When the Darkness Will Not Lift

“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this” are the words I told God as I knelt beside my bed crying. I was ready to be done with life and I did not care if I died. I felt exactly like Job after God had allowed Satan to take everything from him. I literally was crying out to God because I was at yet another low point in my depression. I was scared and broken and uncertain how long I would continue to suffer. My life seemed meaningless and I was in despair. I was ready for the darkness to be lifted. This was not the only time I cried out to God in anguish requesting for him to relieve my pain. The night I mentioned above, God granted me peace as I thought about how Jesus suffered for my sake and how he intimately knows the ins and outs of suffering. However, the peace was short lived because the darkness returned the next morning. I woke up and the dread, bleakness, despair, doubt, confusion and exhaustion returned. These feelings have been my captors for far too long. Thankfully, I have never had any suicidal thoughts even though I didn’t care if I died. God was gracious and he did not give to me more than I could bear (1 Corinthians 10:13 …And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it) and yet he allowed the depression to return in full force in the morning. God keeps allowing me to walk about and sleep in darkness and consequently, I have had much to ponder.

For a time I used to wonder “why me, why does God allow my depression to persist?” but I realized after a period of time I was not trusting God by asking why me. I had to actively switch my line of thinking to my depression glorifies God and my suffering brings glory to God’s name. This was a hard internal shift to make but a shift helping me to eventually start asking what is God teaching me in the midst of my depression? At first, I thought I had nothing left to learn. I have been depressed for over a year and I got to a point where I was grasping at straws for answers. Basically, I had closed myself off to learning and I had become unteachable. However, I had spent two in a half years in therapy healing my past and I thought everything I needed to do had been accomplished. I didn’t fully understand why a depression had set in when I made a courageous choice to heal my past wounds. My depression seemed like a cruel reward and, unknowingly, I became unteachable. I was not trying to be stuck but for whatever reason I simply began to make everything about me.

Making the connection that I was making everything about me was not easy to grasp. I had to endure a lot of depression and read some books on depression before God revealed to me my idolatry. A little while ago I picked up the book Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness by Edward Welch and I was alarmed how pervasive my idolatry was, especially after reading the chapter on legalism. God revealed so many subtle sins to me and at first I was grateful but eventually self pity set in because I could not bear the weight of my idolatry. God had revealed to me I needed to trust him more and I was trying to be a perfect Christian by trusting in my power and strength to keep his commands. Coupled with struggling to fully forgive myself for all the people I have hurt in my past, this new knowledge was too much to bear. I became disheartened and sullen and I went through my days sulking. I believe the last two years, the same two years I poured myself into God’s words and into following his commands, pursuing God and casting off the world was just an illusion. Every good thing I thought I had done to become more Christ-like seemed to only be a pursuit of perfection instead of resting in God’s grace, love, and mercy. The truth came out and I was not fully prepared for the weight of my idolatry to be revealed. I was laid bare before God but how blessed to be made broken.

After a couple long days of feeling like the worst Christian on the face of the earth, I thought to myself “how much God must love me to reveal my sins to me”. Even though I wanted to choke on my words I realized God’s love pierced the darkness and gave some purpose to all of my suffering. God allowed the darkness to remain to show me what life is like when trying to be perfect. Trying to be perfect is exhausting which I found out time and time again. Inside I was trying to hide my weaknesses and failures by pursuing perfection. I felt so bad about hurting people in my past I was trying to prove to God why I belonged in his kingdom. I had to feel the pain firsthand for an extended period of time so God could show me how much greater life is while fully accepting his love and how bleak and tormenting life is when striving for the unattainable. Ultimately, God revealed to me I was the one stealing my own joy.

I had made a very courageous decision to learn how to establish and maintain loving relationships after my divorce in 2011. My divorce served as a fork in the road and I was faced with a very important decision, to continue hurting people like I had been doing my whole life or I could take responsibility for being abused as a young child. I chose to heal so I could become a better person or at least that is what I was telling myself. I was unaware of another motive lurking beneath the surface. I was really trying to atone for all of my past mistakes. I didn’t fully allow Jesus’ sacrifice and atonement for my sins to sink in. Instead, I took matters into my own hands, told God I could heal in my own strength, and I need the control. Of course I was not aware of any of these underlying motives and beliefs and I am thrilled to this day I chose to heal. Not many people get a second chance in life, especially after being abused by their parents. Regardless of my reasons, I chose to improve my life and thanks be to God for continuing to tuck me into bed each night in the darkness because I can now fully step into his love, rest in him, and allow his joy to be my joy.

I would not wish depression upon anyone because of how debilitating depression can be. True, we can all learn a lot from suffering but depression belongs in a category of its own. The bleakness, dread, despair, anguish, torment, sadness, emptiness, worthlessness, shame, guilt, exhaustion, and loss of passion among so many other sinister symptoms robs  a person of all joy, love, and peace. No one should ever have to go through depression and yet I was able to thank God for my depression. At first I thanked God for the depression so I wouldn’t blame him for my depression. As Job states …”the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21). Later I stopped thanking God for the depression because the depression was not the true gift. The true gifts were all the realizations stemming from being depressed. God allowed me to be depressed but more importantly he used the depression to free me. Ultimately, God helped me to accept his grace, love, and mercy without needing to prove my worth. True, I am likely to struggle with needing to prove my worth since this has been a major struggle of mine my entire life. However, I can now truly let go and let God because I finally understand nothing I do or have done can change God’s love for me (Psalm 136:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever). Indeed, he broke me to keep me humble but he did so to raise me up to experience a more fulfilling relationship with him.

When the darkness will not lift rest assured God is still with you despite what your mind is telling you. The negative thinking associated and many pitfalls in the mind during a dark season twist God’s truths. God’s word remains the same and so does God despite how much we are led to believe otherwise (Malachi 3:6 I the LORD do not change…). There is always a purpose behind what God allows, even if we never fully understand why God chooses to bring us low. Job was considered blameless and upright in the sight of God (Job 1:8) and still God brought him low. Job had done nothing to deserve his suffering but Job also experienced a more fulfilling relationship with God in the midst of extreme suffering. We are all likely to learn a thing or two if we are able to get to a place of openness and trust. God truly works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes (Romans 8:28). When the darkness will not lift trust with all your strength, you are still in God’s hands, he loves you very much, and he is bringing you closer to him.

God is Gracious

John Peterson is a mental health professional who has personal and professional experience helping himself and others overcome traumatic pasts. John is dedicated to helping people have new beginnings, guiding believers in spiritual truths, and spreading the love of Christ. His blog is meant to strengthen, inspire, and encourage anyone seeking a relationship with God, themself, and with others. He firmly believes we are all at our best when connected to God, our true selves, and with each other.