“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” Hosea 2:15
This verse came via email to me today like shade in the hot Arizona sun. I used to tolerate the heat in Arizona pretty well, but as the years have gone by, I haven’t grown more accustom to the heat, I’ve grown more intolerant of it.
Hope seems a long way off these days. Coming around the calendar again my body remembers the fiery trials like the heat of summer and seems to wither in its sting rather than stand weathered and resistant.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fullfilled is the tree of life.” the wise man wrote. It’s hard to dream when hope seems to keep getting pushed away by the hot troubles of life. I noticed today that I don’t dream much. I don’t aspire to hopeful things, beautiful things. I would say I feel like the Psalmist, weaned, not thinking about things too high for me. But the reality is I feel like a sick child, tired, curled up fetal trying to sleep away the hard things.
There’s only one way to escape the heat of summer- get in the shade.
I find it hard to dream, but like Elijah, I can hunker down some place and give up. Yet, even there I find the Lord comes nourishing my weak flesh, letting me rest, and giving me what I need to keep going.
Sometimes all you can do is find a place to hide with God’s word and cry. Sometimes that’s all you need to do.
Hope that keeps being put aside does make the heart sick. But when you look to Jesus, the sick heart is shaded by a reviving hope in the heat of trouble. Is your heart sick? Does hope seem to evade you? Look to Jesus. His wings are big enough to shade you from the heat and feed you hope in the very place where trouble beats down.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in Romans 4:16-17 where it says, “…to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations;- in the presence of God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told…”
I struggle with depression. I don’t always feel like laughing or even smiling. I hear the hopeless thoughts and know what the psalmist meant when he said he pleaded for God to let him hear his voice so he didn’t become like a dead man (Psalm 143:7). The circumstances of our lives can often send us the same message Abraham and Sarah got from their circumstances, “We’re as good as dead!” God gave them an outrageous promise. He said they would have a child when they were obviously too old to do so. God’s promise was impossible in their circumstances. And just as Abraham and Sarah were promised the impossible, we too are promised something that just can’t be in our physical, mental and spiritual condition.
Abraham and Sarah both laughed at the thought that God would give them a child in their old age. Surely they laughed at the scandal of the idea. When I face the impossibility of the promises God has made to me in Christ, my first inclination is not to laugh. It’s to do what Sarah did- doubt and try to do the best I can with what I have and end up with lots of Ishmaels in my life; lots of self-made ways to try and be what only God can make me in Christ. And then when I find myself in the mess I’ve made, like Sarah I’m angry and depressed. I forget what God promised. But when I remember, when I see Christ in the scriptures, in the church, in my life, there is something in me that just wants to laugh.
Proverbs 31:25 says of the woman who fears the Lord, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.”
I used to read that and think, “How can she laugh? There are so many bad things. So many hard things. So much death. So much isn’t right in the world or in my life, how can I be a woman who fears the Lord and laughs at the future?” I had this idea that her laughter was a mocking victorious laughter. A sort of, “Haha! Give me your best shot future! I’ve got this!” But as I read about Sarah and Abraham and the laughter that came out of them at Isaac’s birth, I think this laughing at the time to come is an unexplained joy we feel when we believe God, despite all the impossible circumstances in our lives that seem to say there’s no way God can make me like Jesus and make all things right and destroy evil, sin and death. God is doing what he promised in us!
There is no way we can make the things God promises come to pass. But just as God promised and gave Isaac to as-good-as-dead Abraham and Sarah, he will make us who feel the weight of sin and death in our bodies, who were once dead apart from Christ- he will and is making us free (John 8:36), alive (Ephesians 2:5) and whole (2 Timothy 3:17) because he’s given us Jesus. He will finish what he’s started in us (Philippians 1:6). He will make all things new (Galatians 21:5). And we will reign with him forever (2 Timothy 2:12)!
In March, Fathom Mag published an article I wrote about my own struggle to concede my need for an anti-depressant. A wise pastor and friend helped me to see that medication was not an alternative to provision from God. It was a provision from God.
I’ve been taking Prozac for a couple years now and it has helped me function at a more healthy level. But my depression didn’t go away with antidepressants. I still wake up feeling somewhere on a scale between numb to hopeless for no apparent reason. Some seasons of depression the darkness is thick and paralyzing. Sometimes, despite it’s disorienting fog, I can still hear the birds and walk step by step in the light I have. Medication and counseling have both helped me function through times of depression. But nothing has re-lit the smoldering ash pile in my heart like God’s word.
We Are Not Just Souls
We are not just souls. We are bodies too. The gnostics believe in transcending the body to reach a higher deified goodness too good for all things physical. But Christians don’t, or shouldn’t believe that. Although I think we often do, which is part of the reason why I’m not the only Christian who’s had a hard time accepting medications for help with a mental health problem.
We believe in a risen Christ. He isn’t floating around in some etherealexistence. He has a body. A scarred body. And we believe we too will be raised into an ever-living body like his. Our God dwelt among us in a body. He ate, slept, suffered and died. And he walked on physical, resurrected feet out of a sealed tomb.
We Are Not Just Bodies
Just as we are physical, we are also spiritual beings. We need food and water and sometimes medication. But we also need God. We need his word. We need to hear him and talk with him. We need relationship with him.
Prozac has helped my physical need for serotonin. But God’s word has been my rock when, despite the medication, my world feels like sinking sand. God’s word has been the light I know is there even though I can’t see it. God’s word has been my hope when I feel numb. God’s promises have been my assurance when I feel alone. God’s word has given me words, fruit of lips as it were, so I can praise my Redeemer when I feel blank. My feelings will never match the worth of Jesus, so even when I feel nothing, when I speak God’s word out loud, I acknowledge the truth with my broken body and spirit.
When Jesus, hungry from 40 days of fasting, was tempted, he didn’t say, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” because we’re not supposed to eat. Jesus went on to eat bread, but he depended upon God’s word to overcome the spiritual testing he was going through. And in this life, full of testings of our faith, depression being one of them, we need food, and sometimes Prozac. But we cannot counter the temptation to give into faithlessness with antidepressants alone. Just as we need food for our bodies, and may need antidepressants for our ill brains, we need God’s word to withstand the temptation to let depression win.
There are many passages of scripture that are helpful in depression. But here are four key passages I recall and repeat when I find myself in it’s fog.
1. Psalm 42. The whole chapter is helpful, but particularly these words:
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
When I’m depressed this psalm forces me to question myself and preach to myself. Sometimes it’s all I can say. And between the question I ask my soul and the answer I tell myself I am helped to press on in the fog.
2. Romans 8: 28-39 All ten verses… but these clips really spark a flame of hope in me.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
There is so much help here. These words stare depression in the face and say, “Do what you will, but you only serve her. She’ll conquer you. Because she’s mine. Christ died for her, and lives for her. Nothing, not even your poison, can separate her from my love.”
3. Micah 7:8-9
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication.
Depression is not sin. But I am a sinner. Depression is not a form of God’s indignation I’m made to bear. But my brokenness, the world’s brokenness, including depression, is all the result of sin in God’s image bearers. When I sit in the deep darkness of depression I can remind myself, and my enemy, that Christ is my light. And one day I’ll be free from this darkness and see his vindication.
4. Psalm 143. Again, the whole thing. But these words are poignant.
Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit. Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
This is the prayer of the depressed. God has given me something to pray when I can’t smith together a petition of words. This says exactly how I feel when depression comes- like those who go down to the pit. And this helps me remember what I need even more than medication- to hear the word of God. To hear him say, “I love you.”
Depression, in my family, is inherited along with steely blue eyes, long limbs and a weak chin. It’s something I write about not infrequently. But I’m not always depressed. With the help of medication and intentional acts of setting my mind on things good, true and lovely, as God’s word so wisely instructs, I have lots of good days.
I don’t know if you live with depression or some other hard thing in life, but I hope you can find something lovely to think on today. Here are 5 for you to consider:
#1 The Sunflower
I picked up a bunch at my local grocery store today. A $3.99 pleasure. I grew a red sunflowers one summer here at our place. They were amazing. I can’t help but feel a pinch of brightness and upliftedness when I look at a sunflower. I’m glad God made them.
I can avoid donuts and candy for a long time if there’s a bowl of fresh, ripe blueberries around. This time of year they’re on sale at our local grocer. Their deep blue make nostalgic for a my imaginary country home. Their snap of crisp, tangy sweetness satisfy my need for crunch and sweet. And they’re full of those cancer fighters- antioxidants.
#3 Peaches and Cream- Whole30 Style
My husband and I are 21 days into our Whole30. We’ve done this before and have always felt better afterwards. But the last time we did a Whole30 there were no Nut Pods French Vanilla Creamers! This nut based creamer poured over a freshly cut summer peach is utter delight. Get some. Try it. You’ll agree its wonderful.
#4 Bullet Journal
I discovered the Bullet Journal about a month ago and it’s hands down the best thing that’s happened to me since switching to a French Press (which is another very lovely thing).
I’m almost always thinking of something I want to write down, or need to get, or a person to call, or an email to respond to, etc. And thus far in my life I’ve managed to get those things done and organized without forgetting. But enter my smartphone dependence at age 44- I think my brain has atrophied in the remember-things-for-yourself-and-slow-down department.
There’s a whole following for bullet journals (#BuJo) and people make pretty ones that are basically works of art. Mine’s just your basic bullet journal. And I love it. Need to get more Nut Pods- bullet journal. Remember while your driving that you want to write a letter to your mom on Sunday- use Siri on bluetooth to write a note and put it in your bullet journal when you get home or pull over (don’t write while you drive).
Seriously. If you’re forgetful, do better with lists but keep loosing the little sheets of paper you write on and want to look back and keep current on what’s going on in your life- get a bullet journal!
#5 The Next Right Thing Podcast with Emily P. Freeman
If you have iTunes you can get it here. Or you can go to her website and get it here. But either way, as Emily puts it, if you would call yourself a second-guesser, a chronically hesitant person or one who suffers with decision fatigue, this podcast is a very lovely thing. Emily’s voice is melodic and relaxing. She starts with a reading of scripture and a short meditation and then moves on to the content of her podcast which is very practical and reassuring. You should go listen to her latest “Receive” series episode called “Receive Shadows and Light” now.
May your countenance be lifted by these lovely things. And may you join with other sojourners this weekend to adore the One who makes all things new.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I’ve been struggling since Thursday when we left the lodge at Hannagan Meadow. I thought I was just bummed because we were leaving, but the heavy sadness in my face and chest hasn’t left since Thursday. I’ve been irritable, tired, on the verge of tears and numb. It’s depression. I hate it.
I hate it that my husband and kids ask, “What’s wrong?” because they say I’m acting strange. I hate it that I’m crying with my kids in the car and have to tell them why… and there is no good reason. I hate that I go to church and spend most of the service praying, “God please let me feel something! Please restore the joy of my salvation!” I hate it that people at church greet me with, “Hi Sheila, how’s it going?” And I automatically respond, “Fine. Thanks,” and hope they don’t inquire more. I hate it that I hide in the bathroom with my hands in my face because I just don’t want to talk to anyone. I hate it that I know the lady sitting next to me is going through hard things and I feel so empty. I want to reach out to her, but feel like I have nothing to give.
It’s depression and I hate it. I hate writing about it. I don’t want to write about it.
But one thing I’ve found to be true: If I bring depression out into the light, if I talk about it, write about, not try to hide it, it becomes my servant and not my master.
Yesterday, the tears hit while I was in the car with my boys. I was staring blankly out the window, the uneasy feeling of nothing matters heavy behind my eyes. Aware that my sons were there in the silence and were silent too. Probably feeling like something’s wrong. I didn’t want them to have to bear the heaviness of their mom’s heaviness so I grabbed my depression by the hand and drug her out into the light.
“Guys, I just want you to know I’m feeling sad the past few days, and I don’t really know why except this happens to me sometimes. It’s just depression. It shows up and I don’t like it and it makes me feel blah and irritable and down in the dumps and sad and I start crying really easy and I just want you guys to know it’s not you. It’s not your fault. It’s not because of you that I feel this way. It’s just a struggle your mom has and God is using even this to make me more like Jesus.”
“Ok mom.” They said in an understanding voice.
I don’t know why so many people experience depression. I’m sure it’s a combination of our sin and other people’s sin and the decomposing world we live in. But it’s a reality. And the more I try to pretend it’s not real and not a struggle, the more I feel ashamed about it and the more it has it’s hold on me. But when I bring it out into the light of the internet, or in a conversation, it looses it’s grip. In the light, I can look at depression through the eyes of my good and sovereign God and see how it’s serving to make me cling to Jesus, be vulnerable with others and have compassion on people with mental illness.
Mental illness effects everyone. If you’re like I was, you might think it doesn’t effect you and you might wonder why I don’t just pull myself up by the bootstraps and press on. I have felt that way many times. And some days I can preach myself right out of a pit. But when depression has hold of me there are no bootstraps to grab. Only light to shine.
I can’t pull myself up, but I can say here on my blog- I’m struggling. I can tell my kids, “Mom’s sad and it’s not your fault.” I can tell the lady at church, “I’m tired.” I can stop hiding this unwanted companion’s presence in my life.
I didn’t want to write about depression today. I wanted to write some uplifting, encouraging message for someone. But maybe someone needs to hear someone else say, stop hiding. Grab depression by the hand and drag her out into the light. Even if she has to come with tears and awkward confessions of, “I’m struggling.” In the light her hopeless whispers may not completely go away, but there in the light, to your need and mine truth can be spoken. In the light we can hear, “Hope in God.”
Christ is a great hope for people who live with depression. And even on days like today when I feel numb, I still go to Christ for life and hope. I still pick up that torn bread and juice of crushed fruit and long for the new life he who walked through hell for me is bringing.
If you’re reading this and you walk a road mostly darkened by depression, I pray you’ll turn to the Man of Sorrows with me. He is our hope. He knows our pain. His words are life. He is with us. We are not alone.
‘ He uncovers the deeps out of darkness and brings deep darkness to light.’ Job 12:22
“…even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Psalms 139:12
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Romans 8:37-39
That old familiar fog started setting in yesterday. Fog is the most tangible comparison I know of for what depression feels like. Life is going along just fine and suddenly like a thick fog at ground level, the kind that happened in Oregon where I grew up, depression sets in. You can’t see the hope that compelled you, a day, an hour before. You have to slow down to a snail’s pace and fight the urge to pull over, putting the brakes on life.
I’ve found when that uneasy disdain, sense of hopelessness and vision-choking fatigue creep in, these things help me to pass through the fog of depression and not just stop everything.
Exercise. Even if that means going for a walk, but preferably, hard, heart-pumping exercises. I’m not a fitness guru, but there’s no doubt that exercise helps people with depression. It helps everyone, but when you’re depressed, exercise produces endorphins which act like a built in dose of prozac for the human body. God knew what he was doing when he made us that way. It’s good to exercise, even if all you can muster is a walk down the street. Sometimes just walking outside in my yard makes me feel better. But I’ve found when I make myself go to the gym, and I do some heart-pumping workout, I leave the gym feeling like the fog has cleared, and I might make it through the day.
I talk to myself. And that’s not a crazy thing to do. It’s actually what we all do all the time. We tell ourselves messages without saying them out loud. But when I feel depressed, the voice in my head doesn’t have anything hopeful to say. So I’ve found when I take the Psalms, which are full of struggles with fear, anger, depression, sadness, hopelessness, grief…all the stuff we all deal with, and I open my mouth to say aloud, “Why so downcast oh my soul? Put your hope in God!” some light shines through the fog. The poisonous lies of depression’s hopelessness need to be countered with an out-loud challenge to hope in God. A lot of times when I start feeling depressed it’s because I’ve had hope in someone, or some circumstance, that failed to meet my expectations. The lie of depression is that there is no hope because… fill in the blank. But the truth is God will never abandon me. He will always work all things, even depression, for my good to conform me to the image of his son. I need to preach that message out loud to myself and send Wormwood’s dulling whispers to their place.
Sing or play music. I’m not a good singer and certainly when I’m depressed I don’t feel like singing. But the times when I’ve closed my eyes, squeezed the tears that barely want to fall, and started singing an old hymn such as It Is Well With My Soul, or Great Is Thy Faithfulness, the tears are freed to flow and the lament of my heart wells up into praise of the One who has all things under control and cares very much about me. And when I can’t even open my mouth for the heaviness upon me, sometimes I’ll play the tracks of those hymns on my phone and let the tears fall.
And if you don’t feel like you can do any of those things, maybe reading this you’ll at lease be able to mouth, “Amen.” You’re not a lone.
Lord hear our silence, see our state and visit us with light and hope in Christ.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.’
If I was one of the disciples who followed Jesus while he walked on this planet, I would have been one he looked at and said, “Oh ye of little faith. Why do you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31, 6:30, 8:26, 16:8, 17:20).
My faith-relationship with this Jesus I’ve never seen but love (1 Peter 1:8), is overwhelmingly more held together by Jesus than it is by me. In fact, it’s totally held together by Jesus. If he let go, I would fall deep into the waters of unbelief and drown.
But he has me. Me of little faith. He has me like he had Peter. And like Peter I look at this Jesus in the Bible, out there walking on the stormy waters of my life, in total control, bringing me peace in the midst of my turmoil, building up our relationship by increasing my trust in him, and I get a rush of faith. I believe him. I know that I know that I know that he’s got this. I trust him so much in those moments that I ask him to let me walk out there with him, in the miraculous place of not be ruled by my circumstances.
He smiles. Glad I asked. Says, “Come out here daughter!”
I climb out of my safe little boat- sleeping in, to-do lists, schedules, meal plans, exercise routines, Bible devos…all the things I do to try and keep some order and safety in the midst of the troubling waters that threaten to destroy. Those dark waves of depression, hard marriage, challenging teenagers, pressures from outside and pressures from within engulf me. All the time. And it’s good to have a boat to keep those things from ruining. But it’s even better to walk where Jesus is, with all that threatens under his feet.
I start making my way to Jesus. I choose prayer over a little extra sleep. I choose meditations on scripture before I plow into my to-do list. I choose words of life over criticism and jabs when I feel hurt. But most days, just a few seconds into those steps of faith I realize, “I’m walking on water! I’m trusting in someone I have no control over!” And I start to doubt. “He might let me sink! I can’t handle all these hopeless attacks that come with depression. I can’t make my husband love Jesus with me. I can’t make my sons want to follow Jesus for themselves. I can’t handle all these pressures in life…. I can’t!” And just like that, I’m under water, struggling to come up for air.
Disoriented by the waves of my hopeless, unbelieving thoughts, I kick my legs, push water with my arms, trying with all my might to find my way to the surface. And there I feel his warm, strong hand in the cold, violent waters grabbing my flailing arms, pulling me with his steady strength to the surface. There, drenched in unbelief, I cling grateful to this Jesus I’ve never seen.
The metaphor of me, walking on water with Jesus, and sinking in fear and doubt, plays out in my day to day.
The other day, I woke up late after working three long twelve hour shifts at the hospital, hurried to wake my teenage son, and went about my morning routine at a faster clip. In thirty minutes or less I read the Bible verse of the day on my phone, made my son a quick breakfast to-go, slipped on some shoes and drove him to school in the dark. We drove in silence while I prayed for words of life to speak to my strong-willed son who’s been resisting boundaries since he found out how to escape his crib at 11 months of age. None came to mind.
We pulled up in silence to the high-school at the coldest point in the morning, when the sun’s light just begins to drive out the darkness. “Ok, I’ll see you this afternoon at your game son. I love you.” He mumbled, “Thanks mom” climbed out of the car, threw his backpack over his shoulder and made his way into the institution that will not teach him about this Jesus I’ve never seen but love. I sighed a pleading prayer and started driving home.
On my way back home burning tears welled up, my throat tightened, I felt like I couldn’t breath. I was sinking. “How will he ever believe?! What if he never believes?! Why can’t I think of any life-giving things to say to him? I’m doing nothing for him…” And then I felt the strong grip of God’s faithfulness yank me out of my faithlessness. The remembrance of God’s sovereignty in the stories of Joseph’s betrayal, Moses’ call, Ruth’s redemption, Daniel’s answered prayers… and Peter’s restoration came to mind. And my tears flowed with thankfulness. This Jesus I’ve never seen whispered to my heart, “Oh you of little faith. Why do you doubt? Remember who I am. Remember what I’ve done.”
“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you out of slavery to your sin. I am the one that made you able to want me in the first place. I am the one who gave life to your body and made you born from above. I am the one who took out your heart of stone and gave you a tender heart to love me. I am the one who teaches you and guides you and will never leave you or forsake you. I am the one who began this good work in you and I will be faithful to complete it. I am the one who invites you to bring your children to me. I am the one hears your prayers and gives good gifts. I am God. Nothing is impossible for me!”
This is everyday real life for me as a Christian. I heard the old old story. I believed it. And now everyday I go about my daily life with a heart that beats with tender-love for this Jesus I’ve never seen, and the people he’s put around me. But I forget so easily what He’s done for me. I forget that He’s the one who made my hope in him possible in the first place. And I start to sink. Even still I’ve found he’s always there, pulling me out of death into life, over and over and over again. This history I have with this Jesus I’ve never seen but love is proving to me that not only did I believe in him in the first place because he miraculously gave me a heart to have affections for him, but every day I will only continue to believe in him because his strong arm is holding me.
Jesus saved me. He saves me daily. He’s my hope for waking up tomorrow and still trusting him. He’s my hope for the human-impossibility that my husband and sons will see his worth and love him. For with us it’s impossible. But with God, nothing will be impossible. He will keep holding our relationship together until I see him one day face to face. And then, oh finally then, I’ll never sink in the waters of unbelief again.