Our great hope is certain; Christ will return to set the world to rights, such that there will be no more suffering. Our great joy is ever at hand; this same Christ offers to walk the path of suffering with us in the here-and-now, empathizing and fighting on our behalf.
During the last three years, I was engaged in the fight of my life—concerning depression—and I failed in significant ways. I had endured an extended depressive episode earlier in life, but in retrospect, had not learned the lessons from that episode that I should have learned. Thus, in my more recent episode, I was not prepared.
As I have noted in other places, my latest depressive episode (“On Not Wanting to Live but Not Wanting to Die”) involved some complicating factors some of which I could not control (PTSD) and some of which I should have (alcohol abuse, disconnection from God, and relationships with family and friends). In the face of those complicating factors, God offered to me all of the resources I needed to respond properly spiritually. And yet, in significant ways, increasingly over the two-year period, I did not.
In the hopes that a brief chronicle of my own failures might help other depressed persons in the midst of their own struggles, I will: (1) set the stage by explaining the greatest challenge I faced and how I failed to meet the challenge; and subsequently (2) provide three suggestions that might help other depressed persons meet their challenges better than I did.
An Indomitable Opponent
During my most recent depressive episode, I faced my long-time opponent in a way I had never experienced. During the course of my life, he had stalked me and taken advantage of my weaknesses. I thought I had seen all of his weapons and was relatively unafraid of his tactics. But I was wrong, fatally wrong, to underestimate him.
Today, I realize to a much fuller extent what Scripture means when it declares that the Evil One is like a predator lying await in the tall grass, ready to pounce (1 Pet 5:8). He is never more in pursuit than when we are wounded and suffering. That is because he knows that a Christian’s experience of suffering is the single greatest opportunity for him or her to declare that Christ is a greater treasure than any other thing that life could give or that suffering could take away.
The Evil One is not only like a patient and powerful predator, but also like a con man. He masquerades as somebody good (2 Cor 11:14). He is the most cunning liar the world has ever known (Jn 8:44). His lies have many variations—white lies, big lies, rationalizations, exaggerations, minimizing, changing the topic, etc. But his lies always have one theme: God cannot be trusted and he cannot deliver on his promises.
Thus, given the formidable nature of my foe—the world’s greatest predator and conman whose intent is to murder—I failed precisely because I resorted increasingly to my own means. In the face of difficult challenges, and without my prayers being answered the way I demanded, I slowly and unconsciously gave up the fight. I lived as if I did not trust God and as if he could not or would not deliver on his promises.
Instead, I should have wielded the weapons at my disposal—weapons given by God and detailed in Scripture. Among those weapons that I did not wield sufficiently or well are three: Remembrance, Daily Ritual, and Perseverance.
The Weapon of Remembrance
As a depressed person, I allowed myself to forget many truths about the God I serve and the world in which I live because I allowed depression to “curve me” in on myself. Yet, everywhere in Scripture, God instructs his people to remember his mighty acts, his unsurpassable love, his impeccable wisdom, and his longsuffering patience. If we will remember God’s deeds of the past, we will be better prepared when trials arise. This command to “remember” is inescapably connected to another oft-repeated divine instruction: Listen to the word of the Lord. Indeed, one of the most significant ways to remember God’s goodness is to attend to the story of God told in Scripture.
How does this help us during trials and temptation? Consider an analogy:
Theologian N.T. Wright is famous for suggesting that the Christian mission can be compared to a theater improvisation. Suppose a lost Shakespearean play were to be unearthed, containing a five-act structure but missing the fifth act. In this hypothetical scenario, the first four acts provide well-defined movements, rich character development, and a clear narrative trajectory.
Thus, with the fifth act lost, how can the play be staged in a theater? It would seem inappropriate to write a definitive fifth act that would freeze the play into a form that Shakespeare might not have intended or could have written more superbly. Instead, it seems more appropriate to give the key parts of the play to highly-trained, deeply-committed, and well-seasoned Shakespearian actors, who could immerse themselves in the first four acts of the play and then—to the best of their abilities—work out a fifth act for themselves.