For 6 months I’ve been putting off this post that I’m about to write. For obvious reasons, it is of a very personal nature and fact is I haven’t really wanted to go back to places that God has carried me through. I always knew deep down that I would share what I’m about to write, but it was always too soon and too fresh to do so. When I woke up this morning, I didn’t have a clue that I would be writing this post, yet after my morning devotion, God has urged me to do so now.
Even now there is a inward trembling taking place as I contemplate what I’m about to write, yet my hands are steady and the heart is ready.
In February of this year, I fought a 7 day bout with the flu. The
one year that I didn’t get a flu shot would naturally be the year I
contracted the worst case of the flu I’d ever had. For the first time
as a music minister, I missed a Sunday due to illness. During this
period, I visited the doctor where I was diagnosed with a highly
contagious strain and prescribed some flu medication. As the weekend
came and went, I was ready to go back to work on the following Monday.
Looking back, I don’t know if it was the medication, but I felt the
best health-wise that I can ever remember feeling! I experienced this
sensation of well-being and vitality that I had never felt in my life!
I told my wife the same thing that day! I felt so good, I could just
run out the door and start running and never stop! That would have
been a great day to qualify for the olympics marathon! The best
comparison I can offer is that feeling one has after they have finally
experienced a great nights sleep!
Ironically, my great day of well-being would be followed by many
days of the opposite. For the next 10 days I went through a period of
what can simply be described as a dark depression. During that time, I
didn’t think of it as depression, but my wife Tina did. Only someone
who has been with me as long as she has and knows me as well as she has
could make that identification. Now, we’ve all experienced some sort
of depression since we were kids. I know I’ve had my dalliances with
it, but the simplest pleasures would always break me out of it. You
know how it is. You’re in the dumps and someone says, "hey, let’s go
get some pizza" and you perk up with energy and make your way out the
door! This time, though, seemed different because as I was going
through it, I didn’t see a way out. I felt like I would be in this
condition for the rest of my life. For those 10 days, I spent most of
my time lying on my bed with my head buried in the mattress. Tina
would check in on me and ask me if I needed anything or wanted to do
something. My response was usually the same. I just wanted to stay
there on the bed. During the day, I was in my office with the door
shut. Much of the time behind that closed door was spent with my head
on the desk. Brian, my Pastor and colleague, would check in on me and
he knew something was not right. One time when he stepped in my office
and tried to talk to me about it, I buried my head in my hands and wept
bitterly. I didn’t have an coherent answer to his question. In that
moment, I felt shame and weakness as a man.
During this period, the thought of being around people was
frightening. I couldn’t bear the thought of interaction with anyone.
The only people that could safely approach me were my wife and son, and
as I said, there wasn’t much interaction at home as I retreated to the
bedroom every night. One such instance was one night when we went to a
local restaurant for dinner. (I was hoping that getting out would snap
me out of it) Some friends of ours just happened to be there and
dropped by our table to say hello before they left. I was paralyzed
with fear as they made their way toward us. These are good friends of
ours, and I wasn’t afraid of them, but I was afraid of interacting with
them because I knew I was in a dark place and couldn’t get out! Even
though I was "out in the world" at the restaurant, I was "buried" deep
in a grave of mistrust and sadness that I couldn’t explain. Naturally,
they thought I was rude, and I couldn’t blame them. There was no way
they could know where I was, because I didn’t even know!
One of the burdens I was carrying during this time was this need to
protect my family and friends from my pain. I was so crippled by it,
looking back, I know my inability to open up was a deterrent to my
condition and only added to it. I wouldn’t open up to my family
because to do so would be to inflict pain on them that I was feeling!
How selfish, I thought, that I would lay my burdens on them. I was
wrong. I didn’t recognize that I was actually causing them more pain
by carrying the weight. They wanted to help me, but I wouldn’t let
them. They wanted to love me, but I kept them at an unhealthy
distance. I was bringing great stresses upon them, but I couldn’t see
what I was doing. Like I said before, I really couldn’t see anything.
It was as if someone had taken my soul from my body and forced me to
look at it. I was looking at the deepest unseen parts of me for the
first time and I didn’t like it! It drove me to despair. I felt like
I was going through life and only getting worse, and that my life to
that point had been such a waste that it was beyond any hope of
redemption! The next Sunday came, and I was in day 7 of my
depression. This was horrible to me, because my job is to be with
people. My job is to stand on a platform and lead people into the
presence of God and proclaim the gospel through music. I was to
proclaim the same gospel that the Apostle Paul lived and died for. It
was supposed to be the gospel that carried Paul through sorrowful times
of persecution. We’re talking real persecution right? I mean, if you
proclaim Christ in Paul’s day, you were going to be emprisoned or
killed! One of the lies that I bought in to back then was that I
wasn’t being persecuted. I told myself over and over, that I brought
my pain on myself. Persecution happens when you’re living right and
the enemy punishes you for it. Right? I didn’t see my plight as any
kind of persecution. I saw it as a spree of selfishness and self-pity.
By the grace of God, I didn’t contemplate hurting myself. But
I would be lying if I didn’t entertain scenarios closely related to
it. Often I would think thoughts like, "I wonder what would happen if
I did something." Immediately I thought of all the pain that
it would cause to those I left behind. I’ve known way too many people
who have gone down that road, and I have unfortunately witnessed the
aftermath of such a personal disaster! That thought actually
frightened me more than the darkness I was in. Praise God!
Although I spent the majority of those 10 days in utter darkness, a
light finally appeared. Finally! I was desperate for truth. That’s
what being paralyzed by lies will do to you. You want truth and you
want it desperately! I would love to tell you that I opened my Bible
and and angel of the Lord came down and healed me with a personal touch
but that just wouldn’t be the case.
On my bookshelf there was a book that I had owned for about 5-6
years. Actually, it was loaned to me. You know how people loan you
something, and you never return it? You kind of assume ownership like
some kind of common law situation. Well, when you are in the family of
God, it’s the kind of thing that happens frequently. You borrow books,
you lend books. You don’t really think about when you’re going to get
the book back. I’ve learned not to expect the book to be returned.
The book is entitled, "Wild at Heart" by John Eldredge. Years ago,
a friend of mine who’s about 5 years older to me, let me borrow it. He
said it was a great book for a guy to read. The book is sub-titled
"discovering the secret to a man’s soul". Well, I took the book just
on his recommendation, but I never read it. It just wasn’t where I was
at in life. I heard rave reviews from many people about the book, but
I developed a bit of snobbery about it. If that many people think it’s
good, then it’s probably shallow and cliched. So, there it remained in
my bookshelf for several years. Anyway, in a desperate search for any
kind of truth, I opened it and began reading. I didn’t put it down
and until I was finished. Very rarely do I start reading a book and
not stop until the end of the book. Every page I turned was like a
lighting of a small candle. I kept seeing myself throughout the
pages. I was beginning to see that there were things going on in my
soul that were causing the effects I was experiencing. For the first
time in several days, I was beginning to shed the skin of loneliness.
I was realizing that my situation wasn’t unique. My life’s experience
wasn’t any different than what other guys were going through. Not even
the way I was reacting to it was unique although we all react different
according to our personal disposition.
I want to stop here in discussing "Wild at Heart". I want to emphasize that this book did not rescue me from darkness.
The only one deserving of credit is God. He lifted me out of my
depression! God chose to use a book that enlightened me on some very
basic truths about men. I need to go back and review it, because I
can’t verify all of it’s theological correctness, and even if it is
completely theologically sound, it doesn’t change the fact that God is
to be glorified in my life! His Word is not limited to one form. God
often condescends through different forms to break through to us! I’ve
learned since then that I need to saturate myself in His Word and not
the opinions and solutions of this world!
Let me also emphasize that I didn’t pull myself up by my spiritual bootstraps.
I heard John Mayer, one of my favorite musical artists, yet spiritually
lost, say "I made things happen for myself!" You know, God will let
you choose to "make things happen for yourself." But if you want to
be in right standing with Him, you will never be able to make anything
happen for yourself. It’s like being in quicksand and you’re about to
go under when God throws down a vine. All you can really do is receive
the vine. Grab onto it! The sand is heavily clinging to your body,
and your muscles are so weakened as they attempt to stay afloat! They
are powerless in pulling your body out of the sand. So not only does
God throw the vine for you to hold onto, He goes one better. He pulls
you with His mighty strength until you are completely out of the
quicksand! If that wasn’t enough, He picks up your limp body and puts
you on His back and carries you to safety! What a mess you’ve become!
You look like something the earth up-chucked, in fact you are! That’s
what I was. This world didn’t want me. This world wanted to use me.
And when it was done, it threw me up! By the Grace of God, He took me
in my putrid condition, and now I spend the rest of my life allowing
Him to clean me up!
As I close this story, I’m reminded that as I was in my depressed
state, I wondered how I got there! It seemingly came from nowhere! I
even wonder if my flu medication had anything to do with it. I’m at a
loss for answers. I still don’t know how I got there. I suspect it
wasn’t one thing. It was a pile of things from 41 years of living that
finally broke a straw in my soul. But this one thing I know: God saw
it coming! He saw it coming when he led someone to lend me a book 5
years ago. He saw it coming when I was in my mother’s womb! He saw it
coming before the foundation of the world! He rescued me from
depression. He didn’t accomplish this with a book. He accomplished
this by paying the price for my sin! He accomplished this by taking my
place and being punished by His own wrath! It was a wrath I deserved,
in fact we all deserve! He died in spiritual darkness and walked out
the other side victoriously so that there would be hope for me to do
Earlier I said that God’s Spirit urged me to write this post. Let
me leave you with the thought that brought this about. In John Piper’s
book "Don’t Waste Your Life", he states, "No one has ever said that
they learned their deepest lessons of life, or had their sweetest
encounters with God, on the sunny days. People go deep with God when
the drought comes. That is the way God designed it."
Today life is great! God has blessed us with so many gifts and I’m
thankful! But I want to also thank Him for the days when life isn’t
great. I want to thank Him for the darkness, not because He sent it,
but because He was there with me in it!