A friend recently typed out an email addressed to me and a few others, exposing something she was terrified to tell us. Through years of broken family life, multiple children, an abusive relationship with her mom, and a marriage that didn’t meet her romanticized expectations, the truth came hurling out on the lit-up page:
“Friends, I’ve been struggling. I’ve gone to a professional and he’s clarified something. The issues wrapped up in the last five years and my responses to it reveal that I probably struggle with… well, depression.“
As I finished her email, I could all but see her shoulders slumped, ashamed, and afraid. I could hear the lies whirling around in her head:
What good Christian woman struggles with the d-word? Isn’t that something really messed up people have? What’s wrong with me?
I’m no professional, but I’ve had dark seasons, too. So I did what I know to do: I wrote her a letter. She later encouraged me to share it on my blog, so here goes. (Also, I’ve changed my friend’s name to Samantha for privacy purposes).
Sam, I’m so thankful you wrote this letter to us. I know it was impossible to do and probably felt so scary. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! I have dealt on and off with strange seasons as well. I also fear FOR MY LIFE (like a lot of people) that I’ll end up with serious addition issues or mental/manic episodes that run in my family.
Here’s a few things I’m thinking just to give you some hope, though I know they don’t “solve” anything. Know that I don’t expect to put a theological band-aid on a gushing wound. But sometimes reading through some hopeful things just helps on dark days:
1. You’re living with this in the BEST time possible.
You live in a time where the stigma of “counseling” has subsided, or at least it’s starting to. Fortune is in your favor when it comes to the time period you live in. Good counseling services were nonexistent even 50 years ago. They were mainly for the “crazy people” and their advice was filled with a whole lot of quick fixes instead of true soul-work.
While God has placed you in a struggle you freaking hate (and I feel you on that), he’s placed you in a space and time that allows you to deal with it better than any other time in history. We know more about the brain and the emotional capacities of humans than we’ve ever known before and the CHURCH is finally saying more than just “pray” about it. God has given you good resources even admist the battle, which he has not always granted to those who have gone before you.
2. You’re not alone NOW.
After seeing Brad Hambrick for a bit, I learned that SO MANY PEOPLE in the church have all sorts of issues. When it comes to our physical ailments, we know what to call them—a sinus infection, a headache, a rotator cuff tear, joint pain, etc. We know that the Fall brought death and disease and physical ailments into the world; those don’t freak us out. But we forget that our emotional and mental ailments, due to the Fall, are just as common! Our brains and emotions break down as regularly as our bodies! We simply haven’t known what to call all of them until recently.
So you’re not a freak. While there’s still some cynicism toward mental and emotional health, there are so many people dealing with the same things that you are.
3. You’re not alone THEN (biblically speaking).
This has been so helpful: while at seminary I’ve learned that BIBLICAL characters dealt with what looked like depression, they just didn’t have the words for it. There are a few examples in Job and David, but my favorite is Elijah, one of even Jesus’ favorite prophets. Why?
Because he wasn’t just sad during hard seasons. He went into manic suicidal thoughts when ministry and life failed him. 1 Kings 19:4 says he wanted God to kill him. He wanted to die, seriously– why? Because he was “no better than my fathers,” those who had gone before him and been crazy emotionally and spiritually. He was scared that he was or would be just like them. Sound familiar?!
This verse gives me so much hope!!! I am scared of exactly what Elijah was scared of — that I’m no better than those who have come before me. That I’ll be just like them. If a chosen PROPHET can struggle here, I am certainly allowed to as well. The same goes for you.
4. You’re not alone in CHRISTIAN HISTORY.
In Christian history, there are a TON of church fathers and theologians who seriously suffered with depression. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Soren Kierkegaard, Adolf Schlatter, Rudolf Otto, and Paul Tillich to name a few. And these are just the ones we know about. If these masterminds have struggled in grey seasons, you do not have to hide in shame. Sam. With depression, you feel trapped in a horrible room, it’s true. But remember God has given you a history of good company.
5. Your GOAL matters.
I’m no counselor, but I know one thing: when I focus on the “removal of certain symptoms,” I get nowhere. But if my goal is being more like Jesus (as annoying as that sounds right now), I can get somewhere.
I obviously want your “symptoms” to go away. I want relief for you. I want the darkness to lift off of you and never return. I pray for it and beg God to move.
But the good news in our faith is that is never the real goal anyway. In that way, you’re not “failing.”
You’re finally seeing something that has eaten away at your family like cancer, putting a name on it, and dragging it into the light. That always sounds pretty on paper or in a “testimony,” but the real-life of dragging that kind of [manure] into the light is messy.
Listen, Satan hates you for this because his work has been in secret (and successful) thus far. You have busted the lid open on his whole operation in your family, so it makes sense that he’s pissed and wants to stop you. Why do you think the minute you finally felt relief to put a name on all this crap, immediate FEAR set in that you’ll be just like your mom?
Sam. You brought a generations-long, hidden attack into the light. Now that his cover his blown, Evil will come at your family another way, namely, FEAR. Well, now that she knows what’s really going on, I’ll have to just freak her out so she won’t really attack it.
Evil wants to convince you that there’s no way to break this cycle and that you’re not really fit to handle any of this because you’re just as broken and incompetent. The best way to fight the evil thoughts?
Agree with them.
I know that sounds strange, but hear me out.
You aren’t fit to change something this huge. You’re just the one in your long family line that God chose to reach his hand in and change things. God wanted to expose these generational issues and he chose your life to do his exposing and healing work.
So yes, you are broken when it comes to all this stuff. You feel weak right now because you are weak right now. You really aren’t fit to handle this all on your own.
But here’s the best part: you know the God who is fit and big enough to heal something this ugly and deep-rooted, even if you hate that God right now. It was never supposed to be on you to change all of this. Only divine shoulders are big enough for this kind of stuff.
Broken people with broken families in broken systems can’t fix everything.
But God is not broken. He’s not incompetent. He’s not weak. He’s strong and he’s aware and he’s powerful and he’s right here fighting for us. He is not uprooting all this pain without a purpose. He’s got a plan to heal this.
And listen, that God is on your side and in your corner. How do I know that? Psalm 56:11, Psalm 118:6; Hebrews 13:6, and Romans 8:31-32 tell you so. Don’t forget it.
He wants the ugly brought into the light and taken care of. He doesn’t want you living out cycles of unhealthiness and he’ll do whatever it takes to rip open a poorly-healed wound so he can dress it properly. What can anyone—your mother or even Satan himself—do to you when God’s healing hand us upon you?
God’s work in this sort of season will be, for a moment, unsightly and unbearable. In a word, ugly. Healing work always is. It will cause wrenching pain. But it will heal you properly in the end. Trust me.
I’m angry at God right now, too, to tell you the truth. Lots going on personally, but we can chat about that later. Last night my prayer may end up being similar to yours:
God I hate this. I hate that you’re doing this. I’m so frustrated and mad at you. But you’re the only one who can change it. You’re the only one I can go to about it. There’s no one else to go to who can do anything about this. So I’ll ask. I’m weary and confused and Ihate you for making this my story, but I’m asking.
Sam, alone, you can’t change. Neither can I. Alone, we can’t do anything. Satan has told you a half-truth in some regard (as he usually mixes truth with lies). You are helpless against a decades-long fight that Evil has been winning in your family.
You’re out of your league.
But there’s the other side of the truth he purposefully left out:
You’re not alone.
You’ve got friends on your side. You’ve got Christian history on your side–the faithful who have gone before you and fought this battle, too. You’ve got historical characters from the Bible on your side! Goodness, you’ve got God himself on your side!
Evil can mess with you when you believe you’re alone. But, Sam, look at the assembly surrounding you. Evil can’t win against that.
Maybe this is the whole point, seeing that you’re out of your league. Maybe God will show you slowly, as he’s showing me, that you belong to a bigger league, a healing league, a different league entirely, don’t you?
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