Some years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It happened to me – it has happened to others and far too many are ashamed that their prayer meetings and devotion to the Lord Jesus has failed to bring a remedy. It is debilitating and painful , but with God’s help and some common sense one can survive.
My first segue into discussing this in a public way was in conversation with the church I pastored. For all of us it was the first journey into the experience of having a pastor who was dealing with a negative situation of this sort, that would be talked about. The wonderful people at Springfield’s Truth Tabernacle, were so very much like Jesus and gave me hope and an opportunity to get better. In 2007, I wrote about it a bit in an article in the Pentecostal Herald. The resulting phone calls and continued contacts seemed to indicate a tremendous need for honest conversation and some healing help in the matter of surviving the “dark place.”
Have you ever felt like saying, “Wait a minute, I have some questions! We need to ask those questions of some Bible heroes.”
“Elijah . . . what in the world went wrong? I’m disappointed in you. Running from Jezebel? Praying to die? Sitting in anxious frustration under a juniper tree – and so soon after you’d prayed and God’s fire fell?”
“David, . . . hey you King David . . . don’t I remember reading about you being a man after God’s own heart? Were you backslidden when you wrote, ‘. . . the enemy hath . . . smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, . . . Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me . . .. ’” (Psalms 143:3-4).
I know . . . I’ve heard it . . . thought it – probably preached it . . . Christians do not have the feelings expressed in Psalm 143. Well . . . here goes nothing or maybe everything. I’ve actually survived dwelling in the darkness and my spirit being overwhelmed. My story is probably different than David’s, but for me my dark dwelling place was:
- Unrelated to reality
You see, it was medically diagnosed as clinical depression. Again . . . I know . . . I know, clinical depression does not happen to saints, and certainly not to preachers. Well it happened anyway . . . it was bad and it was real.
It’s tough to explain. Jack Dreyfus founded the successful Dreyfus Mutual Fund empire. He recalled trying to explain to others about his depression, “It is almost impossible to convey to a person who has not had depression what it’s like. It’s not obvious like a broken arm, or a fever . . . it’s beneath the surface. A depressed person suffers a type of anguish which in its own way can be as painful as anything that can happen to a human being. His brain permits him no rest. His mood is low, he has little energy, and can hardly remember what pleasure means.”
One Sunday, C.H. Spurgeon shocked 5,000 listeners when he said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever gets to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Historians think Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther, and Winston Churchill had recurrent bouts with depression. Churchill called it the black dog. A recent book focused on what the author called Lincolns melancholy.
So what is depression like? Someone I can’t properly cite said it well.
Trudging wearily through
The grocery store,
Unable to make a simple choice,
Or to count out correct change.
And not being able to lift a finger.
Doubting that God cares,
Doubting in my prayers,
Doubting He’s even there.
Sitting, staring wild-eyed into space,
Desperately wanting out of the human race.
Sounds a bit like David in Psalm 143. Actually, I think what is described is rather common – even among those who serve God. So my observations aren’t for the one who has not endured or will never endure the “darkness” David described. The validity of clinical depression as a diagnosis is not my topic. It is rather to say . . . you can survive, prevail and overcome! Your dark personal pain can be the springboard to another dimension in God.
Surviving and finding God in your dark place isn’t glitzy. I have no trite answers. Well-meaning people offered me advice like, “Pray your way through it,” or the more frustrating, “What is wrong with you? You have a wonderful life – give God praise!” At one time, I gave similar suggestions; a man presenting travel directions to a place I’d never been. Having been to the dark place, I can now provide a better travel guide. Several things helped me survive my dark place . . . (More of them later – today only 1.)
A vital remedy: Praying the Psalms aloud. A depressed person does not feel like praying and almost certainly does not know how to pray. Pray anyway! How? Read Psalms – to yourself and to God; except read them out loud. It works. Actually, Author Eugene Peterson believes this is the way the Psalms were meant to be read. In the dark place, I borrowed from the nakedly honest feelings of the Psalmist and as I read aloud they became my own. Interestingly, every Psalm that begins by expressing dark thoughts closes with praise and worship.
Perhaps my observations about this are not real. Maybe, me, Jonah, David and Elijah are the lone candidates to have an interest in reading this sort of information, but perhaps not. If you’ve dealt with the ‘dark place’ I’m interested in hearing from you. What have been your solutions? What remedies did not work? What (if anything) precipitated your fall into this swamp?
 P. 109 Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives – By: Richard A. Swenson, M.D.