I remember the first time I became aware that I was depressed. It was my fifth year as a Christian. It felt like being confined in a cold, dark well. No one could hear me scream. No one knew the depth of pain I felt in my loneliness. I couldn’t understand why I felt this way when I was saved. I was taught that with God, my life will be great. I was taught that if I’m spiritual, I won’t struggle with sadness or loneliness. I must be missing some truth in the Scripture that’s why I am not happy! I tried to “fix” these dark feelings by serving others, studying the Bible with people, praying, memorizing scriptures – everything that my spiritual mentors and church leaders told me will cure depression. Being busy helped me stuff the unhappiness for a while, but then it would come back, especially when I was stressed. So my life as a Christian was a roller coaster of exhilaration when God answered a prayer, and despair when the exhilaration wore off. In the next 15 years, I continued to have these feelings. In fact, my depression got worse as I got older. As my dream of getting married and having my own family slowly died. As my dream of professional success became unreachable. Twenty-five years after my baptism, I was a shell of the young woman who was full of hope and dreams in Christ. In 2012, I went to a career counselor to seek help with re-inventing my career. She ended up putting me on suicide watch. Yet, I was not completely surprised. By this time, I have been living with the low-grade depression for two decades (By low-grade depression, I mean without being prescribed antidepressants). The only source of joy for me at this time in my life was thoughts of seeing God when I die. To me, death was better than having to live daily with the indescribable pain of failure, unworthiness, and rejection. Throughout this time, I never stopped going to church and participating in all aspects of the Christian community. In my darkest days, I clung to David’s faithful assertion in Psalm 27 verse 13:
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
The church that I was a part of was not spiritually or emotionally in tune with what I was struggling with. People talked behind my back, describing me as “always critical and negative”. A married brother accused me of being “desperate” to get married. Even the evangelist publicly stated that depression is a sin. The negative judgment from the fellowship of Christians was like salt on my wounds. Their hurtful words further alienated me. I stopped being open to people about my struggles and distanced myself from many of my peers. Then one day, while having another of my daily depressing prayer time, I thought, “If Jesus can raise the dead, why can’t he heal me?” So at that moment, I directed my prayer to Jesus. It was a simple, vulnerable, desperate prayer, “Jesus, heal me! I know you can raise the dead so this is not that hard for you.”
You may think “It can’t be that simple!” But that was, in fact, the beginning of my journey of healing. For sure, it was not instantaneous, like his miracles in the Gospels. I did not know how Jesus will do it. But I prayed, and I believed, so I waited. First, he sent a mature, single sister in Christ who told me about a Celebrate Recovery program. This sister shared with me how she overcame some deep insecurities in her life through the CR program at this church. I started going to the Friday meetings. It consisted of 30 minutes of nothing but praising God with our voices, then a leader would use the 12 step principles and open up the scriptures to affirm how God works in our lives. The other half of the hour, we broke up into small groups where we had the opportunity to share our personal struggles and victories. Given the hurt I experienced in my church for the times I’ve been vulnerable and open about my thoughts and feelings, I was afraid that this group will also label me as “always critical and negative”. It took attending a few meetings before I was willing to open up to the women in the group (the participants came from different Christian denominations and were not members of the church I belonged to). At first, it was strange for me to sit in a circle with women who were confessing their weekly struggle with addiction, fits of rage, anxiety, marital problems, and not hear a single word of judgment from any participants! Eventually, this group became my safe place, where I can share my thoughts and feelings without judgment and receive God’s grace. Around this time, I also found a professional counselor with a Christian background (I had seen professional counselors at various times throughout my 10 years of being depressed, with varying results.). I sought help for childhood trauma, primarily abandonment, and physical and emotional abuse. I learned, through various conversations with professional counselors, and reading books like Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s “Boundaries”, that I have never bonded with my parents. This led to emotional inadequacies in my adulthood and has kept me from connecting with anyone in a trusting, intimate way. You see, when I was an infant, my parents hired a nanny to take care of me. For the next 10 years, my nanny was the primary adult relationship in my life. I rarely saw my parents, who were always preoccupied with our family business, seven days a week. My nanny was my surrogate mother. She took care of my every need, yet, she was also emotionally and physically abusive. In the summer before my fourth grade, my nanny decided to leave. It was a relief to no longer be subjected to her abuse, yet it was also the most traumatic event in my young life to lose the only person who I thought cared about me.
One day, I had an epiphany about the feelings of shame that I carry with me. I realized my belief that I’m a failure because I am not married and I have not accomplished my life goals has led to my depression. I brought this up with my counselor at my next appointment. When she heard me bring up shame, her face lit up and with a smile, she picked up a book from her desk, “Funny you bring that up. I just ordered this book by Brene Brown on the very topic of shame!” I ordered the book “Daring Greatly” that same day and started reading about shame. Midstream, as Brene Brown described how judgment makes us fear vulnerability and cause depression, I realized that my biggest critic and the sole source of my deep shame was myself! You see, I took over all the role of the adults in my life who criticized me, rejected me, and abandoned me when I was a child. At that moment of realization, I made a decision to accept myself without judgment. To LOVE me. I started looking up scriptures to help me with my resolution.
“Love your neighbor as yourself”
I was stunned when I read Jesus’s reminder of the second of the two greatest commandments. This was the first time the phrase “as yourself” jumped out from my reading of this all-too-familiar verse. I was always taught to deny myself and to love God and others. In fact, among my Christian friends and mentors, I learned that it’s selfish to love myself. Yet here it is, in the Bible, said by no other than Jesus himself – I need to love myself. In fact, what it implies is that my reference for loving others is my love for myself. How could I have missed that? How could my fellow Christian friends have misinterpreted the scriptures? I realized that I cannot truly love others until I have first loved myself. I realized I was sinning against God when I criticized myself, his creation! I used the analogy of a masterpiece. I wouldn’t dare go to the Louvre and criticize how Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. Is the Mona Lisa perfect? Not if you asked Da Vinci. But the rest of us mortals have nothing but awe when we behold his masterpiece. Yet I never thought twice of criticizing God’s masterpiece – Me! I resolved to learn to love myself the way God loved me. Zephaniah 3 verse 17 became my favorite scripture:
The LORD your God is with you,
The Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
In his love, he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.
This verse made me see God as my knight in shining armor, always ready to protect me, defend me and woo me. He doesn’t think I’m “always negative and critical.” He’s not judging me, rebuking me for being faithless or selfish, or thinking I’m desperate. He delights in ALL of me, even my flaws, insecurities and failures. He desires me!
Through Brene Brown’s book, I also stopped comparing myself with others. I learned that scarcity, my belief that I am not loved because I don’t have what others have, is a lie from Satan. I started praying every morning for God to open my eyes to see how much he loves me. Slowly, I started seeing the daily blessings. Not just the realization that I woke up to live another day kind of blessing, but special things that God would do in my life on a daily basis. In Psalm 5, David prayed in the morning and waited expectantly for God to answer his prayer throughout the day. It became something I looked forward to each day – this blessing and expression of love God had in store for me. Sometimes, it was something big, like the day I got a hefty bonus at work. Sometimes, it’s small but still special, like when I got a call from my best friend who lived on the opposite coast to simply let me know how much she loves me. And every night, I listed 3 things I’m grateful for that day. Brene Brown called them “Daily Gratitudes”. Slowly, I started seeing how abundant my life truly is! Psalm 23: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”
I never dreamed that my life can be any other than in the valley of the shadow of death. Yet here I am writing about my journey to joy, a journey that started with a simple, desperate prayer to the One who can heal me. Dear reader, if you are suffering from depression, I pray that you too will find healing from Jesus.
Author: God’s Daughter
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