Thursday, January 3, 2013

How Depression Pushed Me Away From And Brought Me Closer To God


So many of them go unnoticed.  So many of them forgotten.  So many of them wasted.

But some rock your world.

Sometimes, moments change everything.

I want to tell you a story about three moments.  

As a kid, I was a dutiful Christian.  I went to groups.  I went to Sunday school.  I was in Awana.  I prayed.  I went to church.

As I was preparing for confirmation, I was involved in a youth group.  Although I was a dutiful Christian, there was a lot I did not understand.  As I entered adolescence, my faith wavered, and I was religiously apathetic.  I said prayers but they didn't mean anything.  I went to church but was more focused on counting down the minutes until I could leave.  I was losing my faith.

I went on a retreat my sophomore year of high school, a sort of last hurrah leading up to conformation.  A weekend full of activities with a whole bunch of people my age, many that I went to middle school with, plenty of strangers, plenty of friends.  A whole group of people spending time together exploring a little bit more about faith.  I don't remember the activities.  I don't remember the conversations.  I don't remember anything about the weekend other than one part.

Moment 1.

On our last night, we did an activity meant to signalize letting go of our sins, our pain, and our suffering, and letting God take control of those things in our life.  There was a fire burning in the fireplace, and the glow filled the dark room with hope.  After a lot of reflecting, we were asked to write on a piece of paper the things we were struggling with.  The pain we were feeling.  The sorrow that we were experiencing.  The hardships we were facing.  Make a list, throw it in the fire, and let God help you let go.  Most people wrote down one or two things, walked over to the fire, and dropped the paper in, letting go of their burdens.  I wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.  One by one, everyone got up, dropped their paper in the fire, and walked away.  I wrote.  Until finally, I couldn't write any more.  I was crying.  I was ashamed.  So much I wanted to let go of.  So much I realized I needed help through. I slowly made my way to the fire, clutching the paper in my hands.  I said a prayer:

God, please help me through these things.  Please help me let go.  Please help me.

I was approached by the leader of the weekend.  Pat said that he noticed that I had written a lot, and asked if there was anything he could do to help.  I just said I have a lot that I'm trying to let go of.

The next morning, before be left, we had a chance to speak in front of the group sharing what we had taken away from the weekend and how we were affected.  After a few people, I was compelled to talk. I took a deep breath, walked up, and started talking.  I talked about how I had learned a lot this weekend and enjoyed the time I spent with everyone.  I told everyone about how much I wrote on my paper and how I needed God to help me through, and how I believed he would answer my prayer.  As I started sobbing, I thanked everyone for helping to bring faith back in my life.


Moment 2.

After I returned back into the routine of high school life, I started feeling worse and worse.  Those things that I was trying to let go of were getting bigger and bigger.  I started becoming more and more detached.  I started hating myself.  I started falling apart.  I couldn't stop hurting.  What followed were some of the darkest days that I could have ever imagined.  Brokenness.  Fear.  Hurt.  Hopelessness.  Misery.  Sadness.  Pain.

I spent so many days in a dark hole that I couldn't seem to get myself out of.  I spent so many nights going to bed hoping I wouldn't wake up.  I spent so long wishing I was dead.

I asked you to help me, and this is what you do?  I hate you.  I don't need you.

That's the moment I walked away from God.


Therapy.  Medication.  Love.  Support.  Hospitals.  Doctors.  Pills.  Time.  Treatments.

I started liking my life again.  I started finding a purpose again.  As my mom said with a smile on her face, "I got my son back."

A few years passed.  I found myself resenting God.  Whenever we would go to church, I would be bitter. Former apathy turned to anger.  I didn't want to listen to this crap.  Why should I waste my time?  He wouldn't even help me when I needed it the most.  I got myself better.  I did what I needed to do to turn my life around.  I found my way back.

A few years passed.  Anger turned back to apathy.  If I stepped foot in a church, it was either Easter or Christmas.  I didn't feel anything.  I didn't care.

A few years passed.  Apathy turned into curiosity.  So many of my closest friends were devout Christians.  My values fall in line with so many Christians, and we just fit well together.  They would tell me that they were praying for me.  A few years before, I would have been pissed.  I was flattered and honored.  It didn't mean anything to me in a spiritual sense, but it was touching that these amazing people felt that strongly about me wanting to have a relationship with God.

A few years passed.  Curiosity turned into desire.  Desire to figure out what I really believed.  I spent so many years turning my back and walking away, but I realized that I needed to start a journey toward discovery with a blank slate.  I realized that I believe in God, but not the same way that a lot of other people do.  I have a lot of spirituality, but it is expressed differently than a lot of other people.  I started checking out a few different churches and did a lot of reading.  I found a church that the first time I walked in, I felt that it could be a home to discovery.  I found a church that for the first time in over a decade, I actually look forward to going to every week.  I found a church that really makes me think, examine, reflect, question, challenge, and grow.  I found a church that for the first time in over a decade, I felt anything.


Over the past few months, something has been lurking underneath the surface.  Every couple of years since the "dark days," I experience moments where feelings of depression return.  Sometimes weeks.  Sometimes months.  But like clockwork, every 2-3 years, I am challenged with another bout.  I have come to understand myself and my mental health very well, and after years of challenge and understanding, I know what to do when it returns.  It never manifests itself in the same way, but I can always figure it out and conquer it once again.  But this time, I realized it too late.  My job has been suffering as a result.  I lost the the most important thing to me - the biggest part of my life.  All because I didn't see this one coming.  When I took away everything and all there was was me, I knew something wasn't right.  I knew that depression was back for another fight.  In all my years of battling this, in all of these moments, I know what to do.  I know how to calm myself down.  I know how to get help for myself.  I know who to turn to.  I know what I need to do to get through it.  But something was tugging on me and I did something different this time that I have never done before in these moments.

I prayed.

God, please help me through these things.  Please help me figure this out.  Please help me.  Please be with me.

What followed was a moment of peace and clarity unlike I have felt in a long time.  Although it has damaged many things in my life, although I lost a relationship, although I was struggling with many other things, I got it.  I understood what was really going on and could grasp the issue at hand.  The depression I thought I had said goodbye to long ago, yet has shown itself every few years, has been creeping back into my life.  Even though I felt damaged and broken, I knew what I had to do to pick up the pieces.

Moment 3.

The next morning, I headed to church before I was to head to Minnesota to spend Christmas with my family.  I have been listening to one song over and over this week (It is posted below).  Usually, when I go through rough patches, there's one song at the time that becomes my go-to for inspiration.  One song is in my life that will make me feel better.  So many songs have helped picked me up through the years.  Although I don't find myself overly religious, I have always found comfort and hope in religious music.  I am going through a rough patch.  This is my song.

On the way to church, I listened to it on repeat.  Over and over.  Tears streaming down my face.  I got to the parking lot.  I took a deep breath.  I turned off my car.  I walked inside.  As I entered the sanctuary, a song was playing over the loudspeakers that caught my attention.  A different version.  An acoustic, beautiful, traditional version of the traditional song.

My song.

During the service, between the traditional Christmas stories, there was a message.  The title of the message that morning was A Healing Kind of Christmas.  If there's one things I need during this time, it's exactly that.


Short yet enlightening, succinct yet powerful, he spoke about the brokenness that people feel.  The pain that people experience.  The hardships that people work through...broken relationships...not ideal job situations...deep pain...searching for something...running from something...

He might as well have been pointing a finger right at me while he was talking.  He was speaking directly to me.  Directly to my soul.

In that moment, I didn't know what it meant.  I don't know what it means for me or my future.  I don't know what is going to change or where it will go from here.  But I know that one thing happened that I haven't thought, felt, or believed in many, many, many years.

In that day, in that morning, in that moment... God was with me.

1 comment:

  1. God is always with us Jeff; we just don't always recognize Him or let Him in. I truly understand your struggles and you are not alone either in the constant battle or as a person fighting depression. I empathize because I too suffer from the weight and darkness depression brings. I don't pretend to have an answer to this illness, but I know what works for me (besides good meds :-)). I thank God for all the wonderful things I am graced with from the extraodrinary love between my wife and I; the close loving relationship of my children; the amazing closeness of my extended family especially here in Minnesota and for our good fortune with our health and happiness that is often overlooked. So many people spend their days waiting to die. During those dark moments when I do that as well I think of those things that God has granted me and can feel the oppressive cloud lift. It's then that I remember to live every day and accept the beautiful world around me. I'm not very religious but I think there is more than one way to honor God and I do this within myself. Thank you, as usual, for sharing your life and offering hope and inspiration. Oh, you know, it's okay to be mad at God and even tell him off once or twice. It's another form of belief and faith. Besides don't we get mad at all our loved ones at some point. Well, enough said; I leave you with this last thought. I believe in you Jeffrey and only hope that I can inspire and offer the calm pure joy of life that you live, love and share with others.