I am a bit hesitant to write this and yet I feel I should. As I read a blog by Joyce Bethy Ferguson (@bethy) entitled The Land of Ice, I remembered that terrible morning 11 years ago when I awakened to find myself in that same place where the sun doesn't shine. When I say I was horrified I don't mean to say that I "felt" horrified. I felt nothing whatsoever and I know that you and those who made comments understand what I am talking about. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing and I called it "The Nothingness".
I called in sick that day and my husband, concerned, came home and took me to see my doctor. She's a very wise woman who does not dismiss her patients concerns even if the only thing she could find wrong with me was that my blood pressure was quite high. It got up to the level it had been when I'd had pre-eclampsia, more than 22 years before.
I dully wondered how long I would be staying in this place. Would I have to live here for the rest of my natural life? No one could reach me here. Could God? I wanted to believe it but quite frankly, I even wondered if God could step down into The Nothingness. Then I remembered God had taken nothing and created not only light but life.
I couldn't see it but in that moment I knew that God had power over "The Nothingness". I did not know how long I would be staying here but I knew that God was here...even in the nothingness. What's more, though I couldn't feel it, He had me in the palm of His hand.
Oh how I wanted to leave this dark place and never return! I did not want to stay here a moment longer but I couldn't find the exit. All I could do was sit on the bench in darkness and wait, hoping, no, longing for the dawn to break! I waited all day.
What if... what if it never came? What if God was going to let me stay here for weeks, months, days, years, a lifetime? What if? The question suddenly flashed through my mind and I realized I was not asking that last question. God was.
I cried out, "Are you going to leave me here, Lord?" I didn't answer God's question so He waited until I did.
I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry but nothing happened. I was in The Nothingness.
Finally, I answered God. "I know you are with me, even in this place. I don't know why I am here. I don't want to be here but I am going to trust you. I am going to believe that even if the sun never shines again, you love me and you will never leave me nor forsake me."
If this was a drama written for TV, a movie or a novel, it is at this point that the lights would slowly come up and music would begin to play, softly at first but building in intensity. There would suddenly be color exploding everywhere and there would be a dance number. That didn't happen. Nothing happened. There was just silence, "The Nothingness" and and the lingering awareness that I was being watched.
When I awakened the next morning, a flood of emotions burst over me. I began to cry and sing at the same time. I leaped out of bed and danced about the house, scaring my poor husband into thinking I had lost my mind. I had stepped out of The Nothingness and danced into Life!
As I rejoiced, God spoke to me once again. He told me that He had given me a brief glimpse of what so many men and women live with each day and its name is Depression. He told me to never forget what I had seen for I needed to remember it. Since before I had been born, my father had battled depression though some of it had been chemically-induced due to medications he needed to take for other conditions. From a bystander's perspective, I knew all about the mood swings and the tweaking of medications in an attempt to get it right. In fact, to the horror of my parents, as a very young child I even emulated those mood swings believing that to be "normal". They had to teach me it was not and that happened because my daddy was sick.
While unlike most people, I truly did understand that depression is very real and you can't just "shake it off", God wanted me to have a closer look at it and in retrospect I am glad that He did. I am the first to admit that I do not know what it is like to live with depression but I cannot forget what it was like to stop at the station for a day. Truthfully, I hope I never do.
We as the Church need to recognize depression as a chemical illness that affects our brain. It is not "the blues" that can be whisked away nor is it all in someone's head. It is real and it is very serious. It is a mentally crippling disease that robs people of their joy and peace. It is a disease that can destroy marriages, families and friendships. It even attempts to destroy your relationship with God. It can rob you of your ability to form new friendships, earn a living and care for your family. It isolates you and can even drive people to taking their own lives.
In addition to all of this, a Christian is often plagued by intense guilty. Why can't they just shake this off? Where is their joy? What did they do wrong? Why don't they have enough faith? They are a poor testimony! They have to hide this lest someone find out and ask them why God is punishing them!
Rather than condemn these precious brothers and sisters, we need to come up along side them with our love and support. We need to be willing to step down into "the dark places" just like Jesus did so that they might know that though darkness is covering them at the moment, they are surrounded by the Light and the Light is stronger than any darkness.
Photo credit: Wim Vandenbussche