Depression, Guilt, and Grace

It’s my nature to be a private person, to be guarded in what I reveal, and to express few of my innermost thoughts. I have always, in particular, been hesitant to share my many faults and struggles, seeing them as the marks of weakness and insignificance, embarrassments that diminish me in the eyes of others. But Paul’s words to the Corinthians push me out of my hiding place, turning conventional wisdom on it’s head by declaring that we should boast of our weaknesses, believing that in weakness God’s power is revealed. It’s a truth that is difficult for me to learn, and one that is even more difficult for me to share, but I realize growth does not happen within the confines of my comfortable space. So, I choose today to “boast” of my weakness, hoping to encounter the grace of God in those things I would rather keep hidden.

Those who know me well know that I struggle with depression and anxiety. It’s a part of my family history, and whatever its cause – genetic or otherwise – it has been and continues to be a part of my personal journey. I wish I could say that things have improved over the years, that somehow with time and maturity I have gained more control over the comings and goings of my depression. I would like to say that, but I can’t. The truth is, the very opposite seems to be the case. The older I get, the longer and deeper my periods of depression become. It’s a heaviness that many carry, and I would never to presume to speak for anyone else and their experience, but for me personally, one of the most painful aspects of depression is the sense of guilt that so often accompanies it.

I feel guilty because I cannot explain my depression or give any rationale for it. Typically, its waves wash over me for no apparent reason. No one died. I didn’t lose my job. No tragedy occurred. It doesn’t come at a particular time of year or during a specific season. That kind of depression makes sense to people; it holds some kind of justification. My episodes of depression come when they choose, usually without warning and without obvious reason. With no circumstance to point to and lacking any explanation that makes sense to others, I assume the blame for my depression, taking on a mantle of guilt for my weakness.

I carry a sense of guilt for how my depression impacts those around me, particularly those I love the most. Depression causes me to disconnect, to become inattentive, to be short and unthinking in my responses. It keeps me, at times, from being the husband and father that I should be and desperately want to be. Given my family history, I am painfully aware of the impact depression has on a household. As difficult as it is for me to walk through a season of depression, it hurts me to know that it unfairly drags my family through stress and confusion as well.

Sometimes I experience guilt because I think that I’m simply not grateful or thankful enough. After all, if I were truly aware of how much I have and how blessed I am, I wouldn’t be depressed, right? And how dare I be depressed when there are so many in our world who are truly suffering, facing heartache and tragedy that has never touched my life? What kind of self-centered person does that make me? Guilt.

In the grip of depression, guilt creeps in and whispers its accusations, the charge that I am denying the joy and peace of God I profess, betraying my faith, and casting a poor witness as a follower of Jesus. Guilt upon guilt.

And the guilt deepens the depression as the depression increases the guilt.

In the middle of this mess, I am trying to learn from Paul’s words, to recognize my weakness as a place of encounter with the immeasurable grace of God. Rather than allow the guilt to push me further down the well of depression, I want it to drive me into the arms of the One who calls me by name, sees my brokenness, and still loves me. Jesus remembers my humanity and knows my struggle; He understands my battle with depression far better than I do. And in response, He offers patience, compassion, and perfect love. In the tiresome and draining cycle of depression and guilt, He provides grace upon grace. I cannot tell you that it ends my struggle or makes the battle disappear. It hasn’t. My personal “thorn in the flesh” continues to make its noise, trying to distract me from the grace that is mine. But I am trying to rest in that grace, knowing and trusting it is there, even in the moments when I cannot see it or feel it.

There’s a good chance you know and love someone who lives the struggle with depression. If I could ask one thing of you, it would be this: Make it your goal to be a reflection of God’s grace to them, reminding them that He understands the struggle, knows where they are, and loves them all the same. If you are one who battles depression, I just want to remind you that our weakness intersects with God’s grace. Your fight may continue, but even at the deepest point, trust that Jesus remembers with compassion our humanity and our brokenness. He offers you nothing less than perfect love and the fullness of grace, and your struggle will never diminish how much He cherishes you.


Some Things Don’t Have A Reason

Some things are so commonly repeated that we come to simply accept them. We speak them without thinking and receive them without question, never stopping to consider the broad implications and deeper meaning of what is being said. It’s not surprising, then, that some commonly offered “wisdom” statements are anything but wise. Some are wrong, some are half-truths, and some are just dangerous. One in particular sets off deep, intense groans of exasperation within me every time I hear it.

“There’s a reason for everything.”

It’s a statement I can accept if what you mean by it is there is a cause for everything. Tornados happen because of particular atmospheric conditions. Cancer occurs because of mutations in the cells of our body. An accident occurs because someone was drunk and decided to drive. I fall down because I did not step over the curb and gravity necessitates a trip to the ground. I get that things have a cause.

My problem with the statement is that I usually hear it from Christians as a response to some tragedy or heartache. In the hands of Christians, “there is a reason for everything” doesn’t typically refer to the cause of something. What they generally mean to say is that there is a purpose to everything and, more specifically, that God has a purpose for everything. When a follower of Christ makes that statement, the implication – and what is generally heard and received by others – is that God has caused this terrible wrong for some mysterious purpose. And that’s where I have to get off the Christian cliché bandwagon.

Far from bringing any real comfort or encouragement, trite statements like this diminish the significance of suffering and the pain that others feel. It takes a complex and troubling issue like the existence of evil and suffering in our world and reduces it to a simple bumper sticker slogan. Perhaps not even recognizing the implications of our casual comments, we can distort the image of God revealed to us in Christ, twisting Him into the author and instigator of horrible evils. And, at its very core, the suggestion that everything has some divine purpose is a denial of human freedom.

If we truly believe that, by God’s grace, we have freedom and genuine choice, then we must also accept that not everything that happens is the will or desire of God. If we are indeed free, then we must also be free to choose against God’s purpose and intentions for us and our world. And we do. In other words, God doesn’t always get what He wants.

Freedom bears consequences. The world is marred and broken by our decisions to reject God’s will and longing for us; life bears the painful marks of humanity’s poorly exercised freedom. Behind every tragic event and circumstance lies a multitude of decisions by a multitude of free individuals, the reality of a broken and fallen creation, and the conspiring of evil forces that seek to destroy God’s good purposes. For human freedom to be true and genuine, then I must accept that some things are not the expression of God’s will, but the will of others.

So, some things in this life don’t have a reason. Some things are just evil, wrong, and destructive. They invade our lives not as some mysterious but deliberate act of God’s will, but as the often inexplicable scars of a broken, messed up world. Let’s not try to pass off the hurtful and destructive moments of life as divinely ordained or determined instruments of good. Suffering, left to itself, is without purpose.

I know. . . that sounds cynical and hopeless. It might suggest that we are left with nothing but meaningless suffering, and we might as well just sit in an ash pile and wait for death. And that would be the case if it weren’t for the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the One who went to the cross, allowing the full force of sin, evil, and suffering to fall on Him. And He overcame it all. He showed His power, love, and grace to be greater than all the forces of sin and death, and He walked out of the tomb, transforming the cross from an instrument of death into a symbol of life. The good news for all of us is that He continues to do that very thing in our lives.

The love, grace, and power of God can take the broken, evil, and suffering moments of our lives and transform them. They are terrible and meaningless in themselves, but He can take the brutal, death-dealing crosses of our world and turn them into a source of life and meaning. The horrific suffering sometimes experienced in our world is not of God, but it is also not greater than God. He is the One who can redeem anything for His purpose, even the things He did not ordain or desire. The power of resurrection is at work in us who belong to Christ, raising up new life and hope from the empty, meaningless tombs of suffering.

The sovereignty of God does not mean that He causes or desires everything that happens in my life. So, there’s not a reason for everything; not everything that lands on our doorstep has purpose in itself. I will not tell someone that. But the sovereignty of God does mean that He can overcome and redeem anything and everything, so I can say that God is able to bring purpose out of anything – even the garbage that He never wanted for us. Jesus, who has shown Himself to be greater than all the power and force of evil, can overcome and transform the evil that invades my world and breaks my heart. It is that redeeming power and grace of an all-loving God, and that alone, that enables us to live a hope-filled life in the face of a world that, at times, is senseless and without reason.