When You Just Need to Be Held: On wrestling with depression and faith

I take medicine for depression. 

Some people find this hard to believe. I am generally happy and outgoing. I smile all the time. I love Jesus and my faith is often characterized as strong, whatever that means. I just don’t seem like the type.

“The type.” Saying there is a type for depression is like telling someone you are surprised they wear glasses or contacts, or have cancer because they just don’t seem like the type. There is no type. Loud, smiley women sometimes struggle with depression. Even when they are cracking jokes about their rowdy toddlers and telling you life is delightful in the church lobby. We just do. 

…………

I’ve struggled with depression since middle school, but I’ve had glasses since the third grade. I’ve been told I needed to pray my depression away before we even had it diagnosed. I’ve been told it is a sign of weak faith. People who cling to the joy of the Lord hard enough should just stop taking those silly pills and trust God to heal me. No one has ever once suggested that I take off my glasses and trust God to give me perfect vision while I drive my children home from church. Not once have my contact lenses been sighted as a sign of weak faith. Me not wearing my glasses is as dangerous as me not taking my pills. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think that God is capable of healing both. I’m just saying that for me, He hasn’t. I’ve experienced miraculous healing. It doesn’t have much to do with my faith or lack there of. It is simply that God works mysteriously, and sometimes not at all. I’ve mostly stopped trying to figure it out, and instead decided to honor both sides of the story.

…………

As a christian, and a story teller I once believed that the only kinds of stories that honored God were the ones that told of great light. Those were, after all, the only kinds of testimonies that people gave at church. I once was lost but now am found. I once was blind but now I see. I once was sick but now I’m healed. I once was confused but now I am sure.

Even testimonies in the midst of things ended with a but. My child is wandering but I know they will return. I am sad now but joy comes in the morning. I am struggling but I know that God will bless me. 

I wanted desperately to honor God, so I sat quietly in the back and waited for my healing to come. Or I walked to the front and had people lay hands on me. Maybe this time I would claim it, and it would be real. You know what has been real? When I am taking my medication my sister who is also a licensed professional counselor does not ask me therapy sorts of questions, and when I am not she knows. She can tell by the tone of my voice and my inability to concentrate on anything that I have stopped taking my meds. That is real, and that is healing. 

…………

I sometimes have been told that my story of darkness, when the light has not yet come, does not honor God. I have mostly been the one telling myself that. No one wants to hear that you are struggling, Abby. No one wants to hear that this is hard. Great kids, great husband, great job, what could you possibly have to be depressed about? Suck it up and be happy, for Jesus. Jesus died for your sins, he doesn’t want to see you sitting around being sad. Good Christians get it together. And when they don’t have it together they certainly don’t tell anyone. 

That is the depression talking. It certainly isn’t the holy spirit. No, the holy spirit often prompts me to share the darkness, to tell people that this life is hard, even with the great kids, great husband, great job. The holy spirit often reminds me that darkness does not cast out light. My mother often reminds me of that too. Sometimes the holy spirit whispers in my mother’s voice. 

…………

I’ve written about it before, but it remains the best way for me to describe what I think the church is capable of. I was 13 and sick, but no one knew what was wrong. I was 13 and depressed, but we couldn’t tell if the sickness was making me depressed, or if the depression was causing the mysterious illness. I believed in a God of miracles, but every time I asked for it, I was not healed. 

And the more I was not healed, the more I questioned God. The angrier I became. Why not me? And that became a whole new thing to be ashamed about. Good Christians get healed, and when they don’t, they do not question God, they do not become angry with him.

It was my mother who pointed me to the life of King David, to the psalms of lament. It was my mother who asked me if I was mad at God, and then told me she was too. It was my mother who pulled me into her lap and held me as I raged and wept to and about a God who did not heal. It was my mother who promised me that God could handle it, that He still loved me and so did she. 

It was my mother who was the church to me, who taught me that darkness does not overcome light, who showed me that I was never too much for God, who held me for as long as I needed holding. 

…………

I think the church is sometimes afraid to tell the stories of darkness because they are afraid that those stories will somehow overcome the light. The darkness cannot overtake the light. It can’t. That isn’t how it works. But when you are depressed, it is certainly how things feel.

 The only way to know that, when depression has settled and all you can see is darkness, is to talk about it, to tell someone, to share that it is dark and you are incapable of seeing light right now. You are sure, in that moment that you will lose your faith, your God, your friends. You are sure that not being able to see the light is a grave sin from which there is no recovery. 

But if you are lucky. If you have people in your corner who are really the church, they will hold you. They will be angry with you. They will tell you it is okay to rage, to cry, to not feel God. They will hold the light for you when you see nothing but darkness. They will love you well. And it will still be hard. It will still be hard to be depressed. It will still be hard to have faith. But is easier when you are held. It is easier when you know that you are not alone. Stories of darkness, they hold light too. It is time for the church to tell them.

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16 thoughts on “When You Just Need to Be Held: On wrestling with depression and faith

  1. Beautiful story. I have struggled through hard times to where I got tired of saying “good” when people said “how are you?” Then I got tired of saying “having a hard time right now” instead, because the “right now” was much too long and it seemed like people were tired of that answer and wanted to go back to “good.” I’m glad that God worked in me (and is working in me) to remember He’s there no matter how I am or how long it takes. Thanks for sharing this encouraging message!

  2. The Sunday school lesson I am preparing for 3 and 4 year olds is about Elijah. The lesson’s main point for them is that God has the power to answer prayer. Of course the rest of the story is that Elijah was scared and lonely and couldn’t see the angels.

  3. I’ve suffered from depression since 1999. My meds now seem to be in balance and most days are good days. You are correct that most people don’t understand depression and how real it is to those of us who deal with it. Hang in there ——- keep taking the meds and don’t let others make you feel like you are less loved —– if anything, God has given us a challenge that we must go thru.

  4. This is about the most beautiful writing you’ve done yet, Abby. “I hear the Holy Spirit in my mother’s voice” and the knowing about you that your sister has– both my Mom and my sister are dead and wow, no one holds you as close as they do. I think God’s silence is powerful in bringing forth your resolve and will to overcome and prevail. Your awareness of your fragility has brought you healing. Your words make me remember this truth about living in this world.

  5. Abby, I speak from my the perspective of one whose frequent companion is Melanchoeous. I made that name up to give a face to my depression. You are doing a good thing writing about it, not just to let others know they are not alone, but using your own dark places as inspiration for what you do well, write. It is your way to light up others’ darkness. The nice thing about light is that the darker it is, the less it takes to make a difference. Keep on shining.

    Warm regards.

  6. What sweet testimonies for your mom and sister. Powerful love there.

    Below is something I wrote on another friends blog about dealing with depression and darkness:

    Although we don’t want to admit this and some never do I think we are all susceptible to falling into the darkness or being enveloped by it. I certainly know I am susceptible and have been blanketed by darkness to the extent I did not know if I’d survive it. We want to help the person when we see them bleeding but we shy away from someone whose soul bleeds.
    The stigma itself becomes part of the darkness. Another layer of shame poured upon. We should also stay away from giving opinions on subjects we know nothing about. It is easy to tell from what a person says if they have ever been fighting in or even touched by darkness. We need to come alongside each other in these battles instead of just offering meaningless advice. We need to show compassion even when we don’t understand. Extend love to those who need it most. I wish I knew some good answers. I don’t but I do know we have got to quit beating up those that are already beat down; stop offering ignorant solutions; and tear down the stigma that adds to the already damaged souls.
    We don’t need maps, or directions, we need journeymates.

  7. Pingback: Laughter and Tears: Robin Williams and Depression | Ok, so far

  8. Beautiful. Thank you for the brilliant way you handled such a sensitive topic. I linked back to this on my post today and included a quote. I hope that’s ok. Depression is so often misunderstood. – Patty

  9. Folks need to remember that medicine is no less a miracle than spontaneous healing. God, being God and having all tools at his disposal, can choose any means He wants to use to bring healing. Sometimes it’s miraculous and illness disappears with prayer. Sometimes He chooses to bring his healing through surgeries, chemo, doctors’ hands, therapy, or little pills.

    Thanks for sharing this part of your story with us.

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