I’m at the bottom of the pit again. My eyes strain to search for light.
At first, I panic. I claw at the dirt and my chest tightens in fear.
How did I get here? Why now? Why am I not strong enough to stay buoyant and light?
My body knows what’s happening, but my mind struggles to rationalize it.
Even though I’ve been here many times before, it takes me a while to realize what I’m doing. I try to scale the sides, only to slide back down. I wear myself out in self-exertion. I grumble and groan, wrestling around in the dark.
And then, a whisper:
Be gentle. You’re fighting so hard. There is grace here.
We are so generous in doling out grace to others, but stingy with grace for ourselves. We snack on it when we’re starving, instead of feasting on it in the full offering extended to us.
As I start to speak the depression out loud, it loses its suffocating grip. I cry to my husband on our way to pick up gifts for our kids. I text it to my best friend. I schedule a quick appointment with my counselor.
They all meet me with so much grace. And finally, bite by bite, I start to taste it.
They hand me light when I can’t find it. They point me towards Truth when all I can hear are lies. And they reach down into the pit to help raise me up, until I have enough grace inside to strengthen me and start climbing.
When we can’t see light, when we’re at the bottom of the pit, when we can’t taste grace, sometimes we need to find it from others. I’m thankful for those who help me chase after the light, climb out of the shadows, and taste what is good and gentle in this world.
If you’re wrestling with darkness right now, my prayer is for you to taste and see the grace of God who meets us when we’re empty, road-worn, and hungry. Be gentle with yourself. And keep chasing after the light. I promise it’s there.
P.S. I’m so thankful for God’s timing. This coming Monday, I’ll be sharing the final Take These Ashes episode of 2020, on chasing after the light when we’re living in shadow. Author and speaker Dorina Gilmore and I had this conversation at a time when I needed it myself, and it may be just what you need as we reflect on this year and prepare for the new year to come. Subscribe to Take These Ashes on itunes or Spotify to make sure you catch this one.
How can we possibly rejoice when we are weary?
I felt it before I even got out of bed the other morning. The heaviness in my bones, the familiar fog of depression closing in on my thinking. I moved slowly, and if I am being honest, I didn’t want to move at all. The quilt in my room seemed like a much more comforting environment than my desk chair under fluorescent lights.
“No, please, Lord. Not this year.”
My body knows what it is now, but for years, I wrestled with the darkness of seasonal depression and thought there was something severely wrong with me. I know now that I am not alone– that “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. Another 10 percent to 20 percent may have mild SAD,” (also sometimes known as the ‘winter blues’). The numbers for major depression and generalized anxiety are even higher.
I am on high alert as fall shifts into cold weather. After years of research and work in therapy, I still know that I need to be faithful in taking that small pink pill each morning. I reach out to my friends for prayer. I make a gratitude list. I take a walk. I go to my weekly recovery meeting. But sometimes, all of the “right” actions in the world cannot prevent this weary darkness from coming through in the biology of my body- down to my cells and my neurotransmitters that know winter is here.
This is not a diary entry about my annual bouts of depression. This is to let you know that even as God has brought healing into my life, I still struggle at times. And whatever you are walking through, I know that you most likely have an area of tender pain that aches for God’s healing.
On this earth, this broken and beautiful world is not as God originally designed it to be. Because of the sinful choices of humanity, we live in a fallen world that sin, sickness, and pain entered long ago. If not for Christ, we would be destined to eternal darkness and suffering. But Christ DID come, as promised, to serve as our redemption and ransom. He made it possible for us to taste glory and one day be joined with our Heavenly Father in eternity.
As we wait longingly for Christ’s second coming and for ALL to be redeemed, the earth groans for that full wholeness and healing. I love this passage from Romans 8:18-25 (NLT):
Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.
We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently).
So here we are. Christmas Day. In the midst of our pain, suffering, weariness, we are encouraged to rejoice. How can we?
For those of you struggling right now with fear, anxiety, depression, heartache, insecurities, physical limitations, a mountain of debt, job insecurity, loss… I grieve with you. Christ grieves with us. He is acquainted with sorrow. In the midst of your weariness, you may not feel like showing great joy or delight. But Christ is with us.
Before we sing that “the weary world rejoices,” we sing of the thrill of hope. The world can rejoice BECAUSE of Christ’s birth and because Emmanuel is finally with us. HE is our hope.
The more we read His word, the more we can see the Bible as one story pointing us again and again to Jesus Christ. A great story of God’s love for us–those in suffering, the weary ones.
O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
When we can step back from our weariness to remember the whole picture–the overarching story of God chasing after those who are lost, lifting the heads of the downtrodden, and sending our Savior to walk among us–we can hopefully remember that He is a God of redemption. We can praise Him for being our hope. We can rest our weary souls in the quiet of a new and glorious morning.
Sweet and weary friends, I am praying for you today.
“If you had faith even as small as a tiny mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would go far away. Nothing would be impossible.’” [Matthew 17:20]
I pray for a mustard seed for you. For you to know these mountains can be moved.
When hopelessness comes in like a dark cloud, it’s hard enough to muster strength let alone a mustard seed of faith. Faith feels out of reach sometimes- hoping in these things unseen and unknown and at times utterly unbelievable. To believe that there is something more than this present darkness. To believe that there is someone who could love us in this mess we’ve made. To believe that there is someone who can save me from the miry pit and give my life hope again.
But let me tell you, there is rich substance in this tiny little seed–
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. [Hebrews 11:1, KJV//The Message]
To the girl who sits with anger bubbling up and surging forth, overcome with the tidal wave of her own emotions.
To the woman who weeps quietly over a lost seed-sized baby with its own identity and a future here on earth seemingly ripped away.
To the couple squeezing hands across the hospital bed as one fights an internal battle of blood cells, not quite sure how much time is left.
To the man who has spent months pouring a morning pot of coffee and pouring over hundreds of job openings, desperate for a way to provide for his family again.
To the boy who knows hunger like I will never know and would give anything for a home-cooked meal, but even more than that, a home.
To the one overcome with shame for past failures and faults, who feels like there will never be another way than this old pattern that is bound to keep on repeating.
For the one who feels that this life is unbearable, it bears repeating–these mountains can be moved.
A mustard seed.
That is literally all it takes.
I’m praying that you can dig down deep to find a seed of hope planted in your heart- a small spark that keeps pushing you forward towards a bigger light.
That this mustard seed of hope would wedge its way through the seeds of doubt and anger and fear and worry and sadness and would GROW and move mountains in your life.
I picture a tiny seed that pushes through the soil to send deep roots down into the earth. Soon a seedling, and then a tree, and then shoots of life, and then fruit all pushing the mountain to the right or the left or eventually INTO THE SEA because that tree has grown so strong. But all you need to start with is a tiny seed.
I’m living proof of this mountain moved with the smallest of seeds. I had become a shell. I was broken, anxious, controlling, depressed, and without hope. With bookshelves full of books that could fix my problems but more problems mounting up than I could possibly fix, I was tired of talking and tired of digging and just plain tired. I had tried to find my hope in my own strength for far too long. Eventually my fragile shelled cracked wide open, but inside I found a mustard seed. It was buried and barely alive, but there it was. Pulsing with the little faith I had left. Helping me to breathe in and breathe out with just enough strength to look upward. To see that there had to be another way; there had to be more than this way I’d been doing things.
A mustard seed of hope. I found a Redeemer. I came to know this Counselor. I grew not just in knowledge about, but in closeness to this living, loving Savior. He scooped me up and started to put me back together. There it was–a seedling, that grew slowly but surely into a little tree. The ability to keep stepping forward. Shoots and branches. Genuine relationships with people who loved me without my mask of perfection. Fruit in service and the ability to love others, with a real love that did not require or expect anything in return. Hope for the future.
The troubles are still there at times, and the pain still pops up. But there is a greater hope outside of myself that is moving mountains. Because now I know that God is with me, and with Him nothing is impossible. That mustard seed I found was the seed of growth and change and healing and community and freedom and JOY. So I am praying that you find your own mustard seed and can press into the HOPE God has for you. Because He’s able to move even this mountain.
*This piece was written for spoken word– stay tuned for a video soon!
- Have you ever sang the song “It Is Well With My Soul” when your soul did not feel well?On the days that that phrase rings true, we can say it as a declaration with peaceful truth and confidence– Yes! Amen! It IS well.But here’s the thing… most days, inner peace is not something that comes easily for me. In fact, I am currently in the midst of wrestling my good old frenemy Seasonal Depression. Yuck.There are days when it’s super hard to motivate myself to pick up my Bible because I’d much rather wallow in negativity. When I do NOT want to cook for myself and instead want to eat chips and salsa and chocolate chips for dinner. When I want to isolate and binge-watch Netflix instead of being real with friends about my place of need. This week alone, I have done a little bit of both. I’ve wallowed in darkness/negativity AND made myself read my Bible to seek out light. I’ve indulged in the snack junk food dinner, and also made some intentional, healthy meals. I’ve engaged in the Netflix marathoning, but also reached out to my support system to say “I am hurting.”As much as SOME of this is in my control, depression is a real thing. And I know that I cannot fight it without the Lord. In this season, I am learning to look at this prayer/proclamation differently.When I sit in unrest, when my heart is heavy, when I cannot move because my body is sad, “It Is Well” becomes a pleading prayer. God, please MAKE it well with my soul.The history of this song is pretty remarkable. A man who experienced deep, tragic loss, proclaimed that in the Lord, his soul was alright. I’d venture to say, it was more than alright. He found rest and hope in Jesus, and was even praising Him in the midst of darkness.Sometimes its too hard to sing or say “It Is Well” because we do not FEEL well. But if we fold our arms or refuse to sing it because it’s not true at that time, we are missing out on peace that can come JUST from praying it in genuine need. When we whisper in desperation that it WILL be well with our souls, He starts to bring a different kind of freedom from our trials. He may not remove the painful circumstances, but saying those words and clinging to Jesus opens us up to rest. To His peace. To HOPE. And I need hope right now, so I’m choosing to sing/pray my way through the darkness.So, if life is straight up hard for you right now, can we pray this prayer together?Lord, let me declare that it is well with my soul, and trust that You will make it so.In my desperation, still my heart. When my wounds are loud, bring Your healing balm. When my world feels like it’s caving in, help me dwell on the Truth about who You are. I praise You, because You are faithful, You are Redeemer, You are steadfast.Thank You Lord. You know suffering well- You’ve watched us betray You for thousands of years, choose sin instead of light, reject You when You offer life. Your only Son endured suffering to death on our behalf, and You absorbed the full weight of our suffering already.Help me remember the suffering of others, and to pour out Your love to them (I am not the only one hurting!).Help open my heart to receiving love from the people You’ve placed in my life (it’s okay to grieve, to ask for help).Help me to rejoice in the GOOD that I do see–and if I can’t see anything good right now? Help me to seek it out and start to see it with new eyes.Let me find my hope in You, and remind me that these temporary afflictions will bring an eternal weight of glory.Be my rock when the waves crash around me. Be my strength when I am weak and disheartened. Anchor me. Lord, bring YOUR peace to this soul.It is well, it is well with my soul.