Surviving the Down Days: Faith

Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up.  In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul. ◊ Psalm 94:17-18 ◊

A friendly disclaimer: I am neither scholar nor theologian, but I will be sharing my personal experiences with faith, Christianity, and depression in this post.

If you are not a person of faith, this post may be of no interest to you.  Or maybe it will, depending upon your willingness to keep an open mind and ignore the voices that tell you God cannot be real.  I don’t know.  You are free to make that determination for yourself.

You have been warned!

When I was ensnared in the depths of my major depression, I struggled to maintain what little bit of my faith remained. After experiencing a life-altering event, severe depression, and, perhaps, some slightly questionable preaching, my faith was completely shattered.

In this post, I would like to share three tips that helped me stay connected to God even as I experienced my crisis of faith. It’s been a long road and my journey is not complete, but I am thankful that God is true to his word – he did not abandon me; he did not forsake me.

I hope that these tips can help those who may be struggling to keep their faith as they work at defeating the destructive force that is depression.

I was angry…and that’s okay. 

At some time during my downward spiral into the depths of despair, I became angry at God and doubted whether my faith had ever been genuine.  I was too scared and ashamed to admit either of these things at the time, and eventually became riddled with guilt, convinced I was a total failure as a Christian.  It wasn’t until I finally attended a church-led grief support group that I began to accept that my lengthy season of anger, questioning, and frustration hadn’t completely ruined my relationship with God.

Early on in the group meetings, we watched a video in which other believers spoke of their experiences with anger and doubt. I realized then that I wasn’t the only Christian who had ever felt this way. It was such a relief as I listened (in shock) to a pastor who recalled the night when he was so angry with God that he threw his Bible across his study.

The point of the video was not to encourage this behavior but to offer reassurance and hope to those of us who were experiencing similar obstacles in our spiritual lives.  It is not a sin to be angry at God; it is not a sin to question him.  However, we must not allow anger or doubt to gain such a hold of us that it causes us to turn away from God completely.

I think it is important to express any anger we have towards the Lord rather than keep it locked inside.   Pray about it. Write about it. Get it out.  God knows what it’s like to be angry and hurt.  Lay your anger and pain before him in a biblical manner and allow him to heal you.

Can’t Pray? Write.

When you are at the bottom of the well, maintaining any kind of  prayer life or Bible study is a huge struggle. The mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion makes it impossible to focus on anything that requires concentration and thought.  My solution to this problem was to write letters.  I don’t recall any scripture that states we can’t share our concerns, worries, anger, or frustration in the written word.

Sometimes, I wrote long letters.  Sometimes, I wrote just a few sentences. Once I’d written them, I folded them up, stashed them away in a box, and forgot about them.  Life had gotten so messy, out of control, and scary, it felt good to let all of that emotion out in my letters to God. I didn’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or how neat my handwriting was; I just wrote.  It wasn’t prayer but, if nothing else, it was cathartic and, I believe, it kept me connected to God in some way.  At the time, it was the best I could do.

Find a Christian counselor or mature believer.  

One of the most helpful steps for my overall recovery, was finding a licensed Christian counselor who not only provided me with the cognitive behavioral therapy I needed, but who also helped reset my faith in God by re-teaching basic biblical principals.  She was well-versed in scripture, mature in her faith,  and prepared for any of my questions.  Nothing I said shocked her.

You may be fortunate enough to have a mature believer in your life already, perhaps a friend, family member, or church member.  If you do, and they are capable of listening without judgement, I would encourage you to talk to them also.

Many churches are improving when it comes to helping members with mental illness. Some have licensed counselors on staff and will offer counseling services free of charge or at significantly reduced rates. Obviously,  one of the most important considerations when seeking a Christian counselor is to ensure the beliefs of the counselor and/or church are biblically sound.  If you cannot find a licensed Christian counselor, then you may be able to find a “secular” counselor who will keep your personal beliefs in mind when providing your therapy.

God is on your side. 

You may cringe when you hear this, but yes, God is on your side.  He is not a distant deity who moves us around randomly like hapless pieces on a chess board, although we may see it that way when we look at him through our depression-impaired vision.  I know when you are drowning in despair that it’s difficult to remember God is our lifeline out of the darkness, if we will just reach for him.

One of the most important lessons I learned throughout my experience is this: no matter how feeble our grip, we need to cling to whatever bit of faith we have.  Even if that faith is the size of the proverbial mustard seed, you cling to it, because one day that faith will help you move the mountain of depression that once seemed so immovable.

 

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