Do you want to be well again?
These words, spoken by Jesus to a man who had been unable to walk for thirty-eight years, leaped out at me as I read my Bible. I was in the middle of a silent retreat, and I was praying about my decades-long battle with depression. Yes, Lord, I want to be well, I prayed. It would be wonderful if you would take away my depression.
Earlier on, at the beginning of the retreat, I had told God that he could teach me, heal me, or take me apart and put me back together in any way he wanted to. But now, I dreamed that he would take away my depression symptoms or at least help me overcome them. However, it turned out that he had a different vision for how he would make me well.
“Befriend the Depression.” My depression sometimes makes it hard to get out of bed. On those days, I might muster the energy to watch television or disappear into a book, but often I just want to stay in bed. During more severe bouts, I can be easily overwhelmed and find it hard to cope with everyday life. My perception of the world becomes so negative and distorted that rather than relating to the people I love and doing the things I love to do, I disengage and avoid them.
For the longest time, I thought this depression was a temporary condition that I would eventually overcome. If I could just find the right medication, therapist, or spiritual director; if I could just be active enough or eat the right foods; if I could just pray more or have a stronger faith—maybe then my depression would go away for good.
But whatever I tried just wasn’t enough; the depression would leave for a time and then come back. This struggle continued for close to twenty years. As long as my goal was to conquer and defeat it, I was a failure every time it returned. Depression became my enemy, something much worse than the other chronic condition I had dealt with and had learned to manage—Crohn’s disease.
So sitting in prayer that day at the retreat, I was more than eager to hear God tell me how he was going to make me well. I couldn’t have been more shocked at the words that came into my head: “Sandra, befriend the depression.”
The Real Enemy. “Are you crazy, Lord?” Befriending my depression was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to be rid of it, not give in to it.
But then I recalled how I had learned to befriend the Crohn’s disease. When my first flare-up subsided, I thought that it was all over. But when the symptoms gradually started to reappear, I realized that Crohn’s disease and I were going to be together for a long time—so we might as well learn how to get along.
As I continued to pray, I remembered how God had been faithful in the midst of my illness. No matter how mild or severe my condition would become, his love and grace were with me to sustain me. So why would I treat my depression differently? Perhaps it was because it didn’t fit in with my idea of a “joyful Christian.”
“Isn’t ‘depressed Christian’ an oxymoron?” I asked God.
“Depression isn’t the enemy,” he replied. “It’s a gift, because it helps remind you to depend on me. It’s fear that kills your spirit, not depression.”
“But Lord, it’s such a heavy burden to carry.”
“Don’t carry it then,” he replied. “Put it down, grasp its hand, and walk with it instead. And remember that I am here. You don’t have to do this alone.”
At that moment, I found the grace to accept the fact that my depression was just another chronic condition like my Crohn’s disease was. I wasn’t ashamed of my Crohn’s. So why be ashamed of my depression?
God Is Holding Me. This was a life-changing revelation. Having depression did not make me a failure; it was my fear that was crippling me. God was asking me to trust him in a new and more intimate way.
From that moment on, I decided to put my battle with depression in God’s hands. Without any hatred, shame, or sense of defeat, I asked him to help me learn from it rather than hating it and fearing it. Since then, I have found the burden of depression to be more manageable.
Now, instead of berating myself when I start experiencing depression, I try to acknowledge its presence and remind myself that it will pass. Depression comes and goes, but God is faithful. Sometimes I imagine that God is physically holding me. Other times, I need my husband to hold me so that I can feel the support I need. Either way, I know that God is with me through it all, and he will not leave me.
Choosing Gratitude. It has been several years since that life-changing retreat. I still do what I can to minimize the effects of depression, but I know that I can’t avoid it altogether. So I choose to turn my suffering into a prayer to God.
I know that God doesn’t expect me to do the impossible. Depression sometimes requires medical treatment. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to make a positive choice to go out for a walk, ponder a favorite Scripture passage, or listen to inspiring music. In all of these actions, I am choosing gratitude instead of despair. I am remembering that God is with me. It’s getting easier to see that my life with him is a gift—no matter what state I’m in. I know that he will continue to walk beside me and help me accept both depression and Crohn’s as my companions on the journey.
Thank you, Jesus, for hearing my prayer to be made well.
Sandra Ferraro lives in Colorado.