“I can’t live like this anymore!” I cried through sobs. “I just want to die!”
I sat on my bed and tried to make sense of what was going on inside. I was tired of the chronic pain, the frequent bouts of illness, and the weariness of dealing with my kids’ struggles. But what broke me was the torture of being a prisoner in my own mind. It took everything in me just to keep breathing, while part of me wished my breathing would just stop.
Oh, how I longed to be with Jesus — free from my aching body and broken mind. But I knew deep within me that my life was not my own and that the Lord must have a purpose for these days.
Zack Eswine captured my own inner reality — the constant cloud of depression — in his book Spurgeon’s Sorrows,
Painful circumstances . . . put on their muddy boots and stand thick, full weighted and heavy upon our tired chests. It is almost like anxiety tying rope around the ankles and hands of our breath. Tied to a chair, with the lights out, we sit swallowing in panic the dark air.
These kinds of circumstances . . . steal the gifts of divine love too, as if all of God’s love letters and picture albums are burning up in a fire just outside the door, a fire which we are helpless to stop. We sit there, helpless in the dark of divine absence, tied to this chair, present only to ash and wheeze, while all we hold dear seems lost forever. We even wonder if we’ve brought this all on ourselves. It’s our fault. God is against us. (18)
Depression can cloud our view of God, weigh down our spirits, distort reality, and tempt us to question all that we’ve known to be true. Sometimes, our depression is due to circumstances that have pounded us, wave upon wave, until we can no longer hold our heads above the water. Other times, it comes as a result of illness, as Charles Spurgeon writes, “You may be without any real reason for grief, and yet may be among the most unhappy of men because, for the time, your body has conquered your soul” (“The Saddest Cry from the Cross”).
In Good Company
If you have experienced this kind of darkness, you are in good company. Job, after initially responding with faith in the immediate aftermath of his loss, suddenly found himself walking in the valley of despair as his suffering continued:
“When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.” (Job 7:13–16)
I thank God that he gives us a glimpse into the darkest days of Job’s life. Job’s story assures us that we aren’t alone in our battle with despair, and it offers us perspective when we struggle to feel God’s presence on our darkest days. Whether we are battling depression or trying to encourage someone who is, we must remember three truths in the face of depression’s lies.
1. Depression does not mean God is punishing you.
It’s easy to believe that our despair is a sign of God’s displeasure. Though at times we may feel the heavy hand of God upon us in order to draw us into repentance (Psalm 32:3–4), depression often fills our minds with lies, tempting us to believe that our feelings are an accurate reflection of our relationship with Christ. If we feel unlovable, we must be unloved. If we feel sadness and hopelessness, we must be hopeless. If we feel lonely, we must be alone. And if we feel shame, we must be unforgiven.
For a time, Job believed that God targeted him out of anger. “Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past” (Job 14:13). But in the midst of these bouts with despair, God planted Job’s feet firmly on the truth of salvation. “Though he slay me,” Job confessed, “I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).
Like Job, we must keep the hope of the gospel in front of us in order to fight back against all that bombards us from within. Though we may struggle to digest much Scripture, and though the words of a hopeful person may bounce right off our hardened shell of depression, we anchor our feet firmly in the truth that we are forgiven and loved by God in Christ, not in our ability to feel his love.
2. Depression does not mean God is absent.
Similarly, depression can cause us to feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Not only do we feel as if the world is going on without us, but we can even feel estranged from ourselves — as if we have lost our former identity. This loneliness can also cause us to feel, as Job did, that God has abandoned us. “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him” (Job 23:8). But as Eswine writes,
Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace. It is Christ and not the absence of depression that saves us. So, we declare this truth. Our sense of God’s absence does not mean that he is so. Though our bodily gloom allows us no feeling of his tender touch, he holds on to us still. Our feelings of him do not save us. He does. (Spurgeon’s Sorrows, 38–39)
3. Depression does not make you useless.
Though we may feel useless under the cloud of despair and depression, nothing could be further from the truth. When despondency strips from us our natural ability to see and feel hope, joy, and purpose in our sorrow, we realize that Someone greater is holding us up. And when others witness our dependence on Christ for the endurance to press on in darkness — especially when we have no earthly reason to — we become a picture of Christ’s sustaining grace, flowing from the Father to his children.
Once again, consider Spurgeon. He battled deep depression through the majority of his life, and yet God used his suffering for the good of multitudes that he never met. And then there was Job, whose life became a cosmic display of God’s power and worth for our comfort. If we are God’s children, then even our depression will display his glory and purposes as he holds us secure in his unfailing love.
Suffering brother or sister, lift your heavy heart. As Spurgeon once said, “We need patience under pain and hope under depression of spirit. . . . Our God . . . will either make the burden lighter or the back stronger; he will diminish the need or increase the supply” (“Sword and Trowel,” 15).