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How Depression is a Blessing in Disguise
by Rev. James Winsor
A darkness creeps into the soul and smothers it. Who knows why, how long it will last, or what will make it go away. You feel like you have nothing left to give to anyone else. You don't want anyone around, except that one person who knows how to lift the darkness. You can't and don't want to explain how you feel. You don't know why you're sad, and you feel embarrassed by it because you have a pretty nice life. You can see why hungry, sick or poor people would be sad, but not you.
If you're up to it, you try to process thoughts about God or words to or from God. This feels impossible. At best, God is distant. He couldn't care about these stupid, unjustifiable feelings. There are people with real problems; God should be much more concerned about them. At worst, God becomes a very active enemy. He judges you for feeling this way. He wants you to just drop this selfish, self-centered, self pity trip. Doesn't the Bible command, "Rejoice in the Lord always?" You're a long way from doing that. Every word of good cheer seems to condemn you more for not being cheery.
As you deal with these feelings, you start to see what's at the bottom. For the most part, it's self-loathing. You just can't stand being around you! Sometimes you can't see the causes for the self-loathing. It's just there and it won't go away. I hate being me, and anyone who really knew me would hate me. The people who love me only do because they don't know me.
Sometimes the self-loathing turns outward. It explodes into a kind of rage against the world. Now the darkness has covered not only your heart, but your eyes. You can't see outside of yourself. You have trouble remembering there is an outside world. When you wake up to that fact, you again see the self-centeredness and hate it all the more.
It doesn't seem possible to break out or for anyone to break into it. Even God doesn't seem to know how to break inside the darkness.
Some of the most spiritually-rich Christians I know experience depression. Some of them medicate it. Some don't. But it doesn't make that much difference when it comes to the soul. You can't medicate the soul.
God is up to something in your depression. There are things God can do for you better when you're depressed. Someone once said that God empties in order to fill, and kills in order to raise up.
God could have made a world where depression is impossible. He could have made a world where sin, death and Satan are not on the scene. But God decided ahead of time that it was better to do things His way. There was something important that He could do with a broken world that He couldn't do with a perfect world.
In paradise, Adam and Eve did not know God as well as you do. They walked and talked with Him, but were ignorant of what God was really about. God is self-sacrificing, self-giving love. Adam and Eve didn't have a clue about Good Friday. They didn't need Good Friday. Do you realize what that means? They didn't need God's self-sacrificial love. All they needed was a creator and provider. They didn't need a Savior. But that's what's best about Him. He saves sinners by dying for them. When Jesus was on the cross, you were loathed enough. God took out all of His holy loathing, and it was over.
There is nothing more important in your life than God's saving love for sinners. Depression is a cold, gray wind that blows you off the cliff. You can't find anything inside yourself to cling to, to hope in, to claim as a basis for God's acceptance. All you have is Jesus and His love for sinners. His resurrection of sinners in Himself. His baptizing of this sinner, you. That's all you have. You fall into the water and lose yourself.
But once you fall in, you can only see the love of God in Christ. A purple robe for mocking. A brown cross. Silver nails. Red blood. A white robe shining forth from the darkness of the tomb.
Have you ever noticed that you can see the farthest at night? In the daytime the most distant object you can see is the sun - a mere 93 million miles away. But at night your eye takes in countless stars and galaxies that are many light years away. Your vision is greatly improved in the darkness.
So it is with depression. When you are having bright days of happy sunshine, you can't see too much further than your studies, sports, work, friends, family or possessions. A very small world. But in the darkness of depression you begin to see the glistening vast expanse of God's love in Christ.
And when you are full of self-loathing and darkness, the love of Christ is all you have. And as it turns out, you don't have Christ at all until all you have is Christ.
The Rev. James Winsor is pastor at Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Arvada, Colorado.
Taken from the Spring 2002 edition of Higher Things magazine. You can write Higher Things at P.O. Box 58011, Pleasant Prairie, WI 53158-8011.
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