The other day I was having dinner with a friend; and as we were talking about my recent blog posts he asked, "so how does your faith fit into all of this?"
To be honest, staying faithful to God has not been the easiest through all of this. A lot of questions. A lot of assumptions. And a lot of anger towards Him. I would stay up late asking “God, why would you let things get so bad? If you really loved me the way you say you do, you wouldn’t let things get so bad.” But things were bad. And I couldn't understand why.
As embarrassed as I am to say this, I kind of gave up on Him. He wasn’t doing what I wanted Him to do, so I said “forget you” and turned my back on Him. The problem was that living without God meant that every morsel of hope was gone. It was during that time that I tried to kill myself.
What still gets to me is that, through it all, He wouldn’t let me die. Suicide failed and He rushed His community to my side to get me back on my feet. I was surrounded by His relentless, unconditional, and reckless love.
But I was still angry. I cried “Why won’t you just let me die? There is no way any good could possibly come from this. Just kill me. Please.”
He responded, “Because Jonathan, I have big plans for you.”
I still get the chills thinking about that moment. I can’t describe it. Even now, thinking about it, I’m starting to tear up (if you know me you know this is a big deal because I rarely ever cry).
That was the turning point for me. The moment when my dark, cold, lonely world was flooded with warm light. For what I was going through at the time, it doesn’t make much logical, human sense, but I had complete and utter confidence in what He said. He reminded me that there is nothing about me that He can’t use. I mean, He used Moses, a guy with a fear of public speaking, to be the voice of the people of Israel. The trait should’ve disqualified Moses from getting the gig, was what got him the gig. I’m sure there were probably tons of Israelites that were great public speakers–but God chose Moses. He chose to use someone with a weakness that would show His power and glorify Him. So really, there is no reason why God can’t do that with my depression.
I think that God’s ability to use me because of this disease takes much more power than if He had listened to me and just took it away. It’s still hard for me to believe, but I know God can and is using me despite my weakness.
Unfortunately, many Christians are not as confident in this. Many believe the lie that God can’t use people because of their struggles–especially those with mental health problems. And I think the church can help foster this thought.
I read an article where the author was talking about how, while he was in seminary, two pastors committed suicide because they couldn’t imagine living with depression and anxiety. “Both suffered with the affliction in silence. One wrote in his suicide note that if a minister tells anyone about his depression, he will lose his ministry, because nobody wants to be pastored by a damaged person.”
That is a lie. We are all broken–pastors and prostitutes alike. With Christ, ‘damaged’ does not mean ‘useless.’
However, I don’t think the Christian church is as comfortable with that when it comes to mental health disorders.
I think Christians can be some of the worst at sympathizing with depression and anxiety. Definitely not all. Remember, it was the guys in my small group that were there for me the most. What I mean is that Christians don’t really know what to do with people like me. They over-spiritualize it and take something that crosses physical, psychological, and spiritual boundaries and try to simplify it to just a spiritual issue or just reduce it to a sin. They try to rationalize it as a “test from God” or they only focus on the sinful aspects of it. Which isn’t terribly helpful. Sometimes we are too quick to find a cause or a quick “cure.” A friend of mine “came out” as depressed to some of her closest friends and talked about her struggle with self-harm only to be attacked with, “Cutting is a sin. You need to stop now.” I don’t think Jesus would react this way. They reacted with rules instead of love. God does not use guilt to change our actions. That’s the beauty of the Gospel. It’s his love that motivates our obedience to him. So really, Christians should be the best people to be around people with depression. We have experienced the joy and comfort in God’s unconditional love for us–and that’s the joy and comfort depressed people like me need.
As Christians, many times we don’t know how to simply sit with people in sadness, much less know how to take their hand and walk with them through it.
It's hard for Christians to understand clinical depression because it's not caused by a specific, sinful act. Instead, it's evidence that we live in a broken world. Depression may not be your fault, but a sign that this world is fallen–not a sign of personal sin, but that we all have sinned.
I still struggle with the question “If God made me perfectly, the way He wanted, then why do I have depression?” I think my friend Shelly has the best answer:
“It would be foolish of me to think we could ever help those who are hurting without experiencing hurt ourselves…To live I life of authentic faith that experiences God intimately in the midst of joy and trials, so that the God who is present can use us as broken vessels to set captives free…I would rather suffer and live a life leading others to freedom than to live a life of comfort blinded in captivity. There are days I consider recanting that statement but in my heart of hearts I know it’s worth it. It’s worth it because Jesus suffered and died in order to set us free. He is our hope…I firmly believe that we can rest assured that God will remain faithful, constant, and good. He will carry out His perfect will for us which though at times is painful, it’s truly what we need. This is the hope I’m fighting to cling to and I hope I pray I can lead others to. That we can depend and rest in God’s perfect character even when He chooses not to act according to our desires. His grace is not always painless but it will always lead to freedom.”
I am a broken vessel. But that’s what God needs. And my brokeness glorifies Him and reveals His power. You don’t have to thank God for the pain–that doesn’t make sense. But thank God in the pain. Thank Him for anything and everything. Thank Him for a green light on the way to work, for waking up on time, for a complement received, for the things He will do. Focus on His goodness. Think on what He loves about you–how He made you exactly the way He wanted you. Appreciate that God loves everything He made about you.
Only in Christ can we be in a circumstance of despair and still have joy.
And that’s why I’m still here.