Friday, August 23, 2013

Deserts, darkness and depression.

I remember the first time I found myself in a spiritual desert. I had a good friend at the time who was a faithful prayer partner and support. But as I was wandering through one of the most difficult seasons of my spiritual walk, she stood on the sidelines of my life, frustrated that I wouldn't snap out of it. Like a Survivor competition she stood yelling out directions, "Read!" "Pray!" "Worship!" And I kept slamming into walls blindfolded, unable to follow what seemed like such clear directions from her perspective.

Years later when she found herself in a spiritual desert of her own, I got an apology. You see, a desert is something you cannot have explained to you. It's something you can't grasp until you're the one struggling through, and you realize how muffled and distorted those "simple" directions sound from the "field." People who've never been in a desert cannot comprehend it and as much as they want to give you a simple solution, there just isn't one. One thing I learned from my desert experiences (because unfortunately, my first travel there was not my last) sometimes the best thing you can do is nod and agree, "I know, it sucks, and I'm sorry." Probably a lot like the course the friends of Job should have taken, but just like those guys, most of us outside the desert think we know better and with the best of failed intentions, we keep on shouting out onto the field, frustrating both ourselves and the poor sucker of a desert dweller all in one fell swoop.

Nobody wants to visit the desert, without a doubt once you're there you have no desire to set up a tent and stay, but still we land there, and sometimes we get stuck. I'm not saying you don't try to find your way out, and I'm not saying reading the word, praying and worshipping aren't part of that process, I'm just saying it's not a guaranteed recipe, sometimes it just takes time. And it sucks. (I'm sorry.)

Sometimes you look around and you can see the desert, you're aware of the lay of the land. The most typical evidence is the echo of the desert. You pray, you read, you worship, and instead of sensing the way it lands in the heart of God, it just seems to echo back at you as though no one is even listening. It's not true, God is there, He is Lord, even of the desert, but it just doesn't have the evidence of that truth, it feels like every word and effort we send forth toward God wanders off into nothingness, or worse, falls flat back on ourselves, seemingly meaningless.

Sometimes though the desert is dark. Black dark. The kind of dark where you can't even see your own hand right in front of your face. It's like wandering under a starless sky, the emptiness vast and consuming. Darkness is heavy, it feels like you might be consumed by it. The echo often disappears in the darkness, mostly because you can barely utter a prayer or a song loud enough to move out into the world around you.

Darkness isn't just heavy, it's lonely. In darkness you don't just feel alone from God, but you feel isolated from His people as well. When you walk in darkness you look straight down. You can't see but still you try, but you only try to see what's right in front of you, and you lose track of anything beyond that. Darkness can become a very selfish place, you lose the ability to focus on much of anything at all other than your own thoughts, experiences and feelings. It can be overwhelming.

As bad as the desert and darkness are, they don't compare with the depression that often follows both of these experiences. A desert is somewhere you go, a darkness is something you experience, but depression is something you carry with you wherever you are.

Even when "things" get better, depression can hang on you. Sometimes it subsides, you feel like you have it under control but the thing about depression is it can raise it's ugly head and bite you whenever it feels like it. Now I'm not going to get into a discussion about medications and treatments, because the fact is, everyone is different. Some people need it, some people are opposed to it, but the bottom line is, it's a very personal decision. If you saw a person drowning in a river you wouldn't stand back and criticize what they grabbed a hold of to try to pull themselves out. "Don't grab that reed, it's too weak, grab that rock!" No, you wouldn't say it (assuming you couldn't actually get in and pull them out.) You would just root them on to do whatever it takes to keep their heads above water, and likewise that needs to be the heart and attitude toward someone battling depression. They need your prayers, not your opinions. Don't walk away from the river, but if you're standing there do it in support, not judgment.

Having said all of this, I'm not giving a pass to anyone to take up residence in these things. None of them, not deserts, darkness or depression are meant to be the residence of a believer in Jesus Christ. He came to give us life, and life more abundant. Abundant life is not indigenous to any of these "climates." Abundant life is a "fruit" that needs living water and light to grow and you can't find in the dry or the dark. And even once you've found it, you have to lay down depression to pick it up. You cannot hold onto both of them at once.

But all of these things, deserts, darkness and depressions are sometimes the passageways we have to go through to find the fruit of an abundant life. The bible tells us in Isaiah 45:3:

I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the Lord,
Who call you by your name,
Am the God of Israel

Those difficult passageways are hard, and they suck - but I have to be honest and say they are training grounds. And as beat down and weary as you feel when you're walking them out, or muddling through them, there is a strength you gain in pressing on and rising up again. It's called perseverance - damn it's hard, but sometimes it's all we have. But here's the thing about perseverance, it doesn't look the same for everyone. Sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning is putting up one hell of a fight, and if that's all you have in you today, do it. Don't let anyone judge you, just do it. And if you can't summon up the strength today, do it tomorrow. Don't give up, don't decide to live where you're at. There's this gift out there that Jesus came to give you and it's yours for the having, if you put up the fight to find it. If you think you can't, I have to ask, how can you not?

Do you really want to stay where you are?

Then don't.

Take one step, or ten, whatever you can manage, to continue through your desert, darkness and depression. Keep calling out, even when all the prayers fall flat. Keep worshipping; keep reading; keep looking. The Lord has not left you, His silence is not indicative of His absence. He's there and He's for you, and He's rooting you on. He loves you, and whatever else you feel like you lack or you've lost, you have His love, and in that my friends, is the very seed of the fruit of the abundant life that is yours.

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