Thou hath delivered me from the darkness of depravity and the depths of despair.
The hope of every saint is not the state of their mind, but the position of their soul before God. For those who are covered by the blood of Christ, wholly trusting in Him alone for their redemption, purpose and fulfillment, intelligence and sanity are not guaranteed, but they also aren’t necessary. God, in His infinite mercy and grace, provided a means for our salvation that has absolutely nothing to do with us (Eph. 2:4-13). Though I resented such an idea for a long time, I now seek to embrace it because I know that, if my mental stability depended on me, I would be utterly hopeless and lost.
I have always struggled with the concept of mental illness. From the time I first understood what it was until the recent past, I believed that it was caused more by weak faith or a lack thereof than it was an actual physical condition. I held this belief despite struggling with severe depression and suicidal thoughts throughout high school and college and I told myself that I just needed to have more faith or do more ‘good’ things for the depression to go away. My senior year of college was the first time that I was willing to consider it could be related to something like a chemical imbalance or genetic factor, but even still, I viewed it as a problem that couldn’t continue indefinitely.
Over the past few years, the Lord has changed my perspective regarding this issue. Three years ago, I thought He healed me of the depression that I had suffered from for so long and that my soul had been restored to ‘normal.’ I genuinely believed I would never deal with it in the same way I had before. For two and a half years, I hardly had any suicidal thoughts and the ones that crossed my mind were very brief. Any depressive moods or episodes didn’t linger anymore. I spoke of it as if it would never become a serious problem again. If I’m being honest, I was prideful enough to think that I had ‘arrived’ in some sense, that my faith had grown enough to where I would never be able to return to such a pit of despair and doubt. I knew hardships would still come and that life would still be an ebb and flow of good and bad alike, but I was confident that I would remain grounded in Christ no matter what storms lay ahead.
Then this season came. Call it singleness or seemingly aimless wandering or, as one friend recently described it, ‘the middle school of adult years…’ or whatever you want, but let me sum it up in a few words: this season, whatever it is, feels hopeless. On top of that, it feels endless. And the two together make for a miserable combination. For the people who view singleness as endless free time and glorious opportunity to not be tied down by any binding commitments, please try to understand that you are gravely misunderstanding this stage of life. Yes, singles have more free time and less commitments (though I would argue we have less free time and more commitments than people seem to think), but consider that whatever free time we do have can feel useless if everyone around us seems to be occupied with their spouse and kids. Not to mention that a lot of commitments we have at this point are related to celebrating all the things we want but don’t know that we’ll get to enjoy in the future. As with every stage, it has its pros and cons. For the past 8-9 months, it’s been hard to see past the cons. It’s been a constant battle to believe that the Lord is good and only gives good things to His children. And it has been filled with days where all I can do is pray for it to end. I wish I could say that I’m writing this from a place of contentment and belief that there is purpose in it, but my heart aches just as much now as it did when this time first began.
Having said that, I know singleness isn’t the only root of the depression, but as of right now it seems to be the one that is both most prominent and pervasive. It feels like I can’t escape the reminders of what I want but don’t have. I tend to think a lot, so naturally these constant reminders lead to a torturous tension between my heart and my mind. Cognitively, I know what God’s Word says regarding His endless love and faithfulness to His people. Taste and see that the Lord is good, He works all things for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose, give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy is everlasting… You get the picture. Having grown up well ‘churched,’ I’m familiar with most of the passages people refer to or offer as encouragement to overcome hopelessness. Not knowing what scripture has to say isn’t the issue. Not believing it is. It currently seems like the connection between my heart and my mind has been severed and I don’t know how much better of an explanation I can offer beyond that.
Nonetheless, my heart is continually pulled back to the One who made it and my eyes cannot completely turn away from the glory they have seen. I can’t say the past 9 months have been the hardest of my life, but I can say they’ve caused sin to look more enticing in some senses than it ever has before. I’ve questioned God a lot and my heart has been really bitter regarding the way some things have unfolded. The Lord has humbled me time and time again throughout by reminding me that I am just as broken and needy as some of the people I look at and wonder something to the effect of “how the hell did they get married before me?” (You can judge me, but you also can’t convince me that everyone hasn’t had a similar thought at some point, hah).
In the midst of all of this, here are some truths I have been unable to escape/deny:
“And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” -John 10:28
“This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; “Great is Your faithfulness,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” -Lam. 3:21-26
“O Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty, neither do I concern myself with great matters,
nor with things too profound for me.
Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever.” -Psalm 131
I think of some of the most powerful lines I’ve read by Piper and I realize they are as true for me and every other soul God has redeemed:
“My seven decades of experience with the Bible have not been mainly a battle to hold on. They have been a blessing of being held on to, namely, by beauty—that is, by glory.” (Peculiar Glory, page 11)
“It may sound strange, but “holding onto my view” was never the way I experienced it—at least not as I can remember. It felt more like my view of the Bible was holding onto me. Or, as I believe today, God was holding onto me by clarifying and brightening and deepening my view of him in the Bible.” (Peculiar Glory, page 25)
Despite how desperate my soul feels at times, despite how deeply I long to turn from God because I am convinced that my way is better, He holds me. Faith is given by Him, strengthened by Him, and sustained by Him. It can’t be created, synthesized, or transplanted by me or anyone else. So amidst all of the sorrow, doubt, and rebellion that have raged within my heart, His hand has still worked to change it. I am still here. Not because of anything I’ve done or any work on my part, but because He chose to hold me and mold me into His image before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).
As with all hardships, some days are better than others. Most are a mixture of good and bad. But I’ve found on the days when it truly feels like I’ll lose my mind and all else seems lost, my only hope for life beyond that point rests in seeking more of God. Somewhat recently, on a particularly hard day, I went kayaking. After spending several hours exploring a new spot, looking closely at some insects and plants, and just being surrounded by the glory and intricacy of creation, I was reminded of how insignificant and fleeting this life is. I was reminded that this is a light and momentary affliction and that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed (2 Cor. 4:17, Rom. 8:18).
Another quote I absolutely love from a sermon I listened to by Piper says, “When you come to Christ, your heart is a temple filled with idols. The smashing of those idols will be a lifelong experience of happy pain” (paraphrased because I don’t remember the quote verbatim and I couldn’t find the sermon). There are days when it feels as if the pain is too much to bear; however, being reminded that this pain has purpose makes it bearable. This is pain that will produce praise because the One who inflicts it does so in order to heal (Ps. 119:75). My hope for the healing of a heart filled with disordered loves and a mind of melancholy is to trust the physician who has faithfully worked to heal them and continues to work in them until the day He is done (Phil. 1:6). On the darkest days, my hope for preservation is a God who is much more powerful and loving than I could ever imagine. Maybe I will never be fully healed from this disease while in this body. Maybe this will remain the ‘thorn in my flesh’ that constantly brings me crawling back to the shadow of the cross. But I must continue to cling to the Word that is faithful and true:
I am held. He is good. All will be made new.