Where is God in Depression?

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If you have walked through a season (or lifetime) of depression, or know someone who has, you understand that it is much more than having a few bad days.

Depression is draining and so heavy on the heart.  

People with depression can’t just “get better” with their own will power and hard work. If they could, they would have already done so. I would have already done so. 

I’ve spent hours wrestling with God, asking him where he is in my depression. I don’t feel like a have a good reason to be depressed. I just graduated from college with a 4.0, married the love of my life, have a wonderful group of friends, and a family that I love dearly. I am financially stable (by the grace of God) and the beginning of my career starts in just a few weeks. I have no reason to feel the way I feel sometimes, but some days I can’t shake the weighty shadow following me around.

That’s hard to explain to people, and even harder to understand. I don’t even understand it sometimes.

My mind often races with thoughts about how I am not good enough at anything that I do. I am bombarded with attacks about my physical appearance and diet + exercise routine daily, and must constantly fight back so that I don’t act on them. I still struggle with insomnia and anxiety, which worsens my depression. And last year at this time, I weighed 30 pounds less and was extremely malnourished, entrenched in the depths of anorexia.

Food restriction leads to psychological problems; it makes your brain crazy, and so does having an eating disorder.¹ My depression made a little more sense from a world standpoint just a year ago.

I now no longer restrict food. I am no longer malnourished. I am no longer underweight. My sleep patterns are starting to normalize (although there is still much room for improvement). I have developed a much healthier relationship with food + exercise (again, there is still room for improvement), and I am starting to kindle a new relationship with my body. I feel like I should be able to move on & leave behind everything that I’ve been through the past year. The eating disorder. The anxiety. The compulsive exercise. The poor body image. 

Yet, the depression still lingers, for reasons that I cannot fully comprehend.

I can’t count the number of times I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this burden off of my shoulders.

In many ways, he has.

His love has healed my heart in ways that nothing else on this earth could.

His promises lift me up and give me hope. 

His presence has filled me up with joy even on the darker days.

His faithfulness in the past encourages me to trust him in the now. 

His provision sustains me day in and day out, even when the anxiety and depression levels are both high.  

But there is still healing that is yet to be done. 

Last night I had a particularly difficult night so I did the only thing I knew to do at 3:00 AM: I sought out his word and asked him to come close to me. 

He led me to Psalm 42:

“As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One,
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?

Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.”²

As I read these words tears began to roll down my cheeks. The psalmist put into words what my aching heart has been trying to process and piece together in these past couple of years. 

“My tears have been my food day and night…”

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed in me? Put your hope in God!”

“I say to God my Rock, why have you forgotten me?”

“Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”

“My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, where is your God?”

He doesn’t hold back. He doesn’t try to cover up. He doesn’t have a filter. He simply comes to God and asks to be healed, just as he is. This, my friends, is the first step to healing. 

Only God can heal the heart burdened by depression. 

From the very beginning, he writes, “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?” The psalmist knows. He understands that it is only God that can lift him out of this pit.² He doesn’t run to other false Gods for temporary relief. He doesn’t look for easy ways to numb his pain. He runs to the one he knows will restore his joy- and he doesn’t waste time. I am so guilty of this. When I see anything that can provide me with some sort of relief I run to it so quickly that I don’t even realize what I am doing until it’s too late. And then I end up empty handed and even more broken than before. 

The very first thing he asks God is where he can go meet with him. He longs for the presence of the living God. He knows that only God can heal his heart.

As much as they may love us, our friends, family, and even doctors can’t restore to us the joy of our salvation. Alcohol doesn’t restore us. Sex doesn’t restore us. Relationships don’t restore us. Food doesn’t restore us. The perfect body doesn’t restore us. Only Jesus can do that.

Remembering God’s faithfulness gives us hope for the future.

The psalmist doesn’t understand why his soul is so burdened. We see this clearly when he asks multiple times, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” It’s okay to ask why. It’s okay to wrestle with God. But there is a fine balance between asking why and living in the why. The psalmist doesn’t stay in the “why”. He moves into a place of thanksgiving and remembrance. He knows that the “whys” of his situation will only lead him to further frustration and despair. So he does what he knows to be true- he reflects on the ways that God has delivered in the past, which then leads him to worship God for who He is. He lays down the crippling circumstances in which he finds himself in. This lays the foundation for hope and is the beginning of his restored joy.

The psalmist isn’t healed the moment he lays it all out to God. There is a good chance that he had to wait on the Lord before there was any change. But he does just that. And in the waiting, he draws near to God and worships him. He invites God to be the joy in his waiting, in the time in-between. 

 

I’m not sure why depression has to be apart of my story. But I do know that it causes me to yearn for the presence of God and my home in heaven so much more so than if I didn’t struggle with it. It reveals to me the brokenness of the world we live in, and in that, makes the light of Jesus shine even more so in my life. It magnifies my need for him and pulls me into a deeper joy that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate without it. 

God isn’t absent in depression.

God is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.It’s not in his nature to let his beloved stay in a place of complete sorrow and despair. Even on the many days and nights where it has felt like God was far away, I know that he wasn’t. Because he never is. He promises to be with us always, & that he will never leave or forsake up. It is by his grace alone that I am where I am today, and by the joy that he has produced in my heart, a joy that could only come from worshiping and serving him. Our God is a god of hope, and there is no power that depression has that is more powerful than the finished work of the cross. This world is broken and running rampant in pain and suffering- but do not lose heart. There will be a day when he will wipe every tear for the final time, that there will be no more crying, suffering, pain, or depression. This is the hope I am holding on to. 

REFERENCES:

  1. Lasker, Gabriel Ward. “The effects of partial starvation on somatotype: an analysis of material from the Minnesota starvation experiment.” American journal of physical anthropology 5.3 (1947): 323-342.
  2. Life application study Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print. Psalm 42. 
  3. Life application study Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print. Psalm 40.
  4. Life application study Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print. Psalm 34:18.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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