Being admitted to the mental hospital didn’t feel like God’s mercy to me. It seemed more like a cruelty. I wanted to be “depression-free.” I thought that was a God-honoring goal to strive toward. With a household to run and a family to care for, there seemed no time to be downcast. I was tired of being sidelined by sadness.
But I was worn by conflicts and child-rearing challenges. Though I had tried so hard for so long to “keep calm and carry on,” the continual striving to be emotionally stable seemed futile. I would feel “fine” only for a time. Then I would crash.
Perhaps the worst sensation of all was the perceived absence of the Lord I loved. I couldn’t reconcile my sorrows with his apparent indifference. It seemed as if he had “forgotten to be gracious” to me — as if “in anger” he had “shut up his compassion” (Psalm 77:9). Surely God saw how hard I’d been trying and knew how long I had been crying. So why let me sit in a darkness that I’d been striving for years to stay out of? I felt so ashamed of my struggles. I felt like a God-forsaken failure.
It wasn’t until I was hospitalized that God let me hear how cruel my self-talk had become. I was so determined to be free from depression that the restless pursuit of that goal became my motive for living. In desperation, my hope shifted off of Christ and onto a change I couldn’t produce on my own. So, whenever hurt and heartbreak left me feeling overwhelmed again — whenever I couldn’t “snap out” of my miserable mood — I felt like an embarrassment of a believer. I despaired of life itself.
Unbeknownst to me — yet fully known to God — desperation had driven me away from his grace (Galatians 3:3; 5:4).
Understandably, what I wanted most in that season of motherhood was deliverance. But unexpectedly, God rescued me instead from my merciless mindset. He already knew I had no righteousness of my own to boast in; I was the one who had trouble accepting that fact. I couldn’t even leave the locked hall I was on, let alone escape the prison of darkness. I viewed my experience of depression as not only undesirable, but unforgivable.
God saw how I condemned myself. I had been treating my Savior’s blood as an incomplete covering for the dark night of the soul, as if I should have been able to suffer my sorrows without difficulty — suffer them perfectly.
That week in the ward, I came to see God’s compassion toward me more clearly, and not because he ordained a miraculous change in my circumstances. Rather, he showed me it wasn’t his voice that was roaring with condemnation. His words were, “Come to me,” not “Get over it”; “Take my rest,” not “Try harder” (Matthew 11:28). He was inviting me to take up a yoke I could manage in my weary condition — a burden far lighter than I had been forcing myself to carry.
Jesus wasn’t the one insisting that I pull myself out of the pit. He was the one calling me to take refuge in him as he walked me through the dark.
God Not Hurried
As I learned after years of fighting against despondency, what we count as God’s slowness or indifference is actually his patience toward us as he works redemptively in our lives (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 1:16). Yes, there are times when a fix-it-fast approach is an appropriate response to the problem at hand. But God’s methods for mending the hearts and reviving the spirits of his people are often less hurried. While the Great Physician can be trusted to do this restorative work according to his promise, he does so at a pace that seems good to him and suits his eternal purposes.
Despite our sense of urgency, there are no emergencies to him who holds our times in his hands (Psalm 31:15).
God’s unhurried pace can be a challenging reality for us to grasp, particularly in depression. When God’s help seems unbearably slow, it can appear as though he’s withholding it altogether. And when we fear he has shut up his compassion and forgotten to be gracious toward us, we may think we must climb out of the pit of despair on our own. Hurt by what seems like a lack of sympathy, we may groan to God as Job in his angst: “You have turned cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me” (Job 30:21).
Feeling God-forsaken, we may double down on our efforts to be strong and steady in ourselves. Perhaps we’re even able to feel “fine” or “better” for a period of time. But ultimately, self-reliance proves itself unreliable. We crash and despair of life itself. We need outside help. We need rescue.
We need mercy.
Timely, Tender Mercy
I confess — I felt as if God had turned cruel to me in that sorrowful season of motherhood. But in the hospital, the Spirit helped me to reinterpret God’s dealings with me. Through his word, I was reminded that the Lord is never surprised by his people’s desperation. My Maker knew how helpless I’d feel on dark days before a single one of them came to pass (Psalm 139:16). He foresaw every hardship, conflict, grief, and pain I would endure. He knew every one of the ways I would sin in word, thought, and deed.
He knew I would need help, rescue, mercy.
Then the Spirit testified to God’s nature — that he loves to comfort (not condemn) the downcast (2 Corinthians 7:6). That he has pity on his weak and needy children (Psalm 72:13). That for the sake of his holy name, the Father of mercies sent his Son to suffer my sorrows perfectly. According to his “tender mercy” (Luke 1:78), the Lord stepped into my darkness to do what I could not.
“For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). At the perfect time, Jesus saved me from experiencing eternal darkness (Romans 5:6). He patiently worked himself to death to deliver me from perpetual sorrow. To see Jesus at the apex of his anguish is to perceive his mercy more clearly in my own.
According to God’s merciful plan, Jesus was raised to life from the deepest darkness of all. That meant underneath my pit of despair were the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27). And those strong and steady arms held forth the hands that knit me together — hands that were not embarrassed to be engraved with my name (Isaiah 49:16). These palms were pierced for me so I could have hope in my miserable-yet-momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17). What more work was there for me to do but rest myself in them?
I still had the gospel to share and Christ’s love to give. There was no better motive to keep carrying on when the darkness wouldn’t lift.
The week I’d spent in the mental hospital didn’t feel like mercy to me at the time, but the kindness God gave me there led my heart to peace and repentance (Romans 2:4). I didn’t have to be depression-free before I could live for the glory of God; Christ’s sinless life and sacrifice freed me from the unbearable burden to be perfect in myself. Since Jesus obeyed God’s will unto death, I could die to my desire for quick relief and live for walking by faith, one small step at a time.
I couldn’t feel better fast, but I could entrust myself “to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19). I could learn to rest in Christ as long as the darkness lasts.