“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” ~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
I lived a long season with depression years ago, and before that my mom was handicapped by its grip. Before my own suffering, I never understood her suffering. I was impatient and wished she’d just snap out of the self-focused pit and move on.
As we process the loss of Robin Williams, can I please beg–DO NOT attempt to understand or judge depression unless you have experienced it yourself! Just don’t.
I find it interesting that this topic has suddenly surfaced while I’m on the “Where” part of our summer journey to uncover our unique paths.
Depression has no destination.
The road is clearly before you, but you sit with your back to the path and remain immobilized. You go nowhere.
If this is where you find yourself today, I am so terribly sorry and I completely understand. But may I add that understanding is such a gift and something you hold, even if you feel no power or strength to use that gift.
We need responsive compassion in a sickened world. Jesus was responsive. Ironically, however, He was also challenging.
I think what might be most difficult today is that we may increase in responsive understanding, while decreasing in the challenge. Maybe it’s because most of us seem inclined to one or the other and few know how to offer both appropriately. I saw an interview with Williams last night and he spoke to the importance of compassionate “I love you, right where you are” responses, along with bold statements motivating change, such as, “You’re a drunk. Get help!”
I had the privilege of preparing a message on John, Chapter 6, which I presented one Sunday morning in my home church. Although this was years ago, the message still has a profound impact on my life. In summary, the chapter begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand and then He escapes to be alone. The bottom line is that the people wanted more miracles. They wanted more comfort that a full tummy provides and when they finally find Jesus and ask for more, He moves into challenge.
This is often true in Scripture. When Jesus senses that His followers questions are fleshly and selfish, He makes the teaching more difficult. So He goes on to explain that if they truly “want more,” they will need to eat of His body and blood, which is absurd when lined up with Old Testament teaching on blood entering the body. Jesus wasn’t trying to negate the Scriptures, He was testing the heart.
It was at this point when many followers turned and left. They walked off.
In what I have come to understand as one of the most piercing questions in the entire Bible, Jesus then asks the twelve disciples in verse 67: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
This is a question we all should ask. And we should be brutally honest by admitting just how many times we want to answer, “Yes!” Life is exhausting and often disappointing. Things don’t turn out the way we’d like. Where we think we’re going is wrought with detours and setbacks that leave us questioning everything. The authentic Christian even questions God’s way and God’s direction. Just like the Psalms we want to shout, “Are you kidding me?”
And then in Scripture, Simon Peter replies to Jesus’ question. In John 6:68, Peter responds with, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
To whom shall we go? Where is there to go?
As we’ve learned, all the fame and money in the world cannot take us to a better place than the eternal promise of a loving God. In about two months my first book will launch and readers will discover how many places I tried to go before understanding this truth.
From one who’s been down many avenues, I can assure you, there is no other place to go!
I’m so thankful to know this truth because I can still easily recall the days as an adolescent unbeliever when I’d listen to Diana Ross’ song, Do You Know Where You’re Going To? It’s the saddest song I’ve ever heard and the loneliness I felt listening to it is so profound as I look back. I had no idea where I was going. There were no open doors, hopes or dreams. I simply chased fantasies that never came true and didn’t know where to turn once I realized the path led nowhere. I’ve tasted that despair and it grieves me to no end that Robin knew that too, but even more profoundly than I.
But I have also tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), even though I still forget or look to fulfill my thirst elsewhere. It’s a continual turning the attention back to the One who pulls us out of the pit. He is at the end of every long road, we just have to turn those hopeless shoulders again and again to gaze down the path and find the Savior who’s waiting to guide us onward.
Because, really, where else is there to go?
In loving memory, Robin. Thank you for the laughter when we needed it the most.
Extra Author Note: Sadness and Depression are two different things. Before I knew Jesus and listened to that Diana Ross song, I was sad. I was confused and lonely. Jesus has answered that longing with His presence because when we recognize our need for a Savior, the Holy Spirit miraculously comes and makes His home within us. Having said that, it wasn’t until years after knowing Jesus when I suffered with depression. This was completely different and physical. I was unable to deal with this on my own and experienced hopelessness much deeper than sadness. Like most Christian people, I’m sure, I felt the guilt that I lacked faith or something was wrong with me as a believer in Jesus. This is a lie that keeps us from seeking help. It was my medical doctor who was able to explain that I was chemically imbalanced, which at the time was due to birthing three children in five years. Pregnancy, stress, and difficult life circumstances can zap our bodies. Please know that, although mental in symptoms, depression is very physical and you should not blame yourself or feed your mind with guilt over a “lack of faith.” We only have faith by the beautiful grace of God, anyway. Finally, tell yourself today’s story (not yesterday’s). Today you are loved, important, and valuable. You were carefully formed and created by the God of the Universe! He has a very special “Where” for you to go.
Photo credit: Flickr (Creative Commons)