by Jonathan Daugherty
My whole life I have struggled with depression. It's been an on-and-off thing since as far back as I can remember. It's not something I talk about very often, if ever. I have been on medication in the past to help regulate my mood. It is one of my core weaknesses, like a "thorn in my side." And although I have discovered on life's journey that I don't need to live in fear of my weaknesses, there is no guarantee I will not feel afraid because of them.
My imagination is vivid and active, just ask my wife! This is a great blessing when attempting to write or tell stories, but it can be quite crippling when mixed with a depressed mood. Recently I was going through my mental checklist of all the events and tasks and projects our ministry has coming up in the next few months. The list just kept going and going and... I felt this wave of pressure come crashing down on my soul. I wanted to kick and thrash, try my hardest to swim to the surface of this overwhelming ocean. But instead I was frozen, unable to move, suffocating. Fear enveloped me and I felt myself slipping into emotional unconsciousness.
As I experienced the scene above, my mind wandered through a trail of old movies. I love movies, especially those with lots of plot twists. I'm always drawn to stories that have an element of free-spirited living, like in Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins' character refuses to let the walls of prison entrap his sense of wonder and hope, or Eric Liddle in Chariots of Fire, feeling God's pleasure when he ran. Freedom, hope, these wonderful passageways that lead the burdened heart to a place of calm and lightness. But sometimes I feel like these passages are walled off, or constantly moving, requiring more and more searching to find their treasures.
I believe God is not cruel or into playing games with our emotions. I believe He is what His Word says, a loving Father who cares infinitely more for us than all else in creation that He daily supplies with food and protection. And although I believe this, I still find it a great mystery that God allows His children to suffer, to endure pain and unanswered questions, and even prevent some "thorns" from being removed. This mystery doesn't cause me to abandon my faith, but it is puzzling nonetheless. I really don't want to struggle with depression, yet it lingers. I want to feel at peace, unburdened, able to breath, but the seasons come in which I taste nothing, see nothing, feel nothing. Is God uncaring? Absent? Busy?
Ironically, it has been through my depression that my love for God has deepened. I'm not saying I would have chosen this method, but this has been my journey. I often picture God as an endless ocean. His richest treasures are not found washed up on the shore, but deep in the depths of the waters miles and miles away from all that is safe and "firm." The more I venture into those "unsafe" waters the more my weaknesses are exposed -- and experienced! I flounder, sink, gag. But then something unexpected happens. In certain moments I'm enveloped not by my weakness, but by the majesty, power, and grace of God. The waves of my depression that sought to crush my soul are replaced by waves of God's steadfast love and tender heart. And although the power and force of just one cresting wave in the ocean of God could completely destroy me, instead it refines me, instructs me, moves me, heals me.
I still don't like feeling depressed. And I don't always manage my fear of it very well. But for the moments my God reveals to me how His power is made perfect in weakness, I will press on. I will not give up. I will confess my frailty, acknowledging my complete emptiness apart from Christ. Then, and only then, do I know what it means, "When I am weak, then I am strong."
Are you wrestling with God over your weaknesses? If not, I hope you will. Not because I think you'll win. No, I hope you will wrestle over them because sometimes it's the only way to get into deep enough water to see the rich treasures of God. That's a sight worth seeing, and something I believe God only reveals to the truly broken; even the depressed...
I've been spending time recently in the book of Numbers in the Bible. Unfortunately, this isn't a place in most people's Bibles where they spend much time, maybe because the stories can seem redundant and there is a lot of focus on, well, numbers. But there are also such great stories of God's care and redemption of His people, even when that care doesn't always appear so caring. Like what happens in Numbers, chapter 11.
At this point in history, the Israelites have been freed from slavery under the heavy hand of Pharaoh in Egypt. They have crossed the Red Sea and have seen God's provision of manna, the 10 commandments, and even the glory of God's presence at the entrance to the tabernacle. Yet, they grumbled.
Numbers 11:4 - Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
It's almost a tragic comedy to read of the repeated grumbling and complaining of God's people throughout history. Yet, it's not really funny at all, as there are always consequences for sinning (i.e. grumbling) against a holy God. Notice what was at the heart of the motivation to seek other ways to be fed than what God had provided: strong craving.
It was lust in the hearts of discontented citizens that began stirring up the entire congregation of Israel to question the goodness of God's provision and instead exalt the provision of a corrupt, godless Pharaoh. This kind of dissension was an example of what I call "memory scrubbing," when one chooses to only remember what they want to remember, not the whole truth.
The Israelites were slaves under Pharaoh! So, whatever their memories might have been of "good food," needed to be placed in the context of them not being free men and women. But that's not how they chose to remember their time in Egypt. Instead, they seemed to remember Egypt as one magnificent buffet line, full of delicious meats, melons, and salads. But a good meal in the context of slavery is nothing a sane person should long for, and especially not those of the chosen race of God who He redeemed, protected, and very literally provided daily bread.
God, however, didn't abandon His people because of their slander or scrubbed memories. But He did teach them a lesson about what lustful cravings lead to: death. In the case of the Israelites, God chose to give them exactly the meat that they wanted - to the point that they gagged on it!
Numbers 11:18-20 - And say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, “Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt.” Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’
God's faithfulness is not always pleasant, even though it is good. God gave the "rabble" exactly what their lustful bellies craved, until the couldn't stand it anymore. But this was actually a merciful act on God's part. Rather than completely wipe out all the Israelites forever, He taught them a lesson about the foolishness of assuming God is not thoroughly good. Sadly, it was a lesson they didn't permanently comprehend, but it still speaks to us even today, thousands of years later.
God kept His promise to feed the people meat. And that it would be overwhelming, even to the point they could hardly move because there was so much meat falling from the sky.
Numbers 4:31-34 - Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck down the people with a very great plague. Therefore the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah*, because there they buried the people who had the craving. (emphasis mine)
Lust will never invite God's best into your life. Instead, it leads to death. Those who rose up in the Israelite's camp and sought to stir up the people against God because they entertained delusional fantasies about how "good" life was in their days of slavery; those were the ones who were buried at Kibroth-hattaavah, in their "graves of craving." Lust only digs graves, ones we eventually occupy ourselves.
Don't get caught up in fantasies of "better days" that are really nothing more than illusions. The truth is that any picture of life drawn within the lines of slavery is not what God has pictured for His people. He has "a land flowing with milk and honey," filled with every good gift and treasure. He knows what is best for us and what will ultimately satisfy. Our only "job" is to follow where He leads. Sometimes that means we will go through valleys and deserts, but it is always a step closer to the Promised Land.
Will you endure, fighting the ever-present cravings that draw you away from the journey to God's best? May you not be party to the "rabble," but instead hold fast to the promises of God, that where He leads is always good, even if the journey is hard. Don't get buried in the grave of craving...