Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Terrible Thirst of Depression

First, My Hesitancy

Depression is not only a dessert-tsunami of the soul that seems to sweep away everything good in one's life, it also carries such a stigma that, even after being resolved, it inflicts a great deal of shame upon its victim. For that reason, I have to admit that I've been hesitant about publishing this post.

We tend to keep depression hidden even from ourselves. It's uncomfortable to talk about or even admit, especially for a Christian. When I finally opened up, it was remotely, through a blog I contribute to once a month. So though this post was first published on Keeper of the Home back in January of this year, I have been tentative about putting it on my own blog. Many of the women who read this blog are from my own church and I've wondered how it would be taken. Fears about what they would think crop up and I shrink back.

However, what I'm beginning to realize is that every time I get up the nerve to share this story with women I'm close to, I see tears welling in their eyes and hear them say things like, "Sharon, you're describing my life."

So I'm putting myself out there. I pray that God can use the period of depression He allowed in my life to edify, minister to and encourage other women. Here's my story...

An Unquenchable Thirst

Some months back, in a conversation over lunch, a younger woman (mid-thirties) confided to me how severely depressed she had been. I empathized with her, "I know what that feels like. I was depressed, until recently, for about four years." This woman - I'll call her Liz - responded, "YOU!? I never would have guessed it!"

She and many others never knew because I had covered it up. You know, Christians are not supposed to get depressed. As an older woman and leader among the women in my church, I was ashamed that such a thing could happen to me. I just kept smiling and saying things were fine. I wouldn't even admit the depression to myself, thinking of it, instead as "a time in the wilderness".

Like so many, I had experienced the terrible, unquenchable thirst of depression. I thirsted for God, but at the same time I wanted nothing to do with Him; I thirsted for joy, for the tears of sorrow that just wouldn’t come, for life, for death, for isolation, for comfort, for cleansing, for hope, for complacency, for passion, for sanity, for any kind of escape from the numbing prison of desolation I felt.

My friend, Liz, asked me, "How did you get better? Please tell me everything." The following is what I related to her and now to you, dear reader.

An Attempt to Resolve the Depression Through Diet, Sleep, Supplements, etc.

When I first began to realize that my melancholy wasn’t just a slump that would pass, I tried to treat it by adjusting my lifestyle. I recommitted to eating an optimum diet and faithfully took my supplements, which included, cod liver oil, vitamins D3, E, C, CO-Q10, magnesium and a once daily multi - all of which were high-quality pharmaceutical grade.

Sleep evaded me. Falling asleep was no problem. Staying asleep was, waking by 1 AM. I made changes to my schedule, consumed no caffeine, made sensible adjustments to the times we ate meals, etc., and of course consistently asked God to allow me to sleep. But it was not to be.

By dinnertime I was dead on my feet, "Surely", I would think, "I'll crash and sleep well tonight". But that was never the case. And taking a nap was an exercise in futility.

I read good books such as Tired of Being Tired implementing the suggestions for depression. But this approach was of no avail. Though I maintained the changes, I knew there was something deeper going on.

Thirsting For a Silent God

Worst of all was the alienation I felt from God. For many years, I had tasted of the goodness of the Lord on a daily basis - so connected to Him. I thought that nothing would ever change that. I so wanted that intimacy back.

When I read the Bible all I felt was the sting of a silent God. I thirsted for Him, but found no help for my parched soul. Guilt weighed heavy on me as a result of failing to connect with Him.

At one point I decided to read John Piper's book When I Don't Desire God, How to Fight for Joy but I couldn't work up the desire. Sounds funny, but there I was caught in that spiritual-oxymoron. I wanted God, but I didn't. It made me frustrated and angry that He would not disclose Himself to me.

My Lifeline

During this four-year period, I continued to teach a women's Bible study, not by choice, but because the Lord simply would not allow me to step out of ministry. Though it was extremely difficult to stay put, it was definitely God's tool for keeping my head above water, so to speak.
I absolutely dreaded teaching and who knows what the women got out of it. But as I studied, God encouraged me just enough to not give up on life. He fed me for others, but He was silent in the times I sought Him for myself.

Ministry became my lifeline. I remained connected to God’s people and to His word. But there was no joy in it and I felt like such a phony, such a hypocrite, which added more guilt to the depression.

Things Got Worse – Distractions and Cynicism

As this all progressed I began to discover many "good distractions". Blogging, digital photography and scrapbooking were some. I actually preferred the distractions. I knew this was nothing short of idolatry, but there seemed to be no way out.

Like David, I cried, “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death…” (Psalm 13:1-3).

An ugly cynicism swept over my mind and I doubted that I was even God's child.

What's Wrong Lord? 

That gave me a little hope. I knew I could look nowhere other than to Jesus. Like Peter, I told Him, “Lord, to whom shall we [I] go? You have the words of eternal life…”.

David's prayer became my own, “Search me, O God, and know my heart...see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

This was the prayer God had been waiting to hear. It became my continued cry and He began to expose my heart. Over a period of several years, He revealed to me what I had not seen in myself – attitudes of unforgiveness, bitterness and pride. These were slow-burning, subtle attitudes that had formed over a period of years, so none of it had been obvious to me.

Along with these revelations, God granted me repentance and restoration. As He peeled back the layers of my offenses, I thanked Him for His sanctifying work. But it seemed like joy would never return.

A Book, Childlikeness and Joy

Though I had been forgiven for harboring bitterness, etc., I had not been able to reconnect with the Lord. I yearned for sweet times of fellowship, but I just couldn't seem to make it happen. My mind wandered, distractions prevailed and guilt compounded.

Then, in the spring of last year, God directed me to a book during the time my husband was in Uganda on a short term preaching and teaching mission. A Praying Life – Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller, caught my eye. Just the title ministered to me.

For the next two weeks, I cried and prayed my way through the book. God used it to release me from my prison of self-imposed guilt. With this book, He reminded me that I simply needed to come to Jesus messy, like a little child comes to his parents.

Image by usmcmorningstar
Miller writes, little children, "...come just as they are, totally self-absorbed. They seldom get it right...God cheers us when we come to Him with our wobbling, unsteady prayers...Don't try to get the prayer right; just tell God where you are and what's on your mind. That's what children do. They come as they are, runny noses and all. Like the disciples, they just say what is on their minds. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy...Jesus opens His arms to His needy children..."

So, with all my messiness, I ran to Jesus. And, O, how my soul soared. And the joy that came flooding in! I am now more tender toward the Lord than ever and He continues to make Himself known to me day by day in His word.

"If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." (John 7:37)

There are no words to express my thanks to God for His goodness. Even in His silence, He was shepherding me, leading me in His paths of righteousness, drawing me unto Himself and beside the streams of Living Water whereby my thirst was finally quenched.

Spurgeon said, "Thirst is terrible, but Jesus can remove it. Though the soul be utterly famished, Jesus can restore it."

Yes! He can and He does.

Have you recovered from depression? If so, how did that happen?
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  1. Oh, Sharon! I wish I could be there to give you a big hug!! Thank you for your transparency in sharing this. God has answered your prayers. He did use you...this post has really encouraged my weary soul and I'm sure it's encouraged many others as well.

    Love you!!!

  2. Dear Sharon, thank you for this post! I need to read it again! We aren't perfect, we're forgiven!! As you share your stuggles we can be encouraged by your obedience. I love you so much. What a great encouragement you were to me during the horrible depression I suffered after having my first baby! My whole world seemed to be turned upside down but you pointed me back to my Rock, Christ Jesus! Thank you Sharon!

  3. I remember my pastor said in a sermon that God allows this kind of period of depression to a Christian because He sees that it's necessary - a much needed thing.. I think my past period of depression brought to light my sinful attitudes toward Him. I understand your hesitancy to post this.. Nobody even as believers want to talk about depression .. Maybe it's our natural tendency to make it seem everything is fine because of feelings of shame that we don't just have it together even as believers. And you're right- But God knows our hearts even when we don't. I am so thankful that you posted this ..Being such a hushed hushed topic , I am so grateful to God that He led you to post this.. It ministered to me knowing that God's great work is restoring His children to Himself..
    my pastor and a person like you who talked about these dark periods and how
    Our powerful God restored you to Him. Thank you for posting this to remind me to come to my Heavenly Father as I am.. This post greatly ministered to me .. Another post of yours that made me tear up.

  4. This was so encouraging Sharon. Thank you for opening up and sharing your experience. I'm so glad you did.