Hey, I know the feeling.
The feeling that you’ve asked Jesus into your heart so many times you’ve lost count. The feeling of emptiness when nothing comes to fill that part of you that you thought was supposed to be for him. When no one answers back.
What even IS this?! you cry out. He’s not even meeting you halfway! What the heck, God?
Somewhere along the line, you realized that you were just talking to yourself. There was no one there listening; it was only your empty prayers, your carefully mouthed words, hoping that if you just said it right, he would hear and maybe even answer back. Or at least make it feel like he was there.
But…there’s nothing. You think, maybe it was never real. Not that moment when you were a little kid, not that dramatic moment at church camp, not even that moment you were sitting outside and thought you saw him answer you in the shooting stars across the night sky.
There is only darkness. And it’s so dark you’ve lost faith that there is a light, somewhere, anywhere.
I’ve been there.
I’ve felt the numbness that keeps you from getting out of bed in the morning, the emptiness that nothing can fill. I once lost interest in everything I loved, and questioned whether the Jesus I had seen and heard of was even the right one, or even interested at all in me. I both resented him and wanted him, but another part of me didn’t care at all. My soul was dry and shriveled up…not unlike the feeling David had when he cried,
“I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me?’”
I knew He had forgotten me.
For me it has been a long journey to get the kind of sight that can see behind me, but I can see now that several things contributed to how I lost God…:
- I became isolated from everyone and everything. People left me, by their own choice and by the choice of life, but I thought I was being rejected, so instead of bouncing back I withdrew from everyone. I got really dependent on a particular roommate, who I thought was the closest to God, and when she rejected me it was like God had, which confused the crap out of me.
- I had no idea how my idea of God fit into what was happening in my life. Where was God in all my friends leaving me? Where was God in my parents’ broken relationship? Where was God in my emptiness? Where was God in all the judgmental “Christians” at my school? Where was God in my grandfather dying and my friend getting diagnosed with cancer? Where was this good God that everyone talked about? I had no spiritual eyesight to see anything.
- I stopped taking care of myself, because back then I didn’t realize how your physical body connects to your spiritual body. I ate whatever and I didn’t sleep enough, and I was losing the ability to deal with anything happening spiritually.
And when you are in that pit, it seems as if there is no way out, that even the very concept of a “way out” is so foreign to you it makes no sense for people to even speak of it. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out that I realized what had helped to get me out, these things that I’d done along that way that pulled me out of the pit little by little:
Pour out your soul – I got to the point where life felt so pointless and my thoughts were so dark they almost scared me to read over again the next day. I got to the point where I started saying things to God that I never thought I’d dare to, including curse words and all sorts of horrible doubts where I was sure my Christian parents would die if they ever read them. It was called being honest, and it was a long time coming. It was like I’d tapped into some sort of well that had been filling up for years- I was praying in my journal, I was praying my way out of bed in the morning, I was praying in the shower- and they weren’t elegant prayers that you’d hear in church. They were heartwrenching prayers. Honest ones. Yelling at God because he wasn’t responding. Over and over and over and over. I read the Psalms mostly because they understood me. I didn’t realize that much angst against God was right there written in the Bible. Somewhere in the middle of all that something shifted in the universe. Something shifted between God and I. It had become real.
Analyze your hopes– I started, for the first time, evaluating where I’d put my hope, because I wasn’t coming up with anything real. Sure, I looked forward to some stuff, I partied it up and that was nice, for a second. I started out putting my hope in “being good”- like my college and all the Christian people there- they must know what they are talking about, I thought. I’ll just try to be like them. In the process, I idolized my roommate and RA as the “perfect Christian” and that didn’t last long, let me tell ya. I made people into little gods. I became exhausted trying to be the perfect Christian. This couldn’t be what Jesus expected of me. Make sure you watch appropriate movies? Don’t talk to gay people? No way. So of course, I booked it in the other direction. The. Opposite. Direction. I started hanging out with the people my roommate hated and we would go drinking and smoking and break all the rules we could think of just to break them, because we were tired of keeping up with all the “Christian” expectations. We “put all our eggs in the sin basket,” as a friend of mine would say. We wanted freedom, but what we found was another dead end. I’d wake up hungover and empty again and again. I still didn’t feel free and my sin was starting to have consequences. We couldn’t find the happy medium. It was then that I finally realized that it wasn’t about the rules at all, that all God asks from us is faith, and in that I found freedom. I found it in my faith in the grace of God. Faith + Waiting = Righteousness (Galatians 5:5). I was a slave to religion, and then I was a slave to sin, but the only thing satisfying was this thing called grace, and I had never understood it until then. I had never understood that I could have a relationship with Jesus that centered on grace, and grace alone, and without all the religion, and the sin, which he already took care of, we (he and I) could have our own relationship.
“If you’re the problem, a better version of the problem is still a problem.”
Remember the lovingkindness of God– I was used to thinking about God in general, hearing about him, studying about him endlessly, etc. but I hadn’t ever really applied it to my life. I hadn’t sat back and looked at my life and looked to find God in it. It turns out that if I looked, he was everywhere and I hadn’t even noticed. I thought he’d left and yet he was there the whole time. I had to remind myself of this every day that my depression reared its ugly head. My heart is bent toward the negative, to see the worst in something. I have to talk to my heart, like David did, “Why are you so cast down, oh my soul? Hope in God!”
Preach the grace of God to yourself– It’s one thing to talk about the grace of God, and another to apply it to your every day. I had to preach the grace that covers all sin, and the grace that keeps me from thinking that I do anything at all to earn the kind of love that is offered to me. Every. Single. Day. Even now.
To my friends and especially my high school friends struggling with depression, know that you are not alone, and there’s hope for your relationship with Jesus…no matter where you are at or how much hope you have left.
Listen to Tim Keller’s sermon Finding God to hear what inspired this post.