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But a few years ago, when a dangerously deep and rocky depressive spell had me in its grips, I teetered on the brink of suicide. Even with the cosmetic appointments of a full and happy life—husband, family, health, career—I felt desperate, alone, scarred, stained, and worthless. At my lowest low, I asked God for a sign that my life meant something, that I meant something, and God delivered, in the form of a bald eagle soaring across my sightline mere minutes after I’d requested that exact omen.

I cautiously returned to church, keeping my expectations low. Would it be anything like I remembered (decent snacks but occasionally boring)? Would it be a veiled call to conformity, like a zombie march crossed with a fish fry? Would it be a waste of time?

What it turned out to be was fabric softener for my soul—something rough and stubborn inside me was gentled. Biblical teachings, delivered with theatricality and interpretive depth, helped me examine my depression with deliberate care and no judgment. I loved hearing about how God not only redeems us but emboldens us: Think of Hebrews 13:6, which quotes from Psalm 118 (“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ ”).

All my life, I had fought my way toward healing, in one form or another. But it turned out that what I needed was gentleness. To stop spurring myself with negative self-appraisal that bordered on abuse. To dial down the obsession with keeping up the appearance of functionality and, if need be, normalcy. To no longer grit my teeth and play the tough customer who could do or withstand anything. God helped me get off my own back and ease up on myself. Being restored by grace doesn’t feel like some cloud-walking bliss-fest or levitation into an upper stratosphere of piety. Instead, it feels like comfort, acceptance, and resilience. A place to retreat, to just sit, breathe, and be.

Believing and Seeing

I would love to tell you that God reached down and whisked away my depression. Wouldn’t that be swell? But faith has only made living with it more manageable. Of course, it helps that I take my meds with something approaching religious fervor. But I can’t lay full credit for my wellbeing at the feet of Big Pharma, for nothing has helped me recover more than receiving God’s grace.

Depression is most often an invisible illness—people don’t know you have it unless you tell them, and unfortunately, your disclosure may be met with skepticism. (“But you always have a smile on your face!” “Really? Are you sure it’s not just a bad mood?”) But I can talk about it now in ways that I couldn’t before.

Through faith in Christ, I feel less alone, less ashamed, and less likely to conceal my suffering. Because I know it is heard and believed by God. Laying down your burden is as central to Christian faith as charity or testimony. When you’ve been standing on your own for so long, falling into the arms of mercy is frightening at first, but then comes a whoosh of blessed relief defying explanation. How amazing, after sitting alone in the dark for so long, to be seen, known, and held.

Doubts about the existence of God closely resemble doubts about the existence of depression: Both are rooted in the conviction that things must be seen to be believed. Yet as the beloved writer Madeleine L’Engle once remarked, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” My eyes are open, in that “was blind but now I see” kind of way, and I’m beholding things with a peace and depth I’ve never experienced before.

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Grace for Amateurs: Field Notes on a Journey Back to Faith
Grace for Amateurs: Field Notes on a Journey Back to Faith
Thomas Nelson
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