“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?”
~David, Psalm 42:5a
I can’t do this anymore. I want to quit. I want to quit. I want to quit. My mind races with these self-defeating, negative thoughts. It’s like a mantra, a bad theme song that won’t go away. I go to church. I take care of my kids. I see people. Insert plastic smile here. Then like an echo out of the Grand Canyon, I hear, I’m a fake. I’m a fake. I’m a fake. Why am I telling you this? Because I don’t want to be a fake, and the struggle is so very real.
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.”
~Paul, 2 Corinthians 1:8b
It’s been almost two decades since I faced one of the greatest battles of my life . . . and I almost lost. After intentionally overdosing on over-the-counter medication just months before entering high school, there should have been no denying that something was wrong. But deny it I did. When I woke the next day to God’s new mercies and a new reason for living, I told everyone (and lied to myself) that I was “fine.” I was anything but fine. Empty. Aching. Hopeless. They were terrible, haunting feelings. But slowly, God began to chip away at the broken pieces in my heart and fill the vacancy in my soul. It has taken years, but I know God has done a work in my life. He has redeemed my life from the pit and given me a new story to tell.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.”
~Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:8
Although I know and can see how God’s grace has been sufficient in my life, and although the emptiness has been filled by the passionate, redemptive love of Jesus, the struggle is still there. For reasons that I don’t understand (or maybe because my faith still has so much room to grow), God has not healed me completely from my depression. Aside from the occasional post or text to a close friend, I hide the fight inside of me. How can I help anyone else if I can’t even help myself? I’m the women’s ministry leader at church, for goodness’ sake. People look up to me. They seek my council. What if they knew? I know this thinking is faulty because it is Christ that works in me when I am ministering to others, and He chooses to shine through cracked pots like me. There is something else . . . shame. After all we’ve been through this year with my son’s diagnosis and subsequent battle with cancer, shouldn’t have I faced this “black dog” sooner? Now, that we are in the recuperation and wait stages, why am I feeling it now? Why am I not rejoicing? What’s wrong with me? Oh, the struggle is so real.
“Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
~Jonah, Jonah 4:3
. . . And maybe the struggle is real for you, too. It was real for Jonah. He went from scared to compliant to frustrated and angry. He pouted when things didn’t go his way. He stuffed his negative thoughts and emotions, and it made his heart sick.
“And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept.”
~Hagar, Genesis 21:16b
It was real for Hagar. Abandoned, lost and alone. She knew what it meant to be hopeless. She gave up and melted into a puddle of tears.
“‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.’ . . . And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”
~Jesus, Luke 22:42a, 44
The anguish, the inner turmoil . . . it was real for Jesus, too.
Up until now, I know I haven’t offered a lot of encouragement, and maybe that is because my heart is fighting it. But wait, don’t leave! Their stories don’t stop there. God did leave them to fight alone. Read on . . .
“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me . . .”
~David, Psalm 42:5b-6a, 8a
David didn’t sugarcoat his prayers. He got real with God real quick. Yet, David consistently recognized God’s faithfulness. He praised Him for His goodness. He was comforted by His concern. David didn’t keep his face to the ground. He looked up.
“Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”
~Paul, 2 Corinthians 1:9
Paul recognized that his human strength was not sufficient for his troubles. He was frail, and his burdens were too heavy for him to bare alone. And that was exactly the point. Paul knew that had he not been so unbelievably broken, he would not have relied so fully on the Lord. So, he turned from faith in human power to faith in the Lord. There, he found deliverance.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a neat bow to wrap up Jonah’s story. But I want you to notice something. If you continue reading in chapter four, you will find that God met him in that place—that place of stuffing and pouting, of weariness and frustrated despair. He called to him, but He didn’t force him.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
~Jesus talking to Peter, Luke 22:31-32
Peter, my favorite disciple, is known for his outbursts of emotion. There was no lukewarm with Peter. He ran headfirst into whatever he was pursuing . . . or fleeing, as was the case on the night of Jesus’ arrest. Peter’s fear exploded into anger, and he adamantly denied that he even knew Jesus. But God . . . don’t you love that phrase?? . . . But God didn’t leave Peter in that place. He called to him, and Peter answered. He forgave him. And that day on the beach (see John 21), He gave Peter a mission. Listen to this, God used the broken, disloyal and highly emotional Peter. Because that’s what God does . . . takes something broken and makes it amazing.
“[A]nd the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar?’ . . . Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.”
-Hagar, Genesis 21:17,19a
God heard the cries. He called her name. He gave her a new vision. Hagar did not remain hopeless.
“And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”
~Jesus, Luke 22:43
I want us to pause here and just park our minds on that verse. An angel came to strengthen Jesus. A similar occurrence is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. After forty days fasting in a wilderness and the persistent temptation of Jesus’ greatest enemy, we are told, “and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (see Matthew 4:11). There is great debate among believers as to whether one should seek help for emotional and mental struggles. If God provided aid to Jesus in moments of great difficulty and stress, why do we think we are above it? Please hear me. I am not saying that we should take the ways of this world to mask our pain and by doing so, dull the voice of the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that God can and does work through friends, doctors and counselors to nourish our wounded souls. He brought sustenance to the wearied and discouraged Elijah (1 Kings 19:4-8). He brought friends to the imprisoned Paul (Colossians 4:7-17). Proverbs 27:9 says, “The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense” (NLT). Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in abundance of counselors there is safety.” We need each other, and we waste too much time criticizingg each other instead of helping one another. Romans 12:9 and 10 says, “Let love be genuine. . . . Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made the heaven and the earth.”
There is no satisfaction outside of the Lord. There is no relationship nor drug that can fill the empty longing in our souls. Our help comes from the Lord, and we must look to Him first. But when you do, do not despise His instruction. His ways are not always conventional, and His healing is not always complete this side of heaven. But you can trust Him completely.
As for me, the struggle is present, but it isn’t ever-present. There are moments . . . a jam session with my favorite praise and worship music . . . a moment to celebrate and honor my son’s fight . . . an afternoon with a friend . . . a child snug on my lap while I read a book . . . in these moments, I feel contentment and joy. But for me, the battle is on-going, and I feel like I’ve lost a lot lately. That is why I am so thankful for verses that remind me “God is greater than our feelings” (see 1 John 3:20) and it can be well with my soul even if I don’t feel well. It also means that I need to be real about my struggle. If I want to see how God will use my suffering for His glory, I first need to surrender it. Will you pray for me to do this? Can we help each other? Let this be our prayer . . .
Lord, according to the riches of Your glory, may You grant us to be strengthened with power through Your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. To You be the glory! Amen.
(Adapted from Ephesians 3:14-19, 21)