He Was With Me
Warning and disclaimer: I'm about to get really real. Read at your own risk.
Last night we had dinner guests (love it!) and house guests (my in-laws, love them!), and a wonderful discussion took place about God's faithfulness in the hard times. We talked about how sometimes in the difficult places God teaches us things, and that often we are thankful for those difficulties because of what we've learned.
And then my father-in-law, God bless him, said this: "Looking back, I wouldn't give up those hard places because of how I grew in God during those times."
And I thought, "RUBBISH."
I felt that THING rise up in me. That angry, growling thing; and I knew enough to know that it was my flesh reacting. So I didn't say anything at first, and instead paused a bit to ask God to intervene.
The truth was, I felt challenged by my dad's statement because I did not agree with him. When I look back at the dark periods of my life, I am not thankful. I would not go through them again, and I can't think of a single thing that I learned that was worth the pain.
Before you label me a heretic, allow me to explain.
I have periods of time in my history where I have struggled with a depression that was so real, so all encompassing, and so mind-altering that all I could see was despair. (When compared to others who struggle, my periods of depression were brief and sporadic, but in reality lasted between 6 and 18 months each time.) During these seasons, God was a distant memory and His voice was nowhere near my ears. The worst of these times occurred when I was in college, but the depression lifts and returns again without warning throughout my life.
Usually, I push the memories of these times far from me. They are dark and dangerous things that I choose not to revisit. But last night I began searching through them to see if I could find a single thing that I was thankful for. I opened the box of recollection, and I could feel the pain start to grip my heart again instantly. I got this desperate, panicky feeling in my chest just thinking about it, and tears came immediately to my eyes.
Mental illness (or emotional illness, or however you want to refer to it) is a terrifying thing. And I can't help but think of it as the direct result of living in a fallen world. It is the result of evil inhabiting here that God never intended for His people. Telling me to be thankful for it, or to be thankful for the things I have learned from it, seems akin to telling a kidnap victim to be thankful for the time spent in fear and horror. I am not thankful for those years. I did not have joy in those circumstances. They were void of life and hope, and they were a living nightmare. How can anyone be thankful for that?
I wrestled with this idea all evening, and fell asleep troubled and disturbed. Am I a horrible Christian that I can't be thankful for what God has brought me through? Am I lacking in faith that I can't look back and be glad for those times?
And then, this morning, the voice of my Beloved whispered to my heart.
He said 4 words, and they changed my world.
"I was with you."
For the first time, I understand in my Spirit that even in these horrible times, when my mind and body were sick with illness and all I could feel was desperation and pain, He was with me.
He was with me when the anxiety threatened to overtake me, and the paranoia made me terrified. He was with me when the sadness robbed me of the ability to get dressed, eat, function.
He was with me.
I couldn't see Him. I couldn't hear Him. I couldn't feel Him. But He was there
This knowledge doesn't make me thankful for years I spent in bondage to this illness. But it does change the despair I still feel when I look back at it.
And I have to admit that I have learned a few things from my time spent clinically depressed. I have learned that the love of God is greater than the power of depression. I have learned that my mental illness wasn't my fault, and that there was no way I could be "Christian enough" to be free of it. I have learned to have compassion for others who walk through it, and not to speak glib platitudes to others who are in the struggle. To quote the King Hezekiah, "I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish of my soul."
But I am so very glad to know that He was with me.
And I want to know from you if your story is very similar, or very far away, from my own? Are you grateful for your hard places because of what you've learned? Or do you wish that you could rewrite your history to leave some of those places out, regardless of what you've learned of God? Are you still in a dark place right now and don't see that He is with you? Or are you walking through a dark place and it's very clear that He is near? Please leave me a comment and let me be your sister for real.