Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Happy In the Sad

I'll let you in on a fact about me: I am prone to bouts of depression. Whether they are connected to my insecurities and stubborn insistence to feel guilty about things I could hardly change if I tried, I don't know. I used to think it was ungodly to be depressed: like I'm failing at being joyful and not trusting God. But I don't think that any more. I know I live in a broken world where things like chemical imbalances in the brain are a factor of life. I know that one day, God's going to end that and I'm going to live in a remade world where I won't suffer under the shadows of impenetrable gloom ever again.

But in the meantime, I do suffer. How well I remember the last big time it hit me: dating the man of my dreams was not enough to stave off the grey joylessness, the inability to get myself out of bed, the purposelessness and hopelessness that seemed to surround me. I had a min-wage/work-at-all-hours job that I quit after I didn't seem able to do anything but sob after my shifts. I wondered if I would ever get time to write. I wondered if I would have the money to pay rent or if I'd have to admit failure and move back home with my parents. I wondered if there was a job out there I would actually enjoy. I wondered if life was nothing more than a hopeless wheel turning ceaselessly, unchanging, with no end in sight.

I led a women's biblestudy that year. But like at the humdrum job, I felt off-balance and out of place. I tried to make it work, and I truly loved the girls I was leading. But though there was nothing about my biblestudy I didn't like, I dreaded it.

I hated myself for dreading it. I hated myself for being unable to appreciate the jobs I was working at. I felt guilty that I didn't seem able to do what everyone else could: jump through hoops and grit my teeth. Everyone else works 40 hours a week without getting sick. Everyone else gets through the day without crying. Is there something wrong with me?

The guilt wasn't helped when a well-meaning mentor couldn't wrap their head around why I was quitting the biblestudy leader position I had committed to. I felt like a failure all the way around, and my guilt pressed in on me: I wasn't enough. I fail at life. I can't do anything right.

How untrue that was and is. I am enough. Enough for God. I don't have to be anything to approach him; the writer of Hebrews says, "Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with confidence!" And what is he saying "therefore" about? That we have Jesus, who understands our imperfections and who is perfect enough in our place. Therefore because of Jesus I can approach the throne. And what will I find there? "Grace to help me in my time of need." Which means it's okay to be in need and not have enough. God gives to the needy.

When I am joyless, Jesus gives me joy. Over and over this has happened. I have joy right now, and I know it's not something I've conjured up on my own. I'm not under the cloud of depression even though I'm sure I could find reasons to be. On the other hand, the times I've been depressed there were equal number of reasons not to be: engagement to the love of my life, for instance. Depression is one of those things that has reasons but at the same time defies them.

Joy too. Joy is one of life's impossible things. It can happen for a reason, but then leaves too soon; there can be reason for it, yet it evades. And then sometimes it just falls on you for no reason whatsoever. You weren't doing anything and you're just hit with it from outside yourself. A walk on a winter's day suddenly wakes you up to the beauty you're a part of even though ten minutes ago you were fuming about your boss. Incomprehensible joy. That's the definition of a gift: you get it because someone loves you, not because you deserve it. It is well with my soul just because!

So I am joyful right now, free of depression, not because of anything I've done in my life to get here, but simply because of God. Because God gives to the needy. Because God binds up the brokenhearted. Because God is forgiving. Because in my times of insecurity, he is safety itself. I can't tell you how I found my way out of depression because I didn't. I've suffered from a lot of worse things than depression at various points in time, and I didn't make those go away either. All the terrors and sorrows my mind could come up with were not enough to defeat God.

So I can't offer any advice to those of you who've been there too. I can just say that I've been there and I get it. That I've come through it and then gone back into it and come through it again. I won't say the trite things people say: that the good times are worth the bad times; that you'll look back one day and realize this is the time you grew the most... Though maybe true, they don't help.

The only thing that helps are people and God. People to hold your hand and love you every day even when you just keep crying or getting frustrated, when the conversation always returns to the same dark place. God to walk with you and lift you out one day, miraculously, mysteriously, into a world more beautiful than those who've never seen darkness can imagine.

Word count: 980.