Seven years ago, I sunk into a deep depression. I had been depressed before, but not for the past ten years since I had become a Christian. I had thought that kind of despair was in my past. In fact, it was my testimony – God had released me from a hauntingly self-destructive past and had delivered me into a new and hopeful life. Yet somehow I had found myself extremely disappointed with life, with God and particularly with my circumstances. A serious relationship was ending, I had lost my job, I was uninspired creatively. I had damaged other significant relationships with choices I had made. My heart was at a loss at the seemingly utter failure of my life. Most days I could barely get out of bed and some days I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t shower. I cancelled get togethers with friends because I felt so needy and unlovable and frankly, I did not want them to see me like that. I gained weight. I would sleep for 12-14 hours at a stretch. Enjoyment of anything was a thing of the past.
I did not go down easily. I tried everything I knew to not accept this depression. I memorized scriptures that addressed depression, I sang praise songs even when I did not feel the least like singing. I read my bible. I went to church and tried to get involved even though I felt a million miles away from people. It all felt phony and empty and dead. I saw a therapist (in fact I had spent nearly half my life in therapy, both Christian and secular). I was prescribed three different anti-depression medicines by a Harvard educated Christian psychiatrist. At times, I imagined Christian friends judging me because of a belief that real Christians cannot get depressed. But honestly, the revulsion I felt towards myself in this state made me willing to try anything to get myself out of this awful hell.
I remember I would drive to work in the morning and all my thoughts would be shaming thoughts, thoughts of what I had done wrong in the relationship that ended, thoughts of the people I had hurt or mistakes I had made, thoughts of being alone for life, thoughts of how I grew up believing I was unlovable, and that maybe deep down I was scarred and really could not change. Several times a day, at my new office job, I would burst into tears and hope that no one would notice. I would go over and over these awful memories and thoughts in my head in the desperate hope of somehow fixing things. But all it did was reinforce that I was a hopeless case. I found myself languishing in the midst of this awful quagmire (and if you’ve ever been depressed, you know that it is very much like being stuck in quicksand). You are smarter than this. You know better. You don’t want to be there. Yet you remain and sometimes you even think it would be better to end it all just to escape the self-disgust and pain.
One day I was on the internet and I was reading an excerpt from a Christian book about gaining victory over depression. The author stated that all depression stems from wrong thinking. And if your thinking gets corrected, your feelings will follow your thoughts. I remember it offended me. Didn’t he think I was smart enough to know wrong thinking and correct it? I knew I was helpless because I had tried everything. I decided it was just one of those low budget “Christianese-type” books written by someone with no experience in the real world.
Yet those words stayed with me over the following months and I inadvertently and gradually began to do just that. One of the main things I began to consider was that God deeply and unconditionally loved me. Please understand, I had always said that God loved me, but it was a wavering sort of love. I saw Him like most humans – He loved me when I was good and distanced Himself or punished me when I was not. His love was dependent on my actions and words. However, now when I found myself unconsciously reliving mistakes I had made, I would stop and firmly say to myself, “No. God delights in me. He thinks I am lovely and worthwhile… even though I have made serious mistakes.” Proverbs 23:7 says, As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. I purposed to believe that what God said about me would trump what I or others believed about me. It was a slow, steady, retraining of my thinking and it was based on the Truth found in the Bible. I began to see scripture in a new light and perspective. My eyes were opened to a vast, unconditional, unchanging, nurturing love that I had never fully seen in all my years of bible study. I immersed myself in teaching that focussed on the love and grace of God and I began to see changes and healing in my thinking.
There had always been a sort of desperate element to my relationship with God. I was always seeking and searching to be closer to Him, to love Him better, to do better. But now I felt God instructing me to rest, to relax, and to receive from Him. I began to realize that I had had it backwards. I had been trying to prove my love for Him by doing things for Him. Instead, I realized that as a Christian, I was joined to Him and therefore a new creation in Him. I couldn’t get any closer to Him than that. Resting took me out of my performance mindset and put everything onto a loving God. Quite honestly, this did not come easily or naturally to me. I was afraid that if I let go of “working” and “pushing” that I would end up on my couch living a life of apathy. It was counter-intuitive, but it did produce results. Surprisingly, opportunities to love and bless others arose naturally and were more effective and lasting when flowing out of my rest in His unconditional love.
I discovered that God was not against me, but that sin has its own natural consequences. My suffering and disappointment with my life were not a result of His frustration with me. In fact, receiving God’s love and grace enabled me to make better choices. When I felt secure in His love for me, I had a confidence and sturdiness that enabled me to overcome addictions and temptations that I had never been able to overcome when I was trying to do it in my own strength.
Another important thing I learned was that mixture of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant produced confusion. The Old Covenant was an agreement between God and the Jewish nation and was full of types and shadows that all pointed to Jesus. The New Covenant was between God and all people, Jew or Gentile and offered something so much better than the Old it was literally called the Good News! Jesus did not abolish the Old Covenant, but He did fulfill it. The New Covenant offers forgiveness of all our sins (past, present and future), union with the Creator of the Universe, and access to the Kingdom of God here and now.
It took some time for these truths and others like them to take root and have a real impact on my thinking and the living of my life. I had thought I knew a lot about the bible and about psychology, but facing something like depression revealed what I really believed deep down. Intellectual assent is not the same thing as having an experience. I am thankful to say that because of this walk out of depression, my faith is more authentic and more enjoyable than it ever has been. My faith is not in a doctrine. It is in the person of Jesus Christ.
I don’t look for formulas anymore and I won’t offer any to those of you who may be navigating depression, disappointment or discouragement. I will not enter debates about medication or therapy or the suggestion that true Christians can’t become depressed. We are all growing. I will tell you that I have lived without depression, medication or therapy for over three years now. I do not believe it will return, but even if it did, I know the Lord can and will walk me through it. In the meantime, I am thrilled to be experiencing true enjoyment of life. I am seeing heaven everywhere. If you are dealing with anything like I did, I have hope for you. You may not follow the same path I did (in fact, I hope you do better), but a revelation of God’s unconditional love is always available for you.