In an ideal world, I endure suffering with grace and dignity, clinging to the Lord, quietly strong in my faith, exuding peace and composure even when faced with the hardest things. I am a poster child for how faith can help weather difficult times.
In reality, my suffering is ugly. I’m mean. I struggle with doubt and say sarcastic things to God and about God. I shut myself off from people and I shut people out. I scream and hit and cry angry tears. Sometimes I just feel numb. Sometimes I drink too much. Sometimes I eat too much. Sometimes I don’t eat enough. One thing is true – I’m no Mother Teresa.
But one other important thing is also true.
I’m willing to keep fighting, and I want to learn to do it better.
With every new therapist, I add to my bag of tricks. I learn new methods of identifying the onset and understanding the triggers, new ways of coping and managing and reaching out sooner. I am so grateful for my many talented counselors and psychiatrists over the years, for the hours of therapy and for the drugs that made living more possible. But a couple of years ago I started to want something different.
I wanted to know what difference God made in all of this. I wondered, Where is God in my depression? How do I live with this illness and not turn away from God?
Ed Welch’s book Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness is helping me to answer these questions, and to see how God is working in suffering. I am learning new things, not just about my own suffering, but also about God. (By the way, read my first post about Welch’s book, if you haven’t already.) Welch asks:
What is God’s role in depression?
Now if you are like me, a part of your brain is screaming at you right now, and it’s saying something like this: But I thought God was a good God. How can He be good and also allow suffering? How can he play a role in suffering? What’s the value in suffering?
The value in suffering is that it can teach us about ourselves – about our own hearts.
Throughout history, God has used hardships to reveal people’s hearts, and this unveiling has had a purpose. . . It is an essential part of the process of change. You have to see what is in your heart before you can set out to change it.
I love that last line. You have to know what you’ve got – and what’s wrong with it – before you can work on changing it. Have you ever seen a part of yourself that you didn’t like – and wanted to change it? Suffering helps us to see these bad parts more clearly.
Depression is terrible. It is an illness. The brains of people who suffer from clinical depression are different from those who are healthy. I believe these things. But I also see that hardship – and depression – can show us what we value, what we
trust, what we think we need. When I lash out in white-hot anger, that anger reveals something to me about my heart.
One counselor described it this way: “It’s like the temperature gauge in your car,” she said calmly one morning. “If you see it rising, the needle going up, up, up, towards the hot zone, you don’t pull over, break the glass on the dashboard, and reset the needle manually to the safety zone. Or, if you do, you’ll be in trouble down the road! When the needle points towards hot, it is telling you that it’s time to pull over and look under the hood. Something big needs to be fixed.”
That is God’s role in my depression – He is using my anger and my emotions – no matter how volatile – to get my attention. He is showing me what I truly value – what I believe will give me a sense of worth – and He’s also showing me that if I continue to trust and rely on those things to fulfill me, I’ll only be disappointed.
Recently, I had a bad episode. (I’ll spare you the details.) A week later, as I finally tried to process (and still not with dry eyes), I started to realize that my anger that time had come from a deep fear of being replaced, of being unloved because I was no longer useful or valuable – I was afraid of losing the identity that I thought gave me worth.
What do you think gives you worth?
And what would happen if that were to be taken away from you?
God says, You are important to me because I created you. Because I love you – and this is enough. You are not a worthwhile human being because of what you can do. Your accomplishments are things to be thankful for – but they do not define you, or give you worth. Your worth comes because my son Jesus already died as a ransom for you – he has already bought and paid for your life, has already made you valuable.