God Is With Us in Our Suffering

When I was 23 I came down with a severe case of sinusitis that lasted for several weeks. I was constantly drowsy, dizzy, and suffered from tunnel vision. Just when I began to recover I suddenly lost my job. The combined effects of my illness and unemployment sent me into a deep mental fog and physical numbness, a separateness from life. I was sick, living alone, and didn’t know why I felt so awful. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was in a serious depression. I lost interest in the things I loved and wondered if I’d ever be me again. At my lowest ebb I feared that even death could not alleviate my misery.

Thankfully I finally saw my doctor. She diagnosed my depression for the first time and prescribed a very effective course of treatment for me.

About a decade later I experienced a second, and deeper, depression. I spiraled downward very quickly, spending all day in bed and only getting up for meals. Physical activities (like raking the leaves) left me shaking and exhausted. I began to consider ways to end my life. After meeting with a therapist I was taken to a large hospital for aggressive treatment. My wake-up call came when I told the attending RN that I had contemplated suicide. It came when my belongings were taken away from me. It came as I put on a hospital gown and socks. It came as I sat for hours of observation in the psychiatric ward. It came when the doctor said she wanted to involuntarily admit me.

I was never as humiliated as I was that day, a day that ended in an outpatient clinic where we slept with the lights on and the doors open. I was still in my hospital gown and socks.

The next morning I saw a psychiatrist. I switched to a stronger antidepressant. And I learned that my depression wasn’t just a one-time episode when I was 23. It is a part of my life, part of my chemical makeup, and I have to be proactive in managing my health.

I read an article recently where the author suggests that God uses the challenges we face in order to teach us to rely upon God. As a lifelong Christian, seminary graduate, and depression survivor, I simply cannot concur. My faith, education, and experience convince me that God is loving and compassionate, not conniving or condemning. God does not cause the difficulties we face. Because God does not cause them, God does not work through such ordeals to “teach” us things. I went through a living torment, but never once did I think that God was punishing or testing me. I have wracked my brain several times since, but I cannot see what God possibly could have tried to teach me through my ordeal. Rather, in God’s loving and gracious immanence, God is with us in our suffering. God weeps with us, struggles with us, mourns with us, prays with us. I see now that the only way I survived my depressive episodes is because God was immanent with me. (Even now the thought humbles and overwhelms me.)

God is close, so close that her head lies on the pillow next to us. God is love, so loving that he takes on our misery with us. God is compassionate, so compassionate that God won’t even leave when we cannot muster the strength to pray. I, we, are living proof of who God is. Thanks be to our God.