Monday, December 1, 2014

Depression, Fear, and Me

On Thanksgiving Day I got up early and headed off to work. As it turned out, the client who thought she would need my help that morning to prepare for her large family gathering did not need me after all. She sent me home with a full day's pay just the same. My own family gathering would be a small one. My daughter and her boyfriend were out of town for the day. My son and his girlfriend would not be available for dinner until 7:00 pm. I was tempted to lay around all day and do nothing. After all, I work hard. I could use some rest. But I know myself well. I resisted that urge and decided to make better use of those newfound hours.

There is nothing like the process and result of cleaning your own house for clearing the cobwebs from your mind. As a person prone to depression, I know first-hand that it is a lying brute that will try to stop you from doing the very things that actually have the power to fend it off. If your house is dirty, it tells you there is no point in cleaning; it will just get dirty again. And so you sit in your filth, feeling hopeless, and also justified in doing nothing about it. (The old-fashioned word for this is laziness.)

If what you need most is interaction with other people, especially other Christians, so that your iron can be sharpened against theirs, or your wounds soothed, it will remind you of the times you have been offended in church. It will tell you that you can't trust those people. It will point out all the ways in which they don't really love you and how you don't really matter to them.

Sometimes - oftentimes - what the depression tells you has some truth to it. Okay, speaking honestly, it has a lot of truth to it. But this is how it is so effective in its deception. Most of us are not inclined to accept blatant falsehoods, or to enter into wrongdoing without some justification that holds weight with us. Our depression is just as smart as we are. And so, at this point I will try to stop calling depression "it". Because really, it's not "it". It's me. It is my sinful way of looking at things. And "it" - like me - is pretty smart about it. In depression I play both ends against the middle. I play both truth and falsehood to whatever so-called advantage I can. Really, there is a part of me that wants life, and all its happiness and joy, handed to me on a silver platter. I don't want to have to do the things necessary to have the joy I think I deserve. And so I argue against any thought that would require me to make some effort toward my dreams.

Depression is me. It is me paralyzed by fear, too afraid to face the challenges that it will take to accomplish my goals, to pursue the expression of my talents and abilities. It is me thinking a good life should land in my lap with minimal effort, as if the world owed me a living. And then, It is me having expended as little effort as possible, wondering why I have no sense of satisfaction in my life and very little to show for the very little effort I have expended. Depression is me, begrudging the good others have, assuming they don't deserve the fruit of their labor any more than I deserve fruit from my lack of it.

Depression is me refusing to recognize that life is hard and everyone who wants to accomplish anything in this world must do it in the face of obstacles. Depression is me thinking my own fears are unique, and excuse me from engaging in life's challenges. Those challenges are there for everyone who accomplishes any good at all in their lives. Why do I expect to be able to do what others do but without the effort and failures they are subjected to. Am I the only one who is afraid? Is my fear an adequate excuse to not do the things I have been created to do?

I have recently been taking a long, hard look at the role fear has played in my life and my depression. What I have come to see is that I have allowed fear to dictate nearly the entire course of my life. Fear has been my god. But fear is not God and it does not come from God. And again I would like to take a moment to stop thinking of fear as "it", as if it had a life distinct from me. Fear is me. It is me choosing to dwell on the multitudes of what-if scenarios rather than believing the promises of my faithful God and Savior.

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
    I shall be killed in the streets!” Proverbs 22:13

Fear is me, the wicked part of me which believes that God is nothing but harsh and exacting, and uses that belief as an excuse to do nothing.*  Fear is me refusing to recognize that God has cared for me all along, that he has never dealt with me as my sins deserved. Fear is me refusing God's precious gift of forgiveness through faith in his Son. Fear is the opposite of faith in this most literal sense: it is opposed to faith. It won't have any of it.

And very often, depression is really just me living in the hopeless place the fear in me has relegated me to. It is me convincing me to borrow against the future for what I want or am afraid of at the moment. Depression is me living in the land where the path of least resistance has taken me.

The truth is that we humans cannot be happy unless we are actively counteracting the chaos and uncertainties we face every day. We are meant to work, to overcome challenges, to face terrible fears, to master temptation, to live and love boldly, to produce beauty in our surroundings. When we give up on that, we give up on life and its joys.

Christians, we are not helpless in the face of fear. Don't let the fear in you convince you otherwise. In Christ and in his word we have all we need for life and godliness. That spirit of fear is not from him, so don't give it a welcome place in your head. The Spirit he has given us is a spirit of power and love and a sound mind. Let that be the Spirit that reigns in your mind and in every decision you make. So, my encouragement for you today is this: get up and do something about the things in your life that your are fearful or hopeless about. Don't let fear paralyze you or depression make you idle. And on this and every other day be thankful for each breath you take and for every bit of strength that you have and use it all for the glory of the God who has saved you from the fearful you, the depressed you, the sinful you.


* Consider The Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30.