My life situation is very discouraging. And I am very often discouraged.
Which does not always make life with Jesus look very attractive, I think, to someone looking on. It raises questions (to myself and others) of whether or not Christians are any different. What about the Joy of the Lord? What about rising above our circumstances?
I don’t have a lot of answers to those questions. I haven’t been very good at figuring out a theology of depression (although I have certainly tried!). But this is what I do know, Jesus is with me in my darkest moments. I know peace on a deep level, even when I am panicking.
It confuses other people sometimes (it even confuses me at times). How can you be trusting Jesus and knowing His peace and STILL be panicking? How can you be complaining and still rejoicing (as a quasi-linguist, I get around that by playing with words: what I am doing is not complaining. It is lamenting. And in my wordview–i.e., a linguistic/semantic worldview–you can lament and rejoice at the same time.)
So, I know it doesn’t always make sense. But I’m too insanely (or inanely) honest to force a smile on my face and squelch the emotion even if it is negative–sadness, discouragement, anxiety and panic. I can’t deny that Scripture commands us to rejoice. For me, rejoicing can’t be pretending I’m joyful no matter what. The rejoicing comes in feeling the depths of my despair and being able to still say, “But God.”
For me, I find it is more that Jesus is IN the dumps with me there, transforming me there, bringing healing and peace, but without obliterating the depression, anxiety or panic with one blow. I know He could do that. And I sometimes wish He would. Why doesn’t He? Is it that He has plans for His glory and my good to accomplish in my desperate situation, or is my sin keeping me so discouraged and frightened, or is it just the reality of a fallen world that leaves me in such a mess?
Whatever the reason, my currently reality is often depressing. By thinking about my discouraging situation, I’m not denying God’s power. In a sense, when I’m “meditating” on the sadness of my situation, I’m joing with all of Creaton in groaning. That groaning is often a prayer, with the hope and anticipation that the Holy Spirit is translating my groans to the Father.
What a language to be translated: Groaning! A language full of despair, but also full of hope, knowing I’m taking my groans and anguish to the only one Who can do anything about them. And knowing that, painful as it may be, that He will bring purpose and meaning and glory in ways I can’t even begin to imagine out of my misery. But maybe not for a long time. And that is still hard, overwhelming and sad for me, even while I trust Him. And keep waiting.
On days like I’ve had this weekend, I didn’t focus on cheering up. I focused, almost meditated, on how heavy and sad life is right now. I cried. I ached. I read sad poems. I felt overwhelmed. And there, in the honest anguish of my heart, I knew I still chose God and His ways. I knew I still chose to trust Him. And wait on Him. No matter what.
Going into my anguish, not running away from it, is where God gave me peace. I found joy, not chasing after it desperately, but while meditating on sad poems and realizing that is the desperate context in which I choose to trust God. My despair is where I realize how desperately I trust. Overwhelming discouragement is the context in which I experience the meaning of, “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
Here are two of the poems that brought me hope yesterday as I wallowed in my despair:
The hills on which I need to gaze
are wrapped in clouds again.
I lift up streaming eyes in vain
and feel upon my upturned face
the streaming rain.
(from Ruth Bell Graham’s Collected Poems, p. 152)
Lord, you have already torn from me what I loved the most.
Listen again, my God, to my heart’s cry.
Your will was done, Lord, against mine.
Lord, now we are alone, my heart and the sea.
(Antonio Machado, translated by Lingamish )
So, today I have “cheered up” while doing the opposite of what most people mean when they encourage me to “cheer up” and “rejoice in God” or “think about Him, not your troubles.” I really do think about Him, but it is in the context of seeing the despair of my troubles that His greatness and all-sufficiency becomes most real to me.