When the Darkness Falls
A post in light of Suicide Awareness Month
Have you ever been outside as day turned to night? I assume most have. If you have, then you know that as the sun goes down it gets harder and harder to see. Shocker, I know, but there is a point to this obvious observation. As darkness creeps in our eyes have to adjust. Things that were once clear are more of a blur. We have to be closer to signs to read them. It’s hard to make out certain images in front of us. When darkness has set in fully, we are hopeless without light from another source. I’m sure there are a hundred ways I could describe depression in my life, but I believe this analogy works best for me.
The Darkness of Depression
Ten years ago in mid-October 2008, darkness set in fully for me. It wasn’t that it just happened. I had missed that the sun was setting and things were getting harder to see. I realize it now, but at the time I had convinced myself that what I was experiencing was something else. Regardless, at this point it was completely dark. I left the ministry I was serving, and went home. While home, I became angry, bitter, and deeply depressed. I did not want to be alive anymore. I prayed numerous times to the Lord to take me. The pain was too much to bear. I felt alone and scared, and when anyone tried to come near I pushed them away. My wife extended to me grace upon grace, and patiently waited on me and served me. I found myself turning to all sorts of things to cope and medicate my pain and frustration. I was angry at God, angry at the Church, angry at my family and friends, and angry at myself. I lashed out at all sorts of people. I cried a lot. As I think about those many months today, I am still brought to tears. It has far and away been the hardest time of my life.
As it seemed to get darker and darker, I couldn’t shake one thing. Looking back, it was a ray of light pointing me to hope. Deep in my soul I could not shake this voice that kept saying to me, “I am not letting you go.” I wanted to walk away from everything, even life. I wanted out, and yet this voice kept saying, “I am not letting you go.” I prayed many honest and angry prayers. I was angry at God for placing me in a jacked up family. I was angry at God that I wasn’t a more sought after leader, or given greater leadership responsibilities. I was angry at God that I wasn’t free from all sin. I was angry at God that I didn’t have any real friendships. I was angry that I didn’t make the baseball team, and get to live my dreams. I was angry at God for it all! “Why, God, why?” was my constant refrain. Followed closely by, “Where were you God?” Where was God when I cried in my room wondering if anyone loved me? Where was God when my family was falling apart? Where was He when I was being emotionally and verbally abused by family members? Where was He when we had nothing? The darkness of October 2008 had been coming for 28 years. No matter how angry my prayers were, I still heard the voice saying, “I am not letting you go.”
Okay, so why am I sharing all this? If you are reading this there is a good chance you have experienced something similar. If not, my guess is you will at some point. Depression is not a sin. It’s part of life in a broken and hurting world. King David was depressed often, and Israel sang about it often when singing the Psalms. Many throughout the Bible experienced darkness and depression. I am sharing my story to encourage you. You are not alone. I thought I was. I know now that I wasn’t then and I’m not now. I know that to my dying days depression will be part of my life. Not everyday perhaps, but it lurks. To this day, I have bouts with it. It can last days to weeks, and sometimes it’s gone by the afternoon. You are not alone. Not just because other humans have experienced this (though that’s true), but because God is with you in the middle of it.
Hope in the Darkness
My hope in the darkness was Christ alone. The voice that kept telling me, “I am not letting you go.” Jesus is a good and sufficient Savior. He is faithful to all He promised to those who trust Him. He promised in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them from my hand.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd (my Good Shepherd) holds me in His hand, thus He can say, “I am not letting you go.” I am His forever. He will keep me, and He will sustain me. Jesus was speaking truth over me. He was reminding me of His faithful promise. Not only that, but in John 10:29-30 He goes on to say, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” So not only was Jesus not letting me go, no one would be able to snatch me from the Father’s hand. I wasn’t going to be let go, and no one was going to take me away. I was, and still am, firmly kept by God.
I was on a bus in China in the winter back in 2003, and little did I know that God was preparing me for what happened in 2008. We had a 16 hour bus ride all through the night. It was near 0 degree temperatures outside, and we had packing tape around the windows to keep the cold air out. We had about 15 chain smokers on the bus and my coat was packed away on top of the bus with all our bags. I had a sweatshirt and pants only. I was freezing and miserable from all the smoke, but I had one source of joy: outside my window I saw the countryside in the light of a full moon. It was beautiful seeing the moon light up the trees and grasslands. About 2-3 hours later in the drive, the windows were iced over from all the humidity in the bus. Now I was fully frustrated and becoming angry. We still had about 10 hours left on the trip. My one source of joy was gone, and now I was freezing, coughing, and angry. A few hours later, I prayed. As I was praying, God taught me something that I would not really understand until around 2010. He taught me that sometimes in life the windows are clear and you can clearly see God at work, but then there are times in life when the windows ice over and you cannot see anything. All hope will seem lost, and you will wonder if God is there. God taught me this important point, that when the windows ice over to not forget that He is still God, He is still good, and He is still there.
In 2008, the windows iced over. I did not believe He was there or good. I was losing hope, but that voice wouldn’t let me. He was still there. He was holding me. There is a song that I still struggle to get through without crying that has been huge in my life. It’s an old one from David Crowder called “All I Can Say,” Here are the lyrics (and click the song title to hear the song).
All I Can Say
Lord I'm tired
So tired from walking
And Lord I'm so alone
And Lord the dark
Is creeping in
To swallow me
I think I'll stop
Rest here a while
And didn't You see me cry'n?
And didn't You hear me call Your name?
Wasn't it You I gave my heart to?
I wish You'd remember
Where you sat it down
And this is all that I can say right now
And this is all that I can give
I didn't notice You were standing here
I didn't know that
That was You holding me
I didn't notice You were cry'n too
I didn't know that
That was You washing my feet
You're Not Alone
The bridge is what gets me every time. It says everything I was feeling and learning. He was standing there with me. He was holding me. He was crying too. He was washing my feet…what?! The darkness last a little over a year for me, but to this day I still point to that time for much of what I have learned about God. I learned grace and mercy/compassion in the dark. I learned humility in the dark. I learned to trust in the dark. I learned to depend on God in the dark. I learned a ton about love in the dark. I learned about empathy in the dark. I learned that God is faithful and good to all He has promised in the dark. But even though it was dark, I was never alone. The pain was real. The fear was real. The desire to end my life was real. It was overwhelming and far more than I could handle. Yet He was there, holding me. Keeping me. Loving me. In all my anger and bitterness toward Him, He stayed. He didn’t leave my side.
I don’t know where you are right now, or what you’re going through. I wish I could say it will be over soon. Probably, it won’t. It may even get harder, darker. Everything within you may want it all to end, and everyone to stay away from you. I pray right now you hear the voice of the Lord saying, “I will never let you go.” Trust Jesus. He is good and He is faithful. I didn’t get all my questions answered. I may never. Depression has not been eradicated from my life, though I wish it was. But this one thing I do know—God is still God. He is still good, and He it still there. You are not alone. Trust Him, and then get on your phone and call a friend or family member and just cry out for help. Contact myself or one of our leaders, if you prefer. It may take every last ounce of energy you have, but do it trusting Jesus. He will give you the strength. Don’t carry this burden alone, it’s far too much for you.
-By Bryan Padgett