Earlier this week I was on the phone with Jenny (not her real name). She’s going through some severe trials. Wave after wave of difficulties have been bearing down on her.
She admitted to me that the primary reason why she continues to trudge through each day is because she doesn’t want to be a burden to her husband. His own struggles would only be multiplied by her sadness, questions and requests for him to help her. She asked for prayer, saying she didn’t know how much longer she could keep going without falling apart.
Have you been there? Have you felt at times that your needs are going unmet because you have to keep your spouse, children, family members or friends in mind? Do you remember how alone you felt? How much energy was required to do simple tasks? How desperately you longed for someone to think as much about you as you were about them? The nagging hesitance to hope things would get better because you couldn’t bear yet more disappointment if nothing changed?
Jenny is probably experiencing with author Ed Welch calls the “stubborn darkness” of depression. I know that stubbornness. And at least two of my friends are in the middle of it now, including Jenny.
Does God expect us to obey Him and do what’s right in the midst of trials and suffering?
I reminded Jenny yesterday that while I’ve experienced the hopelessness and go-through-the-motions way of living in which she is currently, it’s more important to remember that Jesus is empathizing and praying for her. In the garden He asked God to not make Him go to the cross unless there was no other way. “Let this cup pass from me,” He asked.
And what cup was that? Scripture tells us the cup was filled with the wrath of God (see Ps 75:8, John 18:11, Matthew 20:22, Revelation 14:9). Jesus was fully God but also fully human, just like you and I. He didn’t want to suffer an agonizing, humiliating death by hanging naked on a cross while cynics mocked and Satan laughed. He wasn’t a stoic who kept a stiff upper lip. No, he was a man with flesh and blood, temptations and grief, emotions and desires.
But in His darkest hour He, the God Man, elevated what was right over what He felt. “Not my will but yours” was His conclusion to a heart and mind so filled with agony that his sweat became blood.
Jenny knows that while she feels like crawling into a ball and retreating behind closed doors, she can’t. There’s laundry to do and lunch to make. Errands to run, a frig to clean out, and dust bunnies to sweep up. Kids to get up for and an upcoming birthday party to think about.
Because her suffering Savior thought of her during His darkest hours, she has His indwelling power to do the same.
The thing is, I’ve watched her do it for years. When stubborn darkness refused to lift and bad news rolled in like thick fog into her world, she demonstrated maturity and strength beyond any woman’s ability. Yes, a lot of her motivation was, like now, to not “be a burden to her husband.” I don’t know about you, but in my life that doesn’t last long. I may start out wanting to respond well to a hard situation to help and support Benny, but before long complaining and “somebody take care of me” attitudes creep in (or in some cases fly out of my heart and mouth). Only God can help a hurting person to continue to incarnate the love, sacrifice and service of Christ when circumstances tempt him or her to crawl into that ball of pain.
I told Jenny that because of the grace I’ve observed in her over the years, I was confident God would continue to help her to be like Him. To get up in the morning when she wanted to pull the covers over her head and pretend she wasn’t needed. To referee sibling arguments when she wanted to tell the kids their bickering was just stupid compared to what she’s going through. To love a man who doesn’t seem as focused on her as she is on him. And to keep pursuing God when she’s wondering if more disappointment at His sovereign plan is coming.
Jenny, thank you for trusting God through stubborn darkness. For being honest about your struggles and pain without using them as an excuse to be irresponsible. For serving others when you would have loved being served; reaching out when you could have pulled away; worshiping instead of charging God; being patient when friends comments are insensitive rather than helpful; and, most of all, growing in godliness rather than becoming bitter and self-absorbed. And for being brutally honest about your sadness, temptations, sinful reactions and struggles in the process.
God has been busy in your life and I’m grateful to have watched Him sustain you through the “many dangers, toils and snares that have already come.” The gospel has been on display in your life and I’m confident that “grace has brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.”
I love you, my friend.
P.S. You can find Ed Welch’s helpful book, Depression: Looking Up From a Stubborn Darkness here.