I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God (Psalm 40:1-3).
I had almost forgotten what it felt like to wake up at the bottom of that deep, ugly pit called clinical depression. The darkness has been an all too familiar companion for most of my life. Over the years, I tried just about everything to soothe the pain in my heart and mind – things like success in ministry, the approval of others, perfectionism, doing good things, and food – to name a few.
In 1995, the bottom fell out of my life, and I spent two long years climbing out of that pit of darkness. I even wrote a book entitled “Hope in the Midst of Depression” that describes the painful but healing journey that totally and completely changed who I was and what I would become in the years ahead. God absolutely re-defined me and gave me a new song to sing as He opened doors for me speak to women across the world about how to find hope in the midst of depression. I have often said, “I would go through that pit experience again tomorrow because of what God has done in my life through it.” I really meant those words. I just didn’t think that “tomorrow” would really come. But it did. What was I supposed to do then?
I went back to the place where it all began – to the place of complete brokenness - and remembered. Evidently, the Father had some new truths for me to learn. And I had forgotten some of truths God taught me in the darkness. I had somehow begun to follow the wrong plan and allowed my heart to seek man’s approval instead of God’s favor.
Depression may not be the problem you are facing, but the hard times will come, and the darkness will find each one of us. At some point in life, we all will face some kind of pit. It may be a pit that we have dug with our own hands of wrong choices, or it could be a pit that has been uniquely designed for us by the enemy. But a pit is a pit – a place of paralyzing fear and numbing doubt that is constantly fed by our human frailty and desperate attempts to escape the darkness. Let's take a look at the four steps we can take in order to find fresh hope and new freedom from the darkness.
Step 1: Identify the purpose of the pit.
I recently underwent what I thought was going to be a simple medical procedure, but when I woke up in recovery, I knew I was in trouble. According to the doctor, the surgery went great, but she had not expected to find so much scar tissue and repair work to do, and I certainly had not expected to experience the level of pain, soreness and inability to function that overwhelmed me. I was basically helpless. And I do not like to be helpless. I had given myself a whole ten days to recuperate, but it was brutally obvious that recuperation was going to be a long time coming. In fact, those ten days I had so generously carved out of my schedule turned into ten months of extremely painful and slow recovery. I could feel myself sliding into that familiar pit of darkness. Honestly, I just wanted to stay in that darkness. It seemed easier than trying to climb out of that pit again. I remembered how hard it had been the first time. I wasn’t sure I could do it again. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it again.
I have a problem with pride. It has always been extremely hard for me to accept help. I was raised to be strong and independent. When anyone asked what he or she could do to help out during my recovery, I automatically responded with, “I am fine. I will let you know if I need anything.” Fortunately, my family and friends ignored that absurd assertion and stepped right over my pride as they brought meals, cleaned house, did laundry, assumed my teaching and speaking responsibilities, and kept our infant grandson while our daughter attended school three days a week. I could not even get out of bed or go downstairs without help – and I did not like it one bit! In fact, I was absolutely furious – with the doctor, with my own human frailty, and I was definitely angry with God! Just like a tiny flame can turn into a raging fire, unresolved anger can turn into depression. As I began to work through my own anger and frustration, one purpose of this particular pit quickly emerged as God reminded me of a truth I often share but fail to practice. We were created to need God and to need each other. It is so easy to slide into a pattern of thinking much like the prideful toddler who announces, “I do it myself!”
We can’t! And the good news is that we don’t have to! Lay down your pride, girlfriend, and let fresh hope fill your life.
Step 2: Choose a response to the pit.
We have several choices about how to deal with the pain and darkness in life. We can become bitter and blame God or someone else for the pain, or we can give up and wallow in the mire and mud of that slimy pit. I am guilty of plastering a smile on my face, gritting my teeth and denying that the pit even exists. However, the choice we should make is to trust God, knowing He will deliver us. He may deliver us from the pit or He may deliver us in it. We have to come to the place of being willing to accept His plan for deliverance – not ours. The Apostle Paul was an expert when it came to squeezing a seed of victory and truth out of every tough circumstance. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 “So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem was given to me. I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you.’” Paul was not sinning by asking God to remove his affliction. Paul may not have understood what God was doing, but he chose to accept it because he knew God’s heart. Paul may not have understood or even liked God’s process, but he trusted God.
Step 3: Embrace the power of the pit.
2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.’ So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me."
God was sending Paul a message of hope. It is important to note the tense of the verb in this verse. “But he said to me” can be translated “He (God) has once-for-all said to me.” It is an eternal promise.
The story is told of a businessman who was selling warehouse property that had been empty for months. Since vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and left garbage, the building needed expensive repairs. As the owner showed a prospective buyer the property, he was quick to explain that he would make any repairs needed. The buyer said, “Forget the repairs. When I buy this place, I’m going to build something completely different. I don’t want the building – just the site.” God’s grace turns defeat into victory, tragedy into triumph, and weakness into strength by providing real power over circumstances. People without Christ can muster up enough courage and human strength to get through a trial. God will not only enable us to survive the hard times, He wants us to thrive in and because of each trial we will ever face. Paul used his pain and chose to make that pit work for him – and God’s power was unleashed in Paul’s life.
Step 4: Find joy in the pit.
2 Corinthians 12:9 “I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me."
Joy is not an earthly treasure. Joy is a heavenly gift from our loving Father. God created us to be vessels that contain His joy. I am convinced God entrusts the greatest trials to those who will respond to them in the right way. Some of the most joyful people I know have suffered the most because they have learned to live by sheer faith in the promises of God instead of demanding that God explain the reason for the pain.
I love the story of the little girl who misquoted her favorite Bible verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have ever-laughing life.” Jesus wants to give us a life of joy, pits and all. Part of the problem is that we do not understand what real joy is. Joy is the deeply rooted confidence that God is in control – no matter what the circumstances may be – no matter what our feelings are – no matter what! Our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outer circumstances. We can find joy - even in the pit.
The Nazis in World War II imprisoned Dr. Viktor Frankl because he was a Jew. His wife, children and parents were killed in the Holocaust. As the Gestapo stripped away his clothes and cut off his wedding band, Victor said to himself, “You can take away my family and destroy everything I possess, but there is one thing that no person can ever take from me - my freedom to choose how I react to what happens to me.”
The longer I walk with Christ, the more I realize just how important the word “choice” is when it comes to finding victory over the darkness. I don’t know what you are facing today, but God does. And you can choose joy and hope because God is with you.
Hope in the Midst of Depression is my story of desperation, brokenness and restoration. I pray it will be a blessing to you. - Mary Southerland