I fell into what turned out to be an extended bout with depression that lasted the better part of three solid years of my life and it seemed like an eternity. One winter morning, after another long night of binge drinking to try and ease the constant pain and numb the brutal memories that were haunting me like an eerie phantom, my dad came to wake me up.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.”
If we live long enough all of us come to a point now and again, becoming mistakenly convinced that our time has passed us by. We get suckered into believing we no longer matter. If we ever did. We’re left reeling in a sense, feeling as though the deck is stacked against us or we’ve gotten outwitted and lost in the shuffle—we’re nothing more than a token joker to be discarded in some cosmic game of Poker (all this, of course, assuming you aren’t Donald Trump, in which case you’d always turn up the winner).
Fight it as we may, we struggle to believe our lives count for much. At the end of the proverbial day, we reason, we’re merely a speck of sand blown around by vast ocean winds across a sprawling island beach. Pawns in a game of chess. Disposable diapers meant to handle the crap life dumps on us. It becomes a prison we can’t escape.
And yes, this happens to Christians, particularly when our walk with Christ spans a fair amount of space over the canvas of our brief lifetimes. Those who suggest otherwise—those who perpetuate a fairy-tale brand of faith—not only have they bought a lie, they peddle a poisonous potion of untruth.
Deny it if you wish but just because we have faith in the Son of God who loves us (and that’s nothing short of a miracle), faith doesn’t grant us immunity to the myriad of struggles life is going to present. A sense of hopelessness can overwhelm us, unexpectedly and uninvited. Without asking for it we are thrown into the ring, bouts filled with prolonged introspection—even questioning what difference would it have made had we never been born? We reason to ourselves and conclude that the old business adage “everyone is replaceable” must be true when it comes to our existence as well.
There are a myriad of life events that can trigger and sustain these crushing bouts of depression (or, if you don’t like admitting you deal with depression, call it what you will). The punches are real, and battling it can seem like swinging in the dark at a moving target.
This sense of insignificance, nothingness—and at other times or altogether at once, horrific intervals of shame thrust upon us—doesn’t happen to us in a vacuum. Life’s cruel and unwelcome traumatic events, the weighty realization that the increasingly faded dreams we’ve held on to for as long as we can remember aren’t about to become reality—or maybe the most debilitating foe of all, an incredibly profound sense of personal failure. This is the stuff of life we’d rather ignore than look at in the face.
It could come in the form of losing a career we invested our very heart and skin into. The sudden death of a beloved child. The loss of something less arbitrary such as a drivers license. Something so taken for granted as the comfort of sleeping in our own bed each night being stripped away. Possibly it’ll be the erosion of our good health much sooner than we’d planned or expected. Something so heroic as enduring the loss of a limb in combat serving your country and defending freedom around the globe. Maybe something more sinister, you’ve been violated and hurt by someone in unspeakable terms and the aftermath is you were innocently robbed of something very valuable.
Back to that morning near the height of my crippling depression. I must have reeked to high heaven of pale ale and hard whiskey, my poor dad, he’d invested so much time and emotional capitol to help see me through it. I’ll never forget waking up to see him standing at the side of my twin bed, being so ashamed of myself and thinking what will he possibly say at this point, besides “Get up you worthless excuse for a son”? Pouring a bucket of cold ice water over my head would have been going light on me.
I’d managed to embarrass him and my mother, my children, my entire family and closest friends. I’d fallen head first into a pit and we both knew I couldn’t see the sun for the life of me. It was killing me. I wouldn’t climb out of the condemnation filled thoughts had I been offered a million dollars to do so. And for all the scorn I’d heaped on myself despite the forgiveness Christ had secured for me, the insatiable jaws of defeat threatening to swallow me whole, the circling religious claim adjusters and pious oddsmakers who insisted I be written off as a total loss, my rebellious choice for drunken stupors over sane sobriety staring him smack dab in the eyeballs—all he could muster was, “Ken, you’re a good man. I love you. And I’m proud of you.”
Laying there motionless and hungover the tears wouldn’t be denied, unable to figure out how my imperfect father (wonderful as he is) could possibly love me at such a moment. It still stuns me on yet another winter morning, a decade later.
Spiritual ragamuffin, the late Brennan Manning, liked to tell a story about an Irish priest taking a walking tour of his parish. On the road ahead he sees an old peasant kneeling beside the road praying. The priest is moved by this display of piety and says to the man, “You must be very close to God.” The peasant looks up at the priest, reflects for a moment and says, “Yes, he is very fond of me.”
I know I’m not alone now, I’ve talked with and listened to so many who have experienced their own version of a hellish nightmare—crushing depression. So, as a fellow peasant in the faith, let me remind you too.
God is very fond of you.