God, are you there? Why can’t I be different? Why won’t you fix me? I know you can.
For years, the secret questions carved out my insides.
The pain of my lifelong battle with depression was excruciating. Sometimes it filled me with searing shame over my struggles with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Other times, I was overwhelmed with a dense fog of numbness. In the midst of it all, I felt so alone as I wrestled with the reality that I couldn’t just be the joyful Christian I believed I should be.
The questions ached inside of me, but there was a deeper story I believed underneath them: God doesn’t want this mess and neither does anyone else. And deeper still was the belief that if I didn’t someday get better, I wasn’t enough. If I didn’t someday overcome, I wasn’t worthy.
I knew God loved me, but did he really want me, brokenness and all? What if there was a time limit on his grace and the clock was running out? What if he got tired of me dealing with these same struggles?
I never voiced this fear, but it stalked me constantly.
Sometimes, well-intentioned Christians tried to encourage me, but their words often just made it worse. I’d been told that depression is selfish, that I just needed to serve others, focus on Jesus, and choose joy.
So I tried everything I could imagine to push through, hold myself together, and make myself good enough.
I served at church and in the community. I joined the worship team, went on mission trips, and distributed food to hungry people in our city. I read my Bible, declaring verses over myself like I’d been taught. I eventually became a youth pastor and worked with a nonprofit mentoring church leaders. I tried desperately to “choose joy” and snap out of it, but I couldn’t figure it out.
I’d tried so hard, but I just kept failing. Countless begging prayers with all the faith I could muster hadn’t changed the ache inside. Years of spending every free moment in ministry, serving without rest, hadn’t filled the gaping void.
One day, I was running ministry errands, alone in my car, and those questions once again bubbled to the surface, bringing with them bone-rattling anxiety.
God, what if I never get better? How can I keep going like this? Who could ever want me?
On the edge of despair, I heard a gentle whisper in my heart: The darkness may always be there, but I will always be there in the darkness.
Tears filled my eyes and my mouth dropped open. The sudden rush of hope was bittersweet and shocking, an unexpected balm for that old ache. I felt my rattling pulse slow as I realized what this whisper meant:
God isn’t disappointed in me for struggling with mental illness. There’s no countdown clock on grace, no limit on his love. He’s not tapping his foot and looking at his watch, impatient for me to get it together. He sits with me in the confusing, aching darkness.
Though the first part of that whisper might have sounded discouraging to some, acknowledging that the darkness might always be there felt like a breath of fresh air. I didn’t have to try so hard to pretend I wasn’t struggling. It was okay to let go of denial and learn to live with my diagnosis for the long term.
But the second half of that whisper left me undone. I felt the foundations rearranging in my soul as I drew a deep breath. I will always be there in the darkness. Those words released so much guilt and fear. They pledged that I’m not so profoundly screwed up that the God of the universe would ever back away. He isn’t afraid of my depression. He doesn’t shrink from the darkness. And if he can accept me like this for the rest of my days on earth, I can learn to accept myself too.
Scripture is full of people accepting difficult circumstances and finding God right by their sides. One famous example is Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what the struggle was, but we know it was painful and he asked for God to free him from it. Here’s what Paul had to say about it in 2 Corinthians 12:8–10 (NLT):
‘Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
In the midst of Paul’s desperate pleas to be free of his pain and weakness, he heard the gentle voice of God remind him, “My grace is all you need.” But Paul wasn’t the only one who had to accept painful circumstances he would have preferred to avoid.
Even Jesus, on the night before his crucifixion, prayed to avoid the crushing ordeal before him. He knew he faced betrayal by dear friends and horrific torture. Scripture is breathtakingly clear that Jesus, our perfect savior, didn’t want to go through with it.
In Luke 22:42, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (NLT). Though he asked for a way out several times, he ultimately accepted that he was about to walk through the worst pain he would ever experience, simply depending on the grace of his Father to carry him through.
The examples of Paul and Jesus have helped me to accept the truth of that whisper I heard in my car. Knowing that both an important hero of the faith and our sinless savior had to depend on God through crushing circumstances reminds me that I can do this, too.
The beautiful, unexpected thing about accepting that depression may always be part of my life is that I’ve learned to take better care of myself. It’s also helped me to take advantage of the good resources God has provided us in the form of medicine and therapy. And along the way, I’ve discovered something I never expected: that it’s possible to live a beautiful, fulfilling, and even joyful life in the midst of depression. His grace really is enough.
Of course, it’s not always easy to walk in that acceptance. If Jesus showed up at my door, offering miraculous healing, I’d take him up on it in a heartbeat. Who wouldn’t? I’d be thrilled to never miss another social event because of a panic attack, never have another thought about hurting myself, never feel the ache that makes it so hard to breathe sometimes.
Like Jesus, there have been many times I’ve longed for this cup to pass from me. But I’ve learned to trust that God will be with me, no matter how hard and dark it seems. And, like Paul, I’ve seen God’s strength demonstrated in my brokenness and weakness.
I don’t understand why some people are healed and others aren’t. I wish I could offer you answers, sweet friend. But in the furnace of mental illness, I’ve discovered that God is still good. He is present and kind, even when our hearts ache and burn.
Even if we live with painful circumstances for the rest of our lives, God refuses to bail on us. He will walk with us through our bad days and overwhelming moments. You aren’t alone, my friend. Even if the darkness will always be there, God will always be with you in the dark.
Sarah J. Robinson once believed her lifelong battle with depression made her a bad Christian. Now she’s an author and speaker who helps others discover that mental illness doesn’t disqualify them from living rich, beautiful lives in Christ. Drawing from a decade of ministry experience and the mental health field, Sarah helps readers fight for wholeness and cultivate joy. She lives in Nashville with her husband. Read Sarah’s book, I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die: Finding Hope in the Darkness Of Depression.
Follow Sarah on Instagram @sarahjrbnsn