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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Standing at the ledge

I have been battling such a heavy sadness lately. It's like a dark cloud has just settled over me, I am walking around like a spiritual version of the Peanuts character Pigpen, choking on the dust. Monday I took a walk while my daughter was at the gym and despite the dry warm day, I felt like I was under a hailstorm.

So many negative thoughts were pounding on my brain. Thoughts of hopelessness, futility, worthlessness-- all of them convincing arguments about what a waste my life had become, how little I've ever done that mattered in the least, and a flood of discouragement overwhelmed me. By the time I got back to the gym an hour and a half later only two words remained in my mind, "I quit."

It's like I was standing at a ledge of sorts. I felt like there were two choices, continue wandering around here in the land of futility, this "walk of faith" I call my life, or just jumping off the edge and walking away from it all. I actually wondered, or was it prayed how I would ever figure out how to live as though God no longer existed in my world. Could I just ignore Him? Push him out of my mind? He's always there, I know He's always there, but I just don't feel like it's making much of a difference lately, at least not one for the good. So what would jumping look like? How would I quit? How would I pretend what I know is real just no longer mattered in my life?

All day yesterday the sadness just hung on me. My husband kept asking me what was wrong. I didn't know how to answer. Besides, lately sharing my struggles with him has felt like handing him a millstone. It just weighs him down, and he has no capacity to help me. My glass half full husband can't comprehend my battle over negative thoughts. He wants to "fix me", and he can't. So every time he asked, I just told him I was fine.

This morning I woke up uttering a prayer. "Daddy, help me." Daddy, not Father, not God, but Daddy. Why? Because I get it. Despite all my struggles and aches in my heart, I GET that God loves me. To the very depth of my being, I understand the Truth, and that is not where my battle lies. And it has been with great guilt lately that I have prayed honestly before Him, "It's not enough." I want more.

I know I matter to Him. I desperately want to know what I do matters - to the world, to His kingdom, to other people. I know what the Word says, about good plans and being created for a purpose and I want to walk in those things. I have been saying for a good long while, "I know my gifts," and have been begging to be used in them. And instead I have felt lost and purposeless. It's become all I think about anymore - all that I don't have, and all that I'm not doing.

I don't know when I became so completely self-centered. I suspect in the very nature of being human the seed has always been there, but I don't know how long I have been watering it to the point it has now grown. And stepping back now, I see the bloom for what it is, a weed that's poisoning my soul.

"Daddy, help me."

Help me stop being so negative.

Help me stop being so hopeless.

Help me stop sabotaging myself with the lies the enemy has whispered and I now repeat with a megaphone in my own mind.

Help me stop thinking about me. All the time. Every day. Without ceasing.

I read a tweet recently that said "I'm always UP." God bless that person, that's not me. "UP" is such a long hard battle. "You have to choose your joy" is another blip I saw on a screen. It's not that simple. There's more to it than that, at least for me.

I grabbed my Bible for the first time in a long time this morning. I turned to the Psalms. I love that book full of the words of men who struggled. David - the man after God's own heart, I am so thankful he's in there - the struggler, the adulterer, the failure - the one who knows betrayal, disappointment, the pain of waiting. David wasn't always "up." On the contrary he was a man of many emotions, highs and lows, and yet he loved the Lord all along the way.

Asaph too, he seemed to be a man of many emotions, a man who knew struggle. I love his words in Psalm 73, they resonate in my very soul.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever

Psalm 73: 13-14, 23-26

I picture him standing at a ledge of his own. And his question rings so true. "Whom have I in heaven but You?" Despite the hurt, the hardship as tough as I find this "walk of faith" to be, what other option is there? Even in a moment of fantasizing about it, I cannot begin to imagine walking away. I love Him too much, and I know His jealous love would not let me go.

I honestly don't know when I became this person. I think it was subtle and slow, and it has become as much of the problem as a response to my struggles.

Today I am carrying a couple cards in my pocket with scriptures on them. I'm starting in Psalms and going to work my way through. Today I read the first three chapters, and these are my take aways.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;

...And whatever he does shall prosper.

Psalm 1:2-3

On the bottom I wrote "Meditate, work on the roots, flee negativity." Three simple steps I can take today.

The second card has more scripture:

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me,
My glory and the One who lifts up my head.
I cried to the Lord with my voice,
And He heard me from His holy hill.

Psalm 3:3-4

Hear me, "Help me Daddy. Lift my head." That's my prayer as I try to step away from the ledge.

Monday, August 19, 2013

This darkness

This darkness that comes
And creeps into my soul
It highlights what's broken
Reveals all that's not whole

It doesn't mean I'm not Yours
That life's not as it should be
It just magnifies this truth
That You're still working on me

So much sadness and pain
As I look all around
Just because I feel lost
Doesn't mean I'm not found

My heart breaks a little 
When I sit quiet alone
As I am again aware
This world's not my home

There may never be
A "this" I'll achieve
No specified promise
Only I will receive

Maybe I need no more
Than just getting through
So long as I do it
Walking with You

It may be only in sleep
That I find my dreams
Maybe my mundane life
Matters more than it seems

Maybe when at its end
I'll see what mattered most
Or perhaps I'll never see
Any reason to boast

The human doer in me
Simply must find a way
To stay focused on You
As I live day to day

Father forgive me
For living unsatisfied
Teach me contentment
Let me in Your love abide

Oh to stay focused on You
Focused on Your light
If only this darkness
Didn't creep in at night

Diana DePriest
© August 19, 2013