‘I know I shouldn’t feel this way.”
He met my gaze from across the table with sad, sincere eyes and apologized for his depression – a dark and prolonged nightmare that pressed him to check into the hospital.
“I know I shouldn’t feel this way.”
I’ve been pondering his words for weeks now, wondering why so many of us Christians are loath to admit weakness when it comes to mental health. How eagerly we ask others to pray for our healing when the enemy is cancer, asthma or migraines.
Rarely do we dare admit depression. And when we do, the admission often is accompanied by whispered sentiments akin to “I know I shouldn’t feel this way.”
Even a casual reading of Scripture – particularly the Psalms – reveals that those who trust in God are not immune to despair. Unwanted circumstances, fear, loss and the weight of responsibility all conspired at times to drag God’s people into despondency.
“For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned like a hearth,” says the writer of Psalm 102. “My heart is stricken and withered like grass, so that I forget to eat my bread.”
Here is someone who sees his days passing by quickly, he is exhausted by life, his strength is gone … he doesn’t even have an appetite. In other words, he’s depressed.
The raw honesty of the psalms – in fact, all of Scripture – refreshes us. It reminds us that God understands the deepest needs of our heart, even in times when no other person can do so. And God has what our heart needs in times of despondency: strength, peace and a perfectly reliable perspective on what we’re experiencing.
Turning our minds to Christ and his word is an essential move toward the exit of any season of despair. To fail to do so all but guarantees we’ll remain despondent. Jesus is pleased to come to us in power when we are weak.
It was Jesus who said to the Apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Did you catch that? The very power of God is generously poured out to us not in response to our own strength and ability to cope, but when we are without strength, when we’re weak.
Faith calls us to live according to truth that we do not necessarily feel in the moment. Christ’s strength is present, whether I feel it or not. God is good, whether I feel it or not. Weakness, even the intensely felt weakness of despondency, is a form of pain that God will not waste if I turn to him and trust him.
How might God use a season of despair in a productive way?
Again, the psalms are instructive: “When my heart is overwhelmed within me … lead me to the rock that is higher than I,” says Psalm 61:2.
David’s song reminds us that our inability to cope, to hope, to live with joy is productive if it leads us to cry out to God in faith and then order our lives by his truth, even when that truth is contrary to feeling.
Today’s despair can be tomorrow’s song of God’s faithfulness to impart strength and hope.
To feel despair is human. We’ve no need to say to God, or others, “I know I shouldn’t feel this way.”
So much better to say as David did in Psalm 42: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise Him again – my Savior and my God!”
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