Thinking about nothing

I find myself staring out the sliding glass door. I’m not sure that’s it’s daydreaming, really, because I’m not thinking about anything. At first glance out the window, I watch the trees waving in the breeze. I see the varied shades of green from palms to pines to bushes to grasses to lawn. I see the blue sky and the fluffy clouds. And then I “zone out” – my mind is wandering but to nothing in particular. I’m not mulling anything over, but if I feel a lingering thought, I might turn it towards God, into prayer.

I have a favorite spot in my house. It’s right here on the left end of the couch. This furthest cushion. The end table is next to me. There’s a lamp and box of tissues and coasters on the corner. I also have my journals – my daily one and my gratitude notebook. There’s plenty of room for my iPad and a snack. The end table is a few steps from the sliding door to the patio.

I have no idea how long I’ve been turned to the door and the outside beyond it. Time has stopped and I am frozen in this place: legs in front of me with my feet on the coffee table, pillow on my lap with this Chromebook on top, my hands on the keyboard but not typing. Shoulders down and relaxed. Head turned to the left, eyes on the distance. Jaw dropped, not clenched. Relaxed.

When I “come to,” I have no idea what I was thinking. But I’ve never believed it’s possible to not think. My mind is always planning or pondering or ruminating. I understand from books and presentations and confirming with the guys in my family (husband, son) that men have a “nothing box” – where they can mentally go and truly think about nothing. I wonder what that would be like to shut off my thoughts. Maybe I just did it.

I don’t count this as mindfulness exactly. I’m not aware of my thoughts, or even of the scenery after the first look. I’m not aware of time passing or sounds I might hear. I just sit and stare into the distance, not seeing. Here on the couch, with my gaze toward the palms, is the closest I come to the nothing box. It’s nice.

 

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Things I’ve Learned from my Depression Journey

Can anything good come from depression? I think yes.
I’ve learned:

      1. Empathy for those who are suffering from mental illness. I have the ability to relate and offer comfort, because I myself battle against depression. And while each person’s mental illness is unique, there are some consistencies that generalize across diagnoses.
      2. The experience of the Behavioral Health Unit. From my short stay in 2009, I have a better understanding of the chaos and turmoil in a psych ward.
      3. That there is tremendous pain in the world – I’ve had the “blinders” or “rose-colored glasses” removed.
      4. That I have never been walking alone – Christ has been with me through it all. He has supported, encouraged and sometimes carried me, even when I couldn’t see it. “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ ” Hebrews 13:5b, NIV. And just because I couldn’t see His Presence doesn’t mean He wasn’t there. He does not depend on what I feel, or even think, to be true. He is God. He Is.
      5. Emotional intimacy with my husband – we’ve always been good communicators, but there is still room to improve.  Through depression, I was given chances to share my thoughts, feelings and fears with him. Previously, I would hold those things to myself because I didn’t want to “burden” him. But marriage requires sharing the tough stuff along with the good times. And he is a great husband, an amazing man, my best friend.
      6. How God loves me completely, even in my mess. I have a better understanding of His unconditional love, which the Bible tells us is beyond our understanding! “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭3:17b-19‬, NIV‬‬
      7. The importance of having a good Christian therapist – I’ve had two! They’ve each listened and understood, helped me think things through and make sense of my thoughts, and pointed me back to Christ and my husband for support.
      8. The value of a slower pace – no need to be over-the-top-involved in everything.
      9. An appreciation for naps! And gliders and rocking chairs and swings.
      10. A gratitude for the smaller and simpler things in life.
      11. The need for rest, space, quiet, even silence.
      12. The benefit of solitude and focus and breath.
      13. To not hide my emotions from my children, but to share/teach/show my kids that it’s normal to have troubles and it’s important to ask for help. I hope I’ve shown them God’s faithfulness to us through the hard times.
      14. To be more observant, to talk less and try to listen more.
      15. To pray about everything. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬
      16. The willingness to admit my weaknesses to my friends and family so they can pray for me. When I’m able to be honest and vulnerable, I allow others to help me.
      17. To serve from a place of brokenness. I had the opportunity to facilitate in a Depression Support Care Group for a year, after asking for 6+ years that God would use this depression in my life to help others. And now I blog, in the hopes that my story offers encouragement to other Christians with depression. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Cor 1:3-4, NIV
      18. Of my absolute need to rely on Christ for everything. I’m growing more dependent on Him. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor 12:10, NIV

Praying for Healing

Some very thoughtful comments from a fellow blogger prompted this post…thanks, Jennifer!

And in responding to her, I recalled meetings I had several years ago with a pastor at our church. He had referred to his battles with depression in several sermons, and I felt very safe sharing my struggles and seeking his wisdom and prayers on many occasions. We talked about being Christians with mental illness. We discussed depression as a result of sin in the world, not necessarily due to a specific sin in one’s life. He reminded me that this battle against depression has a spiritual component, and that I should daily prepare myself with the armor of God (Ephesians 6).

I still remember my reaction when he told me to pray for healing. I was shocked! Not at his comment, but at myself. I realized that somewhere over the recent years, I had resigned myself to living with depression, and had stopped asking God to heal me. Instead, I had focused my prayers and energies that He would use my depression to share hope with others who struggle, especially with other Christians. But why had I stopped asking for healing?

Sitting in Pastor’s office, I realized that I had given up hope of being healed. Don’t get me wrong – I know that in heaven there will be no depression; I will eventually be healed. (“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17, NIV) But I had accepted that I will have depression for the rest of my lifetime on this earth, and so I had stopped asking God to take it away.

Maybe I was thinking of Paul’s “thorn” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10) and that he had asked God to remove it – three times! – and God had responded with “My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, “No. I will use this ‘weakness’ in your life to show My strength.” I don’t think Paul told us he asked three times as a magic number, and Scripture doesn’t say he asked, it says he pleaded. Implored. Begged. But still God said “No.” I thought, “Well, I’ve asked many times and it hasn’t happened, so I’ll just accept it and ask God to show His strength through my depression.”

But unlike Paul, I haven’t been told by God to stop asking. Instead, the Bible encourages me to be more like the woman who showed persistence in repeatedly asking the judge for justice (Luke 18:1-8). Keep asking. But keep working. Keep letting God use the depressions and remissions in my life to encourage others. “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:4b, NIV. But keep asking for healing too.

I also remember the end of a meeting with my pastor. He laid his hands on me and prayed that God would take the depression away from my life. I prayed and cried silently, completely agreeing, with hope that God would answer “Yes,” and the depression would be gone. Pastor ended that prayer with Romans 15:13, NIV, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  the verse that keeps showing up over the years of my depressions. When he finished praying, I told him of the significance of that verse, and we agreed that it is my life verse, that I am to trust God, because the rest of the verse’s action comes from Him.

I’ve seen prayer heal depression. I’ve prayed with others for a woman whose depression went away that afternoon. I’ve had people pray the same for me, and I’ve felt the relief and comfort of my needs and concerns being given to God. My depression has not gone away. I still move in and out of depression and remission. But the verse remains the same. So I pray that I’ll trust God, be filled with His joy and peace, and overflow with hope. Certainly not of my own doing, but supernaturally, through God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

I don’t think that asking for personal healing and serving God from a place of brokenness are mutually exclusive. There can be – should be – both. I think this is what my pastor was trying to tell me.

Note of encouragement to a friend… and to me

I sent a version of this note to a Christian friend several months ago. This person was going through a very tough time with depression – it’s so hard to keep my head above water when I’m tired of treading the waters of depression, and this person was feeling overwhelmed too.

I wrote it before my own depressive episode hit. Funny, eh?  I did try to take my own advice, and perhaps that’s part of why this most recent episode didn’t go as deep or last as long as others have.  Some of this may be familiar to regular readers – these are my experiences of depression and using the truth of God’s Word to combat the depression lies.

I want to share it here now. It’s edited some, maybe so it can be a reminder to me or others, or both!

Dear friend:

Depression is a liar. It tells me that I am completely unloveable. I have nothing to offer to anyone. I am useless, can’t concentrate, don’t want to participate, I feel like curling up in a ball in the corner of a very dark room, where no one can see me and where I won’t be a bother or a burden or a nuisance to anyone.

That’s what depression did to me – it made me feel things that weren’t true. It made me doubt God’s Presence. Was God hearing my prayers, my cries out to Him for relief? Maybe my life was too miserable, maybe He didn’t want to hear from me. Maybe I was too much of a mess. Maybe He was busy. Maybe He was tired of me saying the same thing each time I prayed. Maybe He loved me – after all, He died for me! But maybe He didn’t like me much. Maybe He simply tolerated me. Depression made it easy to doubt His Word, and made it almost impossible to see or hear God.

That’s why it’s so important to separate the truth – what the Bible says, which includes how God loves me (and you!) unconditionally and how He will never leave me (those are just two Bible promises that I love). Because depression wants me to believe something else – to trust my feelings. Feelings can’t be trusted – only truth, and all truth comes from God.

Jesus says that He died for me so that I can be with Him forever. He says that nothing can separate me from His love. He says that He loves me so much, that even when I was sinning, He died for me. All because He is Love.

I want to encourage you, hurting friend, to pick a promise from the Bible that really speaks to you – almost like you can hear Jesus telling it to you, face to face. Memorize it. Read it every day, several times a day. Write it on a note card so you can always have it handy. And when depression brings doubt and darkness, you can pull out that verse and read it and know it is the truth. Not what you feel, but what you know.

In my devotional Jesus Calling, I read this: (it’s written as if Jesus is talking directly to me)

“I AM WITH YOU, watching over you constantly. I am Emmanuel (God with you); My Presence enfolds you in radiant Love. Nothing, including the brightest blessings and the darkest trials, can separate you from Me. Some of My children find Me more readily during dark times, when difficulties force them to depend on Me.”

I LOVE these promises:

“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans‬ ‭8‬:‭35, 37-39‬ NLT 

One more of my favorites:

“Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:1

Dear friend, you are in Christ Jesus. He has called you, and you said Yes to Him being your Savior – and Friend – forever. And so there is nothing to blame you for. Christ died for all your sins and buried them in the depths of the ocean, moved them away as far as the East is from the West. So when depression tries to tell you that you are no good, or not loved, or should be afraid because you’re not certain of your eternity – that’s a lie! That is NOT what the Bible says. And there is no condemnation, which means that those accusing and negative thoughts are not from God, because He no longer condemns you. You are saved – forever – as a child of the King, with the promise of eternity in heaven with God.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a lecture! I just want so badly for you to feel better. And I think one thing that can help will be for you to know, without a doubt, because He says so, that you are totally loved by God – because you believe in Jesus as your Savior, and all your sins are forgiven!

And then pick a verse and make it “God’s promise to Me.” He never breaks His promises.

Oh dear friend, I am praying for you! That depression will loosen its grip. That you will know the power of God’s love, and His promise that He is with you, He understands, and that He loves you no matter what!

In writing this post I keep singing a song from my growing up years in Sunday School: 🎶
The B-i-b-l-e.
Yes, that’s the book for me.
I stand alone
On the word of God;
The B-i-b-l-e.
[The word “alone” doesn’t mean “by myself,” it means “only.” With nothing added to it. I stand only on the word of God. Because it is the source of truth.]