Updated: Oct 27
“Digging in the dirt. Stay with me. I need support.
I’m digging in the dirt. To find the places I got hurt.
Open up the places I got hurt.”
I love the lyrics to this song by Peter Gabriel because it’s a calling to be open and vulnerable about our emotional and spiritual journey. This requires authenticity in our relationships, but we can be so distracted that we miss out on this important discipline.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 (NIV)
Over the years I’ve had to constantly adapt to the effects of my depression. This disease has been the root of so much heartache in my life, going all the way back to my days in middle school. During those early years I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was depression, only that I was broken deep down inside. I figured everybody must feel like this and so I never really talked much about it. How does a 9-year-old even articulate such feelings? I like what Andrew Solomon says about depression, “Grief is depression in proportion to circumstances; depression is grief out of proportion to circumstance.” This is the absurdity of depression, one day you feel as if life is no longer worth living and suicide seems like a reasonable approach in the moment.
The relationship between depression and my Christian faith has been tenuous from the very beginning. I’m a preacher’s kid who was raised in the church and so I’ve been taught from an early age that I can go to Jesus with any and all feelings. That God dwelt inside me was never in doubt-but did he love me unconditionally? Was he present in my sufferings? This personal faith, though strong today, has been tested over the decades and found to have serious doubts: existential doubts that I’d ever be whole, doubts that the Lord would intervene and remove this burden from me, and doubts that I’d even live to see another day. Over the last few decades, I found it difficult to fully trust that God had my back. Those unanswered prayers and the sense of being alone in my darkest of days conspired against me, leaving me empty and hopeless.
I kept feeling like I was to blame for not getting well. That if God is all powerful and all good then I just need to enter into agreement with Him with the appropriate level of faith and I’d be relieved of my sufferings. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Regardless of how I looked at it over the years, I always came back to that familiar feeling of not measuring up to God’s standard.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 4&7 (NIV)
The Dilemma for Christians and Depression:
The problem of pain is universal, but for a person of faith the pain takes on additional weight. How do we wrap our minds around this passage in Philippians? (above)
How do we reconcile brokenness at our core with what the Bible says? Isn’t this where we expect Jesus to show up? It felt like He had abandoned me. Often the view within the church culture is, if you pray long enough and have sufficient faith, you can expect a certain amount of peace. I questioned whether I could really trust what the Bible had to say about hope in the midst of suffering.
“Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me? From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death; I have suffered your terrors and am in despair!” Psalms 88:14-15 (NIV)
I’ve hung on to this verse over the years and I think I know how the psalmist felt in this passage.
I froze. I didn’t move a muscle. “What’s happening? Is it my fault? Did I do something wrong?”
I remember everything about that summer night when I experienced abuse by an adult male. This experience traumatized me so deeply that I didn’t acknowledge this to anyone until well into my 40’s. The coping mechanisms that I developed from an early age eventually expired and I was forced to re-examine those memories and the ways they were still impacting my life.
If you’ve read any of my other articles you will know that I share from the heart. I strive to be honest and authentic as I write. Though this subject matter is intense and very personal, if I can convince just one individual to live without shame, then it’s worth my sharing
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” I Corinthians 9:23 (NIV)
The Courage it Takes:
The feelings of depression and shame were so intertwined that it was often difficult to differentiate between the two. Shame has been my biggest obstacle to living a free life. I love what Brene’ Brown says in Daring Greatly, “But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us-that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough-and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs.” I had been living the lie that I was “OK” for most of my adult life.
How many times have I been at the foot of the cross asking the Lord to remove the emotional pain? A hundred? A thousand? At the core of my suffering, this seeming abandonment from a loving God challenged me of what it means to trust. To fully trust that God is at the center of our pain and is working through it all to accomplish His ways take courage. Courage that is a gift found through perseverance. True heroic courage acknowledges that there may not be finality in this present life, that our faith may not still the chaos or take away the sting of the moment, only when we say, “Lord your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven,” do we find relief.
Over the years and through much therapy, I was able to acknowledge the damage it had done to my psyche, and to be told that I didn’t have to live in this shame was life giving. The self-loathing that I had grown up feeling began to melt away as I invited the light into my darkness. The slow process of restoration began and over the years I’ve been fully set free from the effects of this trauma and am no longer a prisoner of the mind.
I was having coffee with a good friend a few years back when I felt safe to tell him of my abuse. The freedom found in that small moment of trust has been a gift I will forever cherish. Only when we bring ourselves out of the darkness and into the light do we find healing. Slowly, out of this first step of acknowledging the painful past, have I moved into the healing presence of the Lord. No longer does the memory evoke the painful feelings that haunted me growing up. It’s still a crystal-clear memory but it’s lost its power over me. I’ve forgiven the individual and letting go of that anger has moved me into a safe place of rest. It’s been a long road, but the truth I’ve experienced is that in my weakness I’ve been made whole by a loving Savior.
The Savior that Understands Abuse:
When I wrestle with God over those lost years, I’m reminded that, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” Isaiah 53:3 (NIV). This is not some “religious analogy” to make everything seem ok, but it’s of real, practical, and sound logic when one contemplates suffering. Christ came as a man and suffered as a man before finally being crucified for our sins.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalms 34:18 (NIV)
It’s because of who Jesus is that He can enter into our suffering. We are to bring the healing touch of Jesus into every area of our lives. How else is the love of the Gospel going to penetrate the hearts of others if we’re not willing to authentically share our faith journey?
I’ve still got a long way to go, but I can testify to the goodness of the Lord for he has delivered me out of the ruins of my past and opened up wide the gates of Heaven. Henri J. M. Nouwen writes in his book, The Wounded Healer, “The beginning and the end of all Christian leadership is to give your life for others” and “a willingness to cry with those who cry, laugh with those who laugh, and to make one’s own painful and joyful experiences available as sources of clarification and understanding.”
I still experience depression but over the years it’s been managed by good therapy and medication so that the lows are no longer as bad as they used to be. The good news is, while I haven’t been relieved of my depression, I’m no longer tethered to the lie that it’s because of a lack of spiritual maturity. I’ve learned to acknowledge the fact that not all prayers will get answered, and though that sucks I’m ok with it. The danger as I see it, is the complacency that can arise out of doubt. That doubt can turn to unbelief and then I tend to stop praying. Period. It’s an ongoing struggle to balance faith and prayer with our expectations and the desire for answers.
All that I am-my doubts, my unbelief, my pride-converge into my humanity. That I’m no different than the rest of you is paramount to understanding my call to bring the Hope of the Lord to all. God doesn’t need me to do His work, but I believe that He wants to use you and me. As you walk out your faith journey remember these words from Matthew 5:4 (NIV), “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This verse doesn’t say when you will be comforted…only that you will. Who am I to reason with God on when He should show me comfort? I can only testify to the fact that He does show up when you trust in Him. It took years for me to receive comfort for some of my most challenging heartaches, while at other times the comfort was close at hand. Wherever you are, on your journey, hang on to this promise, as His word does not return void.
On January 10, 2017, I began my first days of being clean and sober and free from my addictions. My mind, body and soul have been reborn! To preach the gospel of God’s restoration for every person is what drives me. I’ve experienced the miracle of hope and it’s worth the journey. Hold onto it once you get it for it will set you free.
If you’ve suffered abuse, I want to encourage you to step out of the darkness and into the light and find someone you can trust and share your story. There is no shame in your brokenness, neither is there any judgement. I stand with you in spirit. I love Corinthians 5:17 (NIV), “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” Wherever you are in life there is freedom in Jesus!
Peter Gabriel-Digging in The Dirt
Andrew Solomon-The Noonday Demon
Brene’ Brown-Daring Greatly
Henri J. M. Nouwen-The Wounded Healer