On September 10, 2018, I fell into a deep depression.
I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, but there was something different about this time. None of my usual coping strategies would work and I just kept spiraling further and further down.
I was a complete wreck. It got so bad that I couldn’t think straight. Simple decisions overwhelmed me. It became a real safety issue when I drove through three stop signs and a red light in one week.
After seeing me struggle without getting better for several weeks, my church Overseers graciously told me to take a couple weeks off. When they told me, tears streamed down my face. I felt such a sense of relief. But I soon discovered that two weeks wasn’t going to be nearly enough.
Apart from a day or two, I was pretty much comatose for those two weeks. I could barely function most days. This would be no quick fix. I was in a really bad place. At the urging of my counselor, I went to see a medical doctor who diagnosed me with burnout – complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion – and “prescribed” an extended period of rest from ministry work.
I ended up taking nine weeks off, which still wasn’t nearly enough. During that time, I had some good days, some bad days, and a bunch of days somewhere in between and somewhat of both. I wish I could say that extended time away from ministry healed me, but it didn’t. I wish I could say I came back rested and refreshed, but I didn’t.
I can say, however, that I’ve been refined, as through fire.
Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.
You’ve felt the pain, loneliness, and despair of depression.
Others of you, have no idea what I’m talking about. You don’t understand it because you’ve never experienced it. I’m happy for you. I really am, because depression sucks.
Maybe your struggle isn’t with depression.
Maybe it’s anxiety, fear, food, porn, smoking, drinking, drugs, self-image, parenting, relationships, school, work…
Did I miss anything?
Super-Christian, Paul the Apostle, had his struggles, too. He doesn’t tell us exactly what they were, he just simply refers to them as a
“thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.”2 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT)
Can you relate?
Perhaps you’ve been tormented by mental illness, or addiction, or fear, or insecurity, or loneliness, or difficult and dysfunctional family members.
(btw, I don’t recommend calling your mother-in-law a messenger of Satan to her face)
It’s been a constant thorn in your side.
You are continuously reminded of how weak, messed-up, and vulnerable you really are.
That’s what depression is for me.
Paul does what I think we all do in this situation.
He cries out to God to take it away.
I’m sure you have done that to. I certainly have.
“Please God… heal me… deliver me… stop the pain… end the suffering…”
We cry out and cry out and cry out and little to nothing changes. We’ve still got this annoying pain in our side.
Each time Paul cried out, God answered him with the same response:
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”2 Corinthians 12:9 (NLT)
A more literal translation would be, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
“Perfect” means “complete” or “finished.” His power is not just a good option or a last resort, it’s perfect. And it is only made perfect in our weakness.
Because it’s already perfect, there’s nothing else we can add to it to make it better. Strength or talent or skill or money won’t make it better. The only thing that could possibly make God’s power in us more perfect is more weakness.
The reason God hasn’t taken your struggle away isn’t because He doesn’t care about you, but because He does.Tweet
He knows that you are better off depending on His strength than your own.
Maybe many of our weaknesses and struggles aren’t curses from Satan, but rather gifts from God.Tweet
Nine years ago, I made this perception-shift and decided to go public with my struggles. Not to hide behind the shame often attached to mental illness in church circles, but to be honest and vulnerable in living out my struggle in front of and beside others, so they could see God’s power at work in my weakness. And I’ve realized that in doing so, I help create an environment of authenticity and transparency where others can feel safe being real about their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. And maybe for the first time, be “okay not being okay” and begin the journey to true healing.
Church should be the perfect place for imperfect people because God’s grace is made perfect in our imperfection.Tweet
We typically regard burdens, struggles, hardships, pain, etc. as trouble to be avoided. Perhaps that’s why we work so hard to keep them to ourselves, because we’re ashamed. We think we shouldn’t be struggling with this, so we don’t want to let anyone else know.
But what if burdens are a blessing?
What if they are meant to be constructive instead of destructive? Intentionally good instead of randomly evil?
James, the half-brother of Jesus, tell us:
“…When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”James 1:2-4 (NLT)
As much as it sucks sometimes, I’ve come to see my depression more as a blessing than a burden (at least on my more cognizant days).
No, I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed the struggle and the pain, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed the result. It causes me to depend more on Him. And on others. It enables me to encourage others in the fight. It refines me and stretches me beyond my limits where the only thing I’ve got is God.