looked at the righteousness of Jesus on my behalf. and said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am now pleased.”
Imagine that I am holding a bag of sand and a empty jar. In the example above, I was able to partially fill up that jar myself with my good works out of a heart for God and love for Him. So, God filled my partially filled jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God. Let me be clear, YOU are not enough! God multiplies and redeems your efforts and God’s work is enough!
However, when I was in the pit, I despaired, I became angry, I refused to talk to anyone, my social behavior was despicable and unacceptable, I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit and He was not in control of my thoughts. I wanted nothing to do with God. In fact, I had little to no desire for Him. I was nasty and testy, my soul felt empty, and I had NO joy!
But the Lord looked at me and compassionately said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am pleased.”
Back to our Sand Illustration:
If you looked at my jar on those tormented, depressed days, you could hardly find the few grains of sand that I could contribute to the jar. But still, God looked at what I was able to contribute and then proceeded to fill up my almost empty jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God.
My new relationship with Jesus was one of tenderness. It was one of compassion. It was one of Him being the Sustainer and my being the helpless one.It changed everything for me. It took all my despair I felt for not feeling acceptable and gave me permission to stop trying to earn it. My eyes were opened to His shepherd’s heart and I fell in love with Him in a way that I had never done before. I was imperfect, but I was beloved. He was ok with my brokenness. He was ok with me, meaning my brokenness didn’t deny me His affection and love.
Paul says in I Timothy 1:15-16, “But I received MERCY for this reason, that in me, Jesus might display His perfect patience, as an example to those who were to believe in Him.”
Oh the joy that I felt when I was finally convinced that God didn’t require reciprocation for His love and kindness, compassion and ministry to me. God as my caregiver was able to love me past all my unpleasantness.
Fairness vs Grace
I felt, this can’t be! It doesn’t seem fair to let me disappoint on some days while He required others to behave? To not require me to try hard on some days? To accept less than perfection? To have mercy on my condition? To not make me bang my head over and over and over against the wall because I just couldn’t make my mind or my spirit to cooperate?
You see if you add anything to grace, it’s not really grace. It’s earning! Only grace … plus nothing … equals grace!!!!! And if there was one thing I knew God was doing to me in my depression, it was to demand that I learn that I was NOT in control. It was that He would be glorified, NOT in MY actions, but in HIS actions. Once again, He rolled me over onto my back and said, “Stay! You made a mess. Now, let me clean you up.”
Learning a New Way Of Living In My Depression
Although, I started to experience a new intimate relationship with Him when I was in the light, one of the continual affirmation that our relationship was still ok, one of being an ongoing object of mercy for anything I did that didn’t seem holy… MY depression still DIDN’T GO AWAY!!! So, that merciful feeling of peace that I’d receive when I emerged FROM the pit was still not available to me IN the pit.
What I knew in my head, that I was an object of mercy, didn’t give me warm, fuzzy feelings IN my depression. I’d still plummet into the darkness. I’d still plummet into despair, into ugly responses, into isolation, into a place where I still couldn’t feel God or see Him, but I was learning to live in a new tension.
Learning to Trust In The Dark
I was learning to trust a God I couldn’t feel or see. I was learning to trust in the dark what God was teaching me in the light. (Read that again! Don’t miss this!) With only my will, I learned to cling to the truths He had taught me when I COULD see Him before our sweet intimacies slipped away into oblivion. I didn’t have to feel them for them to be true. I didn’t have to mentally assert them as truth. I didn’t have to verbally agree to them. I didn’t have to emotionally connect to them. I just welcomed them into the tension and let them marinade in my soul.
I also learned that my life could no longer be lived in “all or nothing.” I could no longer cling to a dream of living a perfect life. It wasn’t one of complete relational continuity—one of 100% faithfulness to God and obedience in every area, but more like a series of little moments.
This was new to me. Only a hypocrite thinks one thing then turns around and does another! I fought the self-accusation of hypocrisy! “I couldn’t count on tomorrow! I couldn’t even count on the next five minutes!” But when God opened a window and peeked in, and I caught just a glimpse of His smiling face, I welcomed the intimate moment with Him (even though I knew it was fleeting). But fleeting as it was, I chose to welcome moments freely, worship Him freely, embrace Him warmly! And then, over and over, the moment would be gone. The despair would remain.
The Locket Of Trust
But I chose to put God’s truth in a locket and hung it around my neck. (This is a reference to Matt Hammit’s song, “Trust.”) My locket contained the truths I’d come to learn about God and about myself that I had discovered in the light. However, these truths, while life-changing, didn’t change my current circumstances and they didn’t change my depressed illness. But I still hung them around my neck in confidence that God was calling me to trust Him and have confidence in something OUTSIDE of what I could do and could feel.
When I went into the darkness, I clung to God’s Truths safely stored in my locket which hung around my neck. While I was in there, it was too dark to see them or feel them, but I held onto the locket determined that I was still ok. And when I emerged from that darkness, I opened the locket and all the memories of God’s promises and faithfulness came flooding back.
While I studied the foundational truths of God in His word in the light, I began to feel layers and layers and layers of guilt-motivated, good-intentioned,performance-based righteousness fall away. I felt like Jesus was lifting weight after weight after weight off my shoulders reminding me: “Heidi, it is already finished! Done! You are redeemed, yesterday, today, forever! There is nothing you have done, are doing or will do that isn’t covered by My love, My mercy and My grace!
You no longer need to strive to earn My favor! In fact, you never did! Simply look to Me, the Author and Perfecter of your faith! I’m just waiting for you to stop trying to run your own world and let Me have control. Let me give. Let me take. Let Me shower my love and grace on you! Stop striving after the wind! It’s exhausting and it’s defeating! My grace is sufficient for you and is made perfect in weakness!”
Wow! I thought, if we are saved by grace, why is it so hard to remember we must also live by grace!? I prayed, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears You. Teach to me embrace grace in this tumultuous affliction You’ve ordained for me to endure.
These are those truths I learned and clung to:
I remembered The Lord is my shepherd. I remembered The Lord is my Redeemer. My soul was at peace even when my spirit was not. My peace didn’t COME from the darkness, but it is FROM within that dark place that I was forced to trust in the all-sufficiency of Jesus to make our relationship right.
I remembered that only God was holy. God and God alone. Although I knew that He was holy, and that although His longing was for that day in glory when I would finally lay aside this sinful shell, I trusted that He alone could present me to the Father as righteous and acceptable.
I was convinced that God Himself was asserting His sovereignty and His authority every time He allowed me to be subdued by depression. I learned sooner and sooner to just surrender to His hand. I cried out: “Lord, I don’t want to go back in there. It’s so dark and lonely.” “I know,” He said, “but I’m always right beside you even when you don’t feel Me there.”
I came to trust that while I was in the darkness, He carried me like a wounded lamb. I was unable to feel Him or see Him. I couldn’t reach out and feel that He was still beside me, carrying me, His wounded little lamb. But, I learned to not fight Him to stand on my own. In my weakened condition, it was always safer to just let Him carry me.
I was convinced that He knew my heart was one that ultimately desired to please Him, but was weakened by my affliction that held me captive to my depravity. I didn’t need to PRETEND to be holy to please God, something I was NEVER capable of doing in the first place.
I trusted God to be able to handle my authenticity. I’d spend many hours lamenting and expressing my sorrow. I came to trust His compassionate heart and came to depend on His mercy and grace as I opened up the wounds of my soul for Him to tenderly clean up.
I was convinced that there was nothing I could do to earn His favor, but I still believed it was because of His intimate favor that He Himself had wounded me – not to punish me but simply so that he could show me His mercy and ongoing love.
He reminded me, “This thorn in your flesh, I gave it to you to keep you from exalting yourself.” And though I begged the Lord too many times to count to take it away, He told me, “My grace is sufficient for you. MY power is made complete in YOUR weakness.”
I was convinced that the cross of Calvary had settled it all and that God had credited the righteousness of Jesus to me, making me righteous in His eyes.
And when the darkness passed, my relationship with Jesus came right back. He looked into my eyes and I looked into His, and He said, “I know that was hard. I know that was scary. Are you ok now? Are we good?” I’d say, “It was scary, Lord. And it was so hard. But I never felt your condemnation. I only sensed your mercy. I never felt you were angry at me. I only sensed your compassion. Ya… we’re good.”
Can you see that as difficult as the struggle was for me, how necessary it was for me to live in that desperate place of tension, all in order to get me to the intimacy on the other side? I needed to give myself permission to search my own heart and ask God some really hard questions. I had to live in the struggle of some really hard theological tensions. I had to challenge my whole foundational belief system as to what it means to “please God.”
I had to own the utter helplessness of my own depravity and my desperateness for someone other than myself to save me. I had to see myself from God’s perspective. His relational intimacy with me was MORE PLEASING TO HIM than my thoughts or good deeds were to Him. But this I know, He needed to remove my strength before I would accept His mercy. (to be continued tomorrow here)
Do you know what all that “Wait, Submit, Stay” was all about? Relationship!!! It was HIS longing for ME to enjoy a relationship with HIM of trust and of authority. The first thing He knew I had to learn, was that if our relationship was going to work,I’d have to recognize and surrender unquestionably to my Alpha. There cannot be two top dogs in the house.
Secondly, He was assuring me that He wasn’t hurting me, just subduing me, if for no other reason but to convince me that He could because He had the authority to do so.
Thirdly, He was showing me in His eyes, that although I felt incapacitated, He wasn’t unhappy with me. And truthfully, the more often I experienced Him pressing me into my incapacity, the more I felt He loved me. It didn’t make sense, but there was something in His demeanor toward me that demonstrated to me compassion, mercy and grace.
The Nagging Question Of Justice
And while I experienced this one aspect of peace, that is, that He still loved me even though He was subduing me, and that I didn’t feel He was angry, there was still the nagging tension of the holiness of God and my duty as a believer to live righteously. How could a holy God be ok with unholiness? How could a holy God, in all His justice, still be able to be pleased with one as despicable as me? It was not enough for me to only have a “feeling” that God was ok with me, but I needed to reconcile it with what I knew of His Word. I needed to have a confidence that He was ok with me.
As a born and bred performer in the world of Christianity as a way of earning God’s pleasure, a Pharisee who looked to my obedience to the Laws of God, His mercy overwhelmed me! While I was still struggling with His justice, I felt the only thing I could do to bear up under ALL the incredible shame I felt was to cry out for His mercy! I cried out, “God, I can’t bear up under the burden of your justice! How can you still even look at me???? Have mercy on me a sinner!”
And He told me, “ My mercy is not held captive by your sin or My justice. I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy!” He NEVER told me my sin was righteous; He convinced me that my sin nature had ALREADY left me utterly unrighteous. But He told me, I’d always receive mercy when I asked. His mercy was absolute relief.
Psalm 51:16–17 (NAS): “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
I love Rich Mullin’s song, “Hold Me Jesus.” He sings it this way as a prayer, “You have been my King of GLORY, won’t you be my Prince of PEACE?” In fact, do you remember the Jews rejected their Messiah because He didn’t come to be a victor but to redeem them, to reconcile them to God, to establish a tender loving relationship with them that He could not do until He had buried their sins in the deepest of seas. But they didn’t want that kind of Messiah! They wanted a strong Messiah that would overcome and release them from their suffering. They wanted a Messiah to prove His victorious strength. Sadly, they rejected the Messiah who came to offer them relationship and are still waiting for Him today.
I, too, had seen God as the One who would turn ME into God’s glorious victor, but that left me with no need for His sufficiency; I felt no need for God’s peace when I was strong. I was already sufficient in myself. But what I really needed was the Prince of Peace, acquainted with my insufficiency, to speak peace over me in spite of my weakness and desperation.
When He offered me mercy so readily, so graciously and so kindly, I couldn’t wait to bring Him one more thing, I was DYING to get it off my chest. My honesty! My authenticity! One of my greatest fears was that God could only offer me grace and mercy because I had been able to pull the wool over God’s eyes and He didn’t know really how bad my heart really was.
As great as it is to be offered grace for a seemingly perfect life, I was intensely afraid that God would not be so gracious if He really knew my wretchedness. So, if I was ever going to be able to take comfort in His mercy. I’d have to be convinced that He knew EVERYTHING He was offering me mercy for.
I needed to test our new relationship based on one-way favor. I needed to know whether He would cringe and turn away in disgust if I showed Him all my nakedness and all my wretchedness. You see, I could understand being loved by someone who had the appearance of righteousness, something I had been trying to portray to the world my whole Christian life. What I couldn’t fathom was God offering mercy to one who had NO appearance of righteousness!
I was dying to take off ALL my masks. If I tried to pretend one more moment that I was doing ok, I’d go crazy. I hated the feeling that I was just masking the dirtiness lurking beneath the surface in my depression. I felt like I was prettying myself up with my own ugly rags and hoping God saw them as righteous. But if I had to wear those ugly rags I’d been using to cover up what was inside one more day, I’d go insane. The pretending felt like weights on my ankles dragging me to the ocean floor. My ultimate freedom would only be proven to me if I could be absolutely honest and God would prove to me to be absolutely merciful and gracious. It was “all or nothing.”
Could I trust Him with the truths of my soul? He reminded me, “This isn’t much of an offering, you know. I’ve always known what was in your heart. But thank you for sharing your honest confession.”
Michael Card sings it this way, “Come lift up your sorrows, and offer your pain. Come make a sacrifice of all your shame. There in your wilderness, He’s waiting for you, to worship Him with your wounds, for He’s wounded too.”
What About My Duty?
But there was still that nagging question I couldn’t let go of. “What about MY duty? What will I have to DO myself to be assured of His pleasure with me? What about His justice? It just wasn’t fair for God to be ok with me even with my wretched depravity on display. I couldn’t reconcile my ‘inability to DO’ with what His word demanded that I should do.
God Answers With Truths I Already Knew But Had Long Forgotten
And then it was as if God opened up heaven and sun rays shone down in front of me and angels started to sing…. “Heidi, there is not ONE thing I have asked you to do that either 1) hasn’t ALREADY been done FOR you, or 2) for which I haven’t ALREADY paid for, putting in place a way for my justice to be satisfied! Right now, I don’t want you to do anything. I want to be the One to do for you. I want you to embrace an intimacy with me, where You know my heart and I know yours.
What?!?! But what about ME?What about MY duties? What about the strength I felt when I had the power to not sin? What about the satisfaction I gained from presenting Him with MY righteousness?I felt absolutely devastated because I would never become His Trophy of strength! While He was merciful to me as a poor schmuck, I grieved that I would never be one of His best.
And although I am not claiming to have heard God audibly, that is when I heard him ask me, “Since when has this always been about YOU and your glory? Since when was this about YOUR righteousness? Since when has MY purposes been to help YOU have confidence in your own righteousness?”
You see, I had pre-determined which path I wanted God to use … to glorify Himself in my life. I determined that He would be MOST glorified in the strength of MY character, the strength of MY resolve, and the success of MY living out righteously. While my intentions were all FOR Him, and about Him, my trust and confidence had been in MYSELF to please Him.
Contemplating God’s Answer To me
But what I hadn’t even stopped to consider was, What if He didn’t choose me to be a trophy of His strength? What if had chosen to make me a trophy of His mercy and grace?
What if when He looked down from heaven and pointed me out to the angels, saying, “Do you see that wounded, broken, bleeding lamb down there? She is special; she touches my heart. My other lambs run off and do their thing and I love them. My other lambs are strong. They please me in other ways, win awards at the fair, produce wool and milk for me. But this one…this little runt and I have a very special relationship. She knows how desperately she needs me. I am always finding her out stuck in the thicket, and she’ll cry out to me, and beg me to pick her up. And when I do, she nestles her head into my chest. That is when My heart leaps for joy. For she finds joy in ME.”
What about SHAME?
Then finally, God, in His kindness, showed me what my silly heart had been hiding all along, in this dark place of torment, this depression: Shame. I was ashamed in my depression.
God is a God of JUSTICE!!!! And I couldn’t measure up to His holy standard. (Not now! Not in this terrible affliction of depression.) He is God, I was sure that fairness would demand that He would one day apply justice to my wretched sinfulness. I feared that I would eventually see those eyes of kindness turn to eyes of disappointment. So, I clung to His mercy; I bathed in His mercy, but my mind and heart still needed figure out how I never felt shame in the presence of God.
I kept wondering, “What about the wrath of God? What about the holiness of God? What about the guilt?“ Then, God reminded me that the justice of God didn’t just ignore my sinful depravity, the sacrifice of Christ fully satisfied God’s justice. Justice was already completed on my behalf.
As if the blinders fell off my eyes, it all became very simple. The CROSS. It was the cross!! When Jesus died for me, He forever satisfied the wrath of God on me. He completely paid the penalty of my sin’s guilt. He forgave me all my debts(ALL the debts I’d ever incurred in my past sins, ALL the debts of my current sin, and ALL the debts I’d ever incur for my future sins). He prepaid the cost; he left His credit card on file and said, “She’s gonna rack up a huge bill, but… it’s all paid in full.” He justified me forever.
He reminded me that, choice or not, I was STILL helplessly chained to my sin nature and I’d remain that way. That’s exactly WHY He came to die for me in the first place. Every issue that the justice AND holiness of God required had been satisfied. “There is now therefore NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) And the most wonderful gift of all was that, God took the righteousness of His own son and like a warm, comfy blanket, placed it over my wretchedness, so that when He looked at me, He would always see ONLY Jesus’ righteousness. Praise God, I was redeemed!!!
God’s Grace Covers It All
BUT the final tension… But what about all His commands about righteousness? I was not doing a good job obeying any of them. i wanted to, more than anything, but I couldn’t. I still felt like a failure in God’s eyes! His first answer was…“GRACE, my child! The answer is GRACE!
Some of you may have to chew on this a while… You’ll have to wrestle in the tension of it yourself. Although you have a free will, every good deed and act of righteousness you do was FIRST enabled by God because of a gift of His grace. He plants in our hearts and minds a desire to live righteously. He grants the self-control and the Holy Spirit gives the enabling. But make no mistake, YOUR righteousness first came to you from God who enabled you to live righteously. It is HIS gift of grace that saves you. And it is HIS gift of grace that enables you to resist sinning.
And if, because of illness, or disease, or something I’m not acquainted with, He genuinely doesn’t give you that gift today or tomorrow (say like a retarded child, a diabetic in insulin shock, a demented senior, or a depressed individual), then HE is God. That’s HIS choice. It doesn’t make Him culpable in the committing of sin anymore than allowing a child to be born retarded makes God culpable of that child’s actions or inactions towards or against God.
Second, He saw me in the helpless condition that my illness left me in, but more than my obedience, He wanted relationship. Rich Mullins sings it this way, “I’d rather FIGHT you for something you don’t even WANT than TAKE what YOU give that I NEED.”
Oh! What a treasure in the truth of those words. That was me for 35 years, struggling to offer God my perfect righteousness. I fought Him and fought Him and fought Him for the right and ability to live righteously, to gain His favor, to show forth my holy life. That’s what the whole Christian life is supposed to be about,right? Or is it?
But what I really needed was an intimate relationship with Jesus and peace with my Savior. What He really wanted was for me to embrace His kindness, His compassion and His grace. What He really wanted was for me to recognize that it could only be Christ’s righteousness on my behalf that could ever truly please Him. He wanted me to finally lay down my sword and accept His love for me and for me to love Him back with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, in whatever capacity or incapacity He ordained for me.
When Jesus was asked why He spentso much of His time on earth with the sinners,He told them (Matthew 9:11-13). “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion and NOT sacrifice,’for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
When I first started my journey in depression, I felt like a mess. There was nothing in my Christian paradigm wherein God called a believer to spiritual weakness. You see, before depression, I could usually rely on MY motivation and MY will power to be the catalyst to help me please God.
After depression, my motivation and my heart’s desire were NOT enough and the depression took away any self-control. Before depression, my emotions (feelings of fellowship) would dictate to me whether I believed God loved me or was pleased with me. During depression, there were no feelings of fellowship. I couldn’t see God in my depression.
Before depression came into my life, I’d come to God: “Look, Lord, look what I’ve done or You! And look how righteous I am becoming for you!”So, it was a huge struggle to find a way to come to God at ALL in the state of depression. My upcoming book will fill in the gaps between finding myself in that awful pit to finding peace in the smile of my Savior.
The most difficult thing I’d struggle with for years, was my culpability in my depression. Was I guilty for the way I thought and behaved in my depression or was I a victim of it? Was I just a bad person or was this an illness? I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was sick with a true medical, physiological disorder and that it caused me to act unspritual but could I be culpable for things I did as a result of a depressed condition?
I struggled a long time in this tension, earnestly searching my heart, then fiercely defending my heart, then questioning my heart again. Was it even possible for a child of God who was walking with the Lord, filled with His Spirit, able to become depressed? Didn’t it challenge the very idea that the Holy Spirit, if yielded to Him, would NOT allow me, a believer, to become depressed? Didn’t He promise that His Spirit would always be available to ME both for comfort and for control?
I didn’t find the same tension in the idea of Him allowing me to get sick, or allowing me be killed… but there was something about the connection between the mind and the will …it was nearly unconscionable that the Holy Spirit could not and would not supersede my will by protecting my brain health? Although I recognized His sovereignty in everything else that could ever happen to me, how could He be sovereignly be putting my will and emotions in conflict with His commands, His law, and His desire for my sanctification? What I forgot to realize was that my will and emotions were already at odds with the holiness of God. My righteousness, as good as I had attempted it to be, was still only as good as a filthy rag.
I wrestled with the heart of a God that would require me to do something, (remain yielded to the Spirit, be filled with the fruits of the Spirit, obey all of His commands in His word), then cruelly take from me the very tools that I needed to do what He asked.At times, God felt like a bully who took my homework and held it above my head, and taunted me with my inability to get it back.
Then, I wrestled with His authority. His authority was in direct relation to His ownership of me. But then, I remembered my commitment I had made to Him. “Though He slay me, still I will follow…”…Did I really mean that?Was I really willing to let Him slay me? I felt like Isaac…Yes, I was the sacrifice. God, inconsiderate of how much it would hurt me or the suffering it would cause me, had demanded my life. Would I let go, let my Father bind me and lay me on the altar?
I felt like Job. I wrestled with the tension of Satan possibly being the one to afflict, yet God being the One who signed the permission slip. Don’t you think that if Job was standing within earshot of that heavenly conversation, Job might have leaned over to God and said, “Let’s not bait him. Please, don’t taunt him.” So, was I a victim of Satan, or of God who was trying to prove something that I didn’t understand?
If I was a victim of Satan, what was in my toolbox wherein I could defeat Satan? If it was Satan, then there MUST be something I could do to defeat him. What armor could I fight him with? What was the “trick” to winning this battle against this formidable enemy? However, I despaired as I was incapable of doing anything to fight this.
As I wrestled, I came to the conclusion that although spiritual warfare might be at play, I was NOT, in fact, a victim of Satan. My God did not suddenly become limited. His hand had not become shortened or weak because of this. If I was being afflicted, it was because GOD chose to allow it to happen to me. The choice for me was the same as for Job. I could moan and groan and agonize over my condition, but I WOULD NOT curse God in it. I was His to do with as He pleased, either directly or indirectly.
Unable To Please God
While I was in the “victim of God” mode, I wrestled with whether it was in God’s character to choose to allow anything left me without protection from my own depravity?Was He to blame for making me unrighteous? If obedience to all His commands was what pleased God, then… NOT obeying all His commands MUST mean that my life didn’t please God.Was it kind or good of God to take from me the very thing I needed for ME to please Him? That seemed to me to be the most personally cruel. Yet, the fact remained… whether cruel or not, I was helpless to use this “self-control” tool that had always been mine to use my whole life.
In the past, I knew what I was supposed to do. I determined to do it. I worked hard to do it. And I dug down deep and used self control to make myself do it. When I did what I knew was good and right (“righteous”), I was convinced I pleased God.
But now, I couldn’t do what I thought, in my heart, was good and righteous because I had no self control. I couldn’t work hard at anything. My brain could not just “determine” anything. My brain was numb, lifeless, defenseless. So, I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do. So, I concluded, “I’d never be able to please God again.”
IF this depression was unrighteousness, was I culpable? Was I guilty then or was I a simply a helpless victim in the things I did? Or, could it possibly be that God Himself was culpable for making me unrighteous by taking away His spirit who gave out the gift of self control that I NEEDED to please Him. The moment I’d entertain God being the one to blame, I made a mental decision that I could never entertain that thought anymore! God COULD NOT be capable of causing evil.I was distraught somewhere in between God being culpable and me being culpable.
Heidi, Meet Your Sin Nature Who Lives Inside You!
But God, in His gentle and wise kindness showed me what I was missing. Yes, I was a sinful person. Yes, I had horrible thoughts. Yes, I could behave in despicable ways. But, even though God signed the permission slip for all of it, God wasn’t at fault for what I did. Something inside of me was.
While I didn’t think it was fair that the blame should fall back on me, I still believed,“though You slay me, STILL … I WILL follow.” I could either fight God for what I believed was fair, or I could choose to surrender under the mighty hand of God.
God can do whatever He wants and isn’t limited by anything. I knew there was nothing I could do to change His plans for me. I remembered that God owned me. That was easy to remember when I was in victory mode, but when I was in defeat mode, it was a LOT harder. But, the fact remain, God could take from me whatever He wanted and whenever He wanted, even if it left me drowning in defeat and even when it exposed the unrighteousness in my depraved heart.
Self Control Was Just My Self-righteous Rag
I think that is when God reminded me that although I believed that I had been doing pretty good at this righteousness thing on my own, that, even before my depression, my righteousness was NO more impressive than filthy rags. Ouch! What I had, in fact, BEFORE depression, was a way I thought covered my unrighteousness. My self control was the rag which I believed covered my filth. It was the brakes that slowed down the out of control downward slide. I came to understand that what I was coming to grips with was my own utter depravity.
In fact, as a child of God, wasn’t I at His mercy anyway to have been granted my past self-control in the first place? Hadn’t my self-control, in fact, been His kindness to me rather than MY kindness to Him? Although I was a still a sinner who still sinned, it was only by His grace that I could do anything good for God unless He first gave it to me to be good with. And didn’t He have the authority and the sovereignty to withhold any of His gifts from me, whenever, however, and to whatever extent He chose, ESPECIALLY if I thought those gifts were coming from MY self-righteous heart?
Who Is Left For Me To Trust?
So, that left me staring down the barrel of an utterly depraved mind with utterly depraved thoughts and utterly depraved behavior and my God who was holding the shotgun which was aimed straight at me. He held me captive to my situation by His authority and His sovereignty. It finally dawned on me that my only hope would be His mercy! I had nothing to offer Him! Would He accept me in mercy or turn me away?
Without any other options, that’s when I finally gave in; it would be the mercy of God or I was destined to always be a disappointment to my God. My heart finally screamed, “Jump!Jump into the arms of God.” I didn’t know where it’d land me. I wasn’t sure I’d be safe on the other side. I knew IF my righteousness was what would make him accept me, I was without hope. But what other alternative did I have but to just surrender HIM? Ana Laura sings it this way, speaking from the heart of God,“If you ever fall, just fall into my arms. I would never hurt you. If you’re ever going to trust This heart, I will be there to catch you when you fall.”
What is the first and most important lesson a dog trainer teaches a new puppy or a dog in training? Their first lesson should be teaching the new puppy that there is an alpha in the house and it is you. God was teaching me who was going to be Alpha in His pack. God rolled me onto my back, placed me into a submissive position, put His hand firmly on my chest, pointed His finger at me and said, “Stay!…. Now wait!….”
My eyes searched about my world, “Wait for what? What are we waiting for?What do you want me to do?” With my tail between my legs, I wondered what I POSSIBLY did to make my Master mad at me to inflict me with so much pain. I wrestled in the tension a LONG time, I thought there MUST be something I am supposed to be doing but I couldn’t figure out what I could do. He had already taken the only thing I had that was able to please Him, you know, my self-control. What in the world could I do now, if I couldn’t negotiate with Him, if I couldn’t make Him relent? I couldn’t figure out how to be good FOR Him so I how could I make Him happy?
And yet, while I was in that most desperate position of submission, looking helplessly up at my Master, there was something in the kindness of his eyes. I expected to fear Him. But I didn’t. I found myself hopeful that my obedience in surrenderingwas, in fact, what He wanted of me. Rolling me onto my back wasn’t one of anger or aggression or bullying, it was one of kindness where He smiled and just gently but firmly held me there in a position of submission.
This was God teaching me to BE STILL! It’s so hard to just “be still” when you feel like you are in a fight for your life. He told me “don’t fight back.” He wanted me to succumb to His firm hand. Being still, with no resolution. Being still, with no peace and comfort. Being still and waiting IN the darkness is frightening. Being patient and humbly surrendering to God’s fiery furnace is excruciating.
And then with each depressive episode that tormented me, He’d do it over and over and over again, week after week, month after month. He’d roll me over onto my back in my already desperate state and say “stay.. now wait.”I’d surrender to His firm hand. I’d look into His eyes to see if He was angry but never saw any anger.
I didn’t understand what He was doing, or why He would not relent from doing this. But, He wasn’t hurting me; He was just pinning me down. He was NOT disciplining me for anything I had done, He was resetting the foundation for our relationship. He was boss. I was not. Our relationship would only work if I remembered this most important lesson.
Then, over and over, each time my depression would slowly dissipate, I’d feel him release me and I’d stand back up and tried to go about my life. But, all the while, never understanding what all that, “surrender and wait” stuff was all about. (to be continued)