I get clinically depressed and anxious from time to time. It’s usually set off by major life transitions and hormones running amok. A couple of years ago my circumstances and hormones conspired to send me into the depths. I was crying all the time, when I wasn’t lethargic I was buzzing with anxiety, I couldn’t sleep, I was losing weight, I was PMSing for weeks at a time with an outrageous intensity, and I was having hot flashes. On top of all these things, I didn’t have health insurance and I was also in denial about how bad everything was. My family kept trying to encourage me to see a doctor, but I kept telling them things weren’t that bad. (Pro-tip: if you identify with anything on that list, go see a doctor. It will save you much time and agony).
But of course I did know that something was wrong, and I spent a lot of time praying about it. Face-down-in-the-carpet prayers. “God, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please fix my brain.” I know my Bible pretty well, and I know Psalm 42:2: “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along” (NLT).* Considering the fact that I was now a permanent inhabitant of the pit, I considered myself a prime candidate for pit-extraction. I knew what God was capable of in theory, and I was begging him to demonstrate it in practice before I went insane. While I thankfully didn’t go insane, no immediate help was forthcoming.
Slowly, oh so slowly, I started to heal. Through a lot of hard work and research I clawed my way out of the pit. I was feeling so much better, but not so great spiritually. I felt abandoned. God left me in that pit.** I cried to him for help and he did not answer me.
The easy Christian thing to say is, “Of course he answered you! It just took time! He worked through the fact that you finally got health insurance and could see a doctor! Tra la la lal!”
As I was climbing out of the pit, healing but still wounded and very raw, those answers would not do. The Bible itself isn’t nearly that sentimental about suffering. Psalm 88 and Lamentations talk about real suffering with no easy answers. Psalm 88:6 says, “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.” Not only is God not lifting this person out of the pit, he put him there. This is not the kind of behavior that I want from God. I do not understand why that is ever a valid option. Why doesn’t God just get rid of pits?
But then there’s this. God became man. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. He suffered. He suffered on our behalf. Instead of instantly saving me from the pit, God climbs down into the pit with me. This, to be honest, is not what I want. I want a God with quick, easy, omnipotent solutions. Isn’t that the whole benefit of being God? But in his omniscience and his own inscrutable purposes, he climbs into the pit to be God with me. And somehow, because he climbed into the pit, someday the pits will all be filled in for good.
Knowing this doesn’t make depression any less scary. I will probably struggle with depression off and on for the rest of my life, and it’s terrifying. I don’t ever want to be in that pit again. But I need to know that God is with me in the pit, and nothing in the pit--my doubts, my fears, my hopelessness, my faithlessness--can snatch me out of his hands.
*Honestly I picked this translation for this post because of the Princess Bride reference.
**Also, I want to add that sometimes God does pull people right out of pits, and those times are certainly worth celebrating.