Andrew’s Story: Depression and the Hope of the Gospel

In one of my recent blog posts about depression I closed with a long quote by a guy named Andrew who has been a huge inspiration to me. I also said I would share his complete story at some point. Andrew is the son of a friend of Pastor Jared Wilson who struggles greatly with depression. Much greater than I do, at least I think. Our stories are different. Unlike Andrew, my paralyzing fear comes from thinking about hell, not the cross. I don’t have desires to be alone all the time. But, there is so much I relate to. Plus, it’s just a beautiful story. In his book Gospel Wakefulness, Wilson has Andrew share his story. His story doesn’t have a happy ending. At least not yet. Oh, but it will. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow or even in the next ten years, but it will have a happy ending. A happier ending than Hollywood could imagine. Eternal peace and glory with the only One who can truly comfort his mind and soul.

 

Here is Andrew:

“Mine is not a success story and I’ve never claimed to conquer the things that all us. I have no interest in patting myself on the back, telling myself that I have done well. I have not finished the race. But, I am moving towards the goal, whatever it is.

In each of the last few years, Holy Week has not been a particularly joyful time for me. It should be, but I admit, Good Friday is more unsettling to me than beautiful. Even Easter Sunday has taken on a more somber note for me of late. Why this is, I can’t say exactly. I have a particular aversion to violent executions, and Friday always brings with it visions of that horrid and brutal practice. I think of Jesus the man and how he really did suffer. I think of his mother, how her whole world must have ended as she watched her first born son fight in agony for his diminishing life. I think of St. John, given the impossible task of caring for the grieving mother. I think of Judas’s suicide, of Peter’s shame, of Thomas’s anguish. It breaks my heart. My home church hosts a prayer vigil every year. The room is filled with expressionist art and the lights are dark. It’s cold, and music plays softly as the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion are flashed across a screen. It wears on my spirit and last year I ended up sitting in a chair with my eyes shut tight trying to forget where I was. The worst part of Good Friday is that the resurrection has not yet come. Each year, it’s as if I experience it all over again. It’s stupid, but I found myself wondering once, what if he really is dead this time?

And then there is Saturday. On that day God lies dead in a borrowed tomb, and hope is all but gone. Every time I think about it, I’m filled with fear and hatred. Like Thomas, I want to run away.

In February of 2008, I was checked out of a psychiatric hospital. I had been checked in because I was depressed to the point of no longer caring to live. Getting help was the best thing I ever did for myself. I didn’t “get better” while I was there, but I did I began to understand the conditions under which I could get better. And I found God, again, while I was there. I spent my afternoons, in between therapy sessions, sitting at a table, reading the Psalms. It’s hard to say what why that old book of Jewish poetry, songs and prayers has become so much for so many different people. I though they captured the full width of human experiences and people loved the, because they could always identify with some portion of them in any situation. They have everything. Joy, sorrow, anger, despair, contentment, fear.

I was reading them again the other day. Most times, the Psalmist comes to the same conclusion. God is God, and he is good. I admit I don’t always believe that. It’s not a matter of believing in God or not believing in him. I believe I am incapable of atheism. But believing God is good, when there is so much suffering in the world, so much anger and hatred and loss. It isn’t just the age-old problem if evil. My heart longs for the world where all the pretty nights, the white vernal mornings, the scarlet sunsets, and soft snowfalls are not for me and so many others bitter reminders of the temporality of earthly beauty and passing of simple goodness.

There is so much that is hideous and nauseating in the world and I want to badly to run and hide. I hate the inoculation, the infirmities, the emptiness of human suffering. There is so much that is despicable in the heart of man – so much cruelty and pettiness and rage. I don’t know how we take it. I don’t know why.

The present age is defined by its contempt, its nihilistic hedonism, and its inability to answer or even attempt to answer the questions that matter. Man doesn’t know any better now who he is or what he is doing despite the advances of modern science. Thinking back to that late winter afternoon when I walked back out into the world, the question that sticks in my mind is, what is going to happen to us? I think of the people I met – drunks, schizophrenics, manic-depressives, attempted suicides – and I can’t take thinking of what might have happened to them since. I hate that the closest I ever came to experiencing true community was there, in a hospital for the mentally disturbed.

I don’t know why I am the way I am. Some of it is psychosomatic. I know that in some perverse way, I prefer sickness to health. I came to the irrational conclusion a long time ago that despair enhanced my perception of the world. That’s not to say that I don’t suffer from actual sadness or malaise. I do, and many times it lies beyond my control. But I have the ability to fight it. It’s hard, but depression is not debilitating in the same way Parkinson’s is debilitating. By trusting Christ, holding sound habits, and choosing life over spiritual death, I can actually beat it from time to time. But again and again, I find I would rather be alone than with people. I find far more fulfillment in reading passages of Kierkegaard than I do socializing. And time and again, I have chosen loneliness to love. I choose to find the worst in people. I look for any excuse to leave. Human love operated in a realm surrounded by fear, and the fear overtakes me every single time. I’m delusional enough to convince myself that I have clean hands and that it is my neighbor who has abandoned me.

I don’t believe I must resign to this, but again and again I do. And what’s worse, I find myself blaming God. My faith is more often than not the worst kind of faith, because it is driven by fear. I believe in God because I cannot perceive any other choice. I do not trust and I barely even hope. When I see a miracle, I avert my eyes, because I hate what revelation demands of me.

I’m so afraid. The thought of my God asphyxiating on a Roman cross is too much. The image of him lifeless, wrapped in a burial shroud – the blood is not even wet – hurts so much that I can barely breathe. Man himself has killed his only hope. To see all-surpassing Love and to beat it without mercy, to nail it senselessly to a slab of poorly fashioned wood – what is despair if it is not that? It’s sickening. When Love is gone, what is there left to believe in?

But Easter Sunday always comes. It comes while the world sleeps. It comes with the gently fury that only God Almighty could bring to pass. In the twilight of the world’s end, we have the subversion of death itself. No one even knew.

I cannot grasp it. It’s too unbelievable, too unreal, to imagine. To bring life out of nothingness. It cuts me so deep. Hope resounds even in the darkest corners of the earth. That Love could defeat cruelty, misery, fear, suffering – can you believe that?

Even the darkest night will turn into morning. The sun is always rising. Even the worst of sinners can be made clean. Evil – Death itself – obliterated by Love. Saturday is over. Sunday is here.

I want to live freely in the hope of Christ. I want to believe in Life that not even death can subdue. I want to believe that one day I will stand before God without shame. I wish to want only God. I don’t want his promises. I don’t want his abundant life. I wish to want God and God alone. I wish to know the resurrection intimately. I wish to look Christ in the face, to see him smile. I want to see the shards of light reflected off his eyes. I wish to greet him not only as a King, but also as a brother and a friend.

And I do believe. God help me. Easter is a day for people like me. It is for the hard of hearing, for the blind, for the weak, for the empty. It is a proclamation that can’t be ignored. The sheer volume of the trumpet blast threatens to blow the whole world apart.”

 

By sharing stories like this I hope to shine a light into the darkness of depression and raise awareness of an issue often neglected by evangelical Christians. In the words of Tim Challies,

“many Christians sympathize with physical pain but roll their eyes at emotional pain…Depression does not need to be a source of shame and that it should not carry a taboo that causes those who suffer from it to hide away in shame…It should not cause other people to respond with shock or scolding or judgment.”

Go buy Gospel Wakefulness here.

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