As I have moved into my adult years and begun to understand life more and more, I have observed how sometimes God gives different people different specific – and unique – messages that they have on their hearts to share with the world. For example, one amazing author/speaker that I know has the most incredible and beautiful message that he shares about the grace of God. He can speak about God’s forgiveness and grace in a way that I have never heard before, and it is his heart’s desire to share this with the world. Another amazing author/speaker that I know has started a nonprofit that helps Christians learn and become more equipped to witness and live as missionaries in their everyday lives, and having had the privilege to hear him speak on this subject multiple times – he gets it. He gets what it’s like to live everyday as if God is going to use us to witness in a mighty way, and he is excellent at communicating this message.
In thinking about how one message is not more significant or important than another (assuming they all ultimately point to Jesus, the cross, and the empty tomb), I have been greatly pondering all that God has been teaching me in the recent weeks and months. I touched a little bit on this in the last post, but recently God has been revealing to me and teaching me about the differences and similarities between spiritual depression and physical/clinical depression… but even more importantly, He has been teaching me about the overlap that they have. And in asking myself what is my “message” that God has me to share with the world, I can’t help but think about the spiritual depression vs. physical depression. Because when I think about my life and what it has been like over the last 15+ years, if I were to point to one single thing that has helped me heal and begin to move forward, it would be this.
Before I really dive into it, let me start with this preface. For anyone who stumbles upon my blog and my writing, if they are to read ONE post, if they are to take ONE thing away from all that I’m sharing… my prayer and my heart’s desire is that it would be this. Not only do I know now the truth of it and the significance of it, but I know what it is like to live without that knowledge and that hope. And let me say… it is no way to live. I’m not sure one could even call it living, it is much more of a survival mode.
So… spiritual depression vs. physical depression. I’ve dealt with the darkness known as mental illness and severe depression for just about as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that my mind finally let me become even remotely aware of the massive amount of shame I’ve been carrying this whole time, but it wasn’t until just a few months ago that I started to finally see it for what it is. I was truly at the end of my rope, and I finally had no choice but to start talking about it. I had no choice but to face it and to say, this is scary as can be, but I have no choice. I was seriously terrified, but God promises us that when the light meets the dark, the healing can finally begin.
And that is exactly what happened. As soon as I started to face the shame I had been unnecessarily carrying with me through life, things began to change. I began to learn and see things that I had never seen. I began to talk about things in ways that I never had talked about them. I began to understand what is now the message I long to share with the world… that spiritual depression and physical depression can be and are two very separate things. However, and I say this in the very same breath, they almost always coexist – at least to some degree. In my case, though, they coexisted in a really big and ugly way. And when they coexist from the very beginning, they become more and more intertwined the farther you carry the burden. By the time you get to where I was? It took a miracle to get it sorted out. Thank goodness, though, that our God is in the business of miracles, and He longs to work them in us on a daily basis.
As He worked the miracle in my life, I began to see things in such a beautifully clear way. Initially in this process I did not fully understand what was happening – what had been happening – but I continued running to Christ just the same. See, after my plane landed and I finally started to believe that God DOES love me and that His death and resurrection and forgiveness is for ME… I began to realize something. I realized that the physical depression may or may not still be present in my life. But regardless of the chemicals in my brain, regardless of whether or not my very real illness of clinical depression was still present… now I can cope. Now I realize and see and even believe that I am worth taking care of. I am worth using the coping skills that I’ve been learning for the last seven years but refused to ever use due to the shame and belief that I deserved to go die. I am worth the temporary healthy distraction so that I can make it through safely to the next moment. Knowing that I struggle with food and taking care of myself when it comes to nourishment, I am ALWAYS worth of finding myself a snack if I’ve had a difficult day with food. I am ALWAYS worth taking care of myself physically, and I am worth doing so and learning from it… but then continuing through my day without shaming myself the whole time.
As I wrote about in the previous blog, Jesus never once promised that this life would be easy or free from hurt and pain and difficulties. However, He did promise that He will be with us, and that He will be with us always. In every moment, no matter what.
So in some ways, I see that promise as another way to look at the question of spiritual depression vs physical depression. We live in a fallen world, and until we leave this life and go to spend eternity with our Creator, there will be illness. There will be sin. There will be sorrow, there will be tears. It’s inevitable, and to hope and believe otherwise would border on being foolish. God has yet to restore this Earth, and until He does so, there will be sin.
But, while God has yet to restore this Earth… He HAS come to restore our relationship with Him. He HAS come to make things right between us and God. And when it comes to spiritual depression, which is so often characterized by a heavy burden of shame and worthlessness, Jesus HAS fought that battle. And not only has He fought that battle, He has WON that battle. He won that battle for now and into eternity when He died on that cross and a few days later left that tomb forever empty.
What does that mean for us as believers? That means that, yes, we will have sickness. We will even have depression and other mental illnesses. BUT, we do not have to needlessly suffer. We do not have to give into the lies of the enemy and permanently carry around the weight of that soul crushing shame. We don’t have to live without hope. We can live knowing that some days will be hard. Some days will be really, really hard. But… we know who wins. And He wins in the most beautiful, triumphant way.
Let me take a moment to share a story that might help bring these thoughts from conceptual to much more personal and real.
This last weekend, the pastor at my church started a sermon series on Romans 8. I’m still laughing at the irony and timing of it, but I really am excited to hear the preaching on such a rich passage now that I’m able to believe it and feel it for myself. For the first weekend, he preached just on verse 1. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” WOW. Talk about a powerful and life changing truth there. On Saturday night, though, my pastor said something that caught my attention. See, even four short months ago, what he said would have angered me in a very real way. But now? I get it. I see it. And I want to help all of my brothers and sisters who are broken and hurting so that they can get it, too.
Basically, he started talking a little bit about spiritual depression. And he said that truly, the only solution, the only antidote for that darkness is the truth spoken in Romans 8:1. The truth that, because of Jesus, we are redeemed and we are loved and we are free. But because, context or not, he said that the Bible verse is the only cure… back in January or February, I would have been angry. I would have felt horribly invalidated, that he doesn’t get it. That he doesn’t understand what it’s like to walk with this darkness and to live in this living hell.
With my new understanding, though? I get it. I get what he means, that when it comes to the spiritual depression, the only cure IS Jesus. The only cure IS His death and resurrection and His amazing, mind blowing love for us. See… for so long, I think I had a hard time imagining that there was something other than the either/or option. I had a hard time imagining that both could be in the picture (spiritual AND physical), and that Jesus could take my heart and heal that spiritual depression without once invalidating the validity and difficulty of that clinical and physical depression.
I never even comprehended that as an option, but I feel like God has a habit of blowing our minds. Because that is EXACTLY what He has done over the last few months.
When it comes to the issue in question, what I have been discussing this whole post… what I have learned is that they can both exist, and that the existence of one does not invalidate the other. That last part – that the existence of one does NOT invalidate the other – that is what I think has been the most helpful. And once we can acknowledge that both components are present and that both things can simultaneously be true, I think that is when we feel the freedom to really let God work in our lives… to truly let Him heal us.
And like I said before, the spiritual depression? That is what has ALREADY been restored; it was restored 2000 years ago through His death and resurrection. The physical depression, though? That is what He may or may not heal in this lifetime. However, we do have the promise that one day we will experience complete healing. It just may not happen until we go to spend eternity with Him.
So, in viewing this as my “message”, as the gift that God has given to me in order that I might live a more abundant life, all I want is to share it with everyone I meet. I think about all of my pain and suffering and darkness over the years, and while yes, some people had good awareness of what was really going on… far too few had any idea. But more importantly than being able to see what’s going on – to see the spiritual component for what it is – is that piece of validation. To be able to look at someone and say, I see that you’re hurting. But I promise you, leaning into Jesus and letting Him heal that part of your heart will never ever invalidate your struggle or the realness of your clinical mental illness. It will actually help you, and life will become more beautiful than you ever thought possible… yes, even more beautiful than if your mental illness never existed.
I know that’s what He did for me…
I can only hope and pray and watch and wait that He do the same in the lives of so many more.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”