Grace for Those Traveling a Dark Path

Grace for Those Traveling a Dark Path

“Little Darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter.” – The Beatles

I was in grade school when my class went on a field trip to The Magic House in Kirkwood, Missouri. Back then it was merely a large house that had been converted into a scientific romper room of sorts. One could learn by looking at squiggly kaleidoscopes on the wall whether or not one was color blind. There was also a large globe that, when touched, facilitated a current of static electricity to course through ones fingers and out through ones hair(which would stand on end). There was even a maze one had to wander through at the beginning of the journey in order to gain entrance. Basically, it was every child’s dream field trip and I remember enjoying it immensely.

My 8 year old son recently had the opportunity to visit The Magic House with his second grade class. He was very excited. When he arrived home after a full day my husband asked him, “Did you go in the Touch tunnel?” And suddenly I remembered that all of my memories about The Magic House were not happy.

When I was little, the Touch Tunnel was a maze that was completely devoid of light. One was given the opportunity to wander through it (sans shoes) using only ones sense of touch. In hindsight, I wish someone had warned the little girl who was terrified of the dark exactly how dark it would be. But when one is not aware of the danger, one generally enters casually the path they realize later they never, ever should have taken. The Touch Tunnel was one such path. They may as well have called it, “The Tunnel of Terror.”

It didn’t take me long to realize how dark pitch blackness actually is. It felt like the darkness had weight and was pressing in on all sides. Darkness is disorienting. It is cold. It is uncaring. It swallows, buries, and confounds the senses until all sense of light is utterly eliminated—even the hope of light. It was not until a friend heard my cries, grabbed my arm and walked me out of the darkness that I began to feel better.

I have recently been learning how to walk in the darkness of depression without caving in to despair. It is a very lonely experience in that no human being has the power to lift the darkness. The only way out is to walk through it. It is another milestone in my journey to learn discipline in all areas of my life. This milestone is ugly, heavy, and has very sharp edges.

When one is in the midst of a depressed episode, all sense of right thinking evaporates like water on hot pavement. All good and happy thoughts are swallowed in that darkness and the tendency toward unhappy thoughts is almost effortless. Therefore, learning to banish the unhappy thoughts and focus on true and good things requires great concentration and focus—both of which are challenging when the brain is not functioning properly. The depressed brain is nothing if not a malfunctioning organ. And when the brain is short circuiting, the rest of the body doesn’t work right either.

…which is probably why I also found myself in the dermatologist’s office with a badly inflamed case of eczema. I had run out of my soothing steroid cream and was seeking a new prescription. Eczema is like poison ivy that never goes away. If you have never experienced a similar skin consider, consider yourself blessed, but I digress!

When I walked into that office I was overwhelmed with the sense of hopelessness in the faces around me. Skin afflictions abounded. The mostly elderly people sitting in the chairs wore faces marred and downcast. One gentleman in particular looked especially miserable and so I decided to strike up a conversation with him in the hopes that lifting his spirits might lift mine as well. I have learned over the years that my suffering is lessened when I give the gift of joy and hope to others.

It didn’t take him long to share with me that he suffers with a mood disorder. He then shared that he is a retired psychiatrist. He said, “Margaret, did you know that research has been conducted that proves medications geared toward helping those affected with mood disorders help only 30% of the people who take them?”

I was shocked by his statement and told him so. I responded, “So does this mean that I can stop feeling guilty for not taking medication as many of my friends have indicated I should do?”

He nodded. “30% is basically equivalent to a placebo effect.”

Celebrating a good day today with a new friend at my favorite frozen yogurt joint.

So I then described to him my approach to depression, “I like to celebrate the good days.” And then I asked him, “Do you ever have good days?”

He said, “You know what? I do. In fact, today is a good day.” And then he smiled.

His smile made me smile, and somehow the heaviness in that room didn’t feel so awfully heavy anymore.

I have been working very hard to banish the unhappy thoughts that clobber me. They come out of nowhere and I must deal with them. If I do not kill the first one, it’s like bacteria that multiplies, spreads, and infects my whole body. The most potent antiseptic to these thoughts are to focus on words that I know to be right and true. For this reason I listen to my audio Bible when I exercise in the morning, even when my brain is afflicted and I find it difficult to process what I am hearing. I listen to the words of the One who loves me and whose love I know to be a conquering power over the deepest and darkest depression. And this is how I fight:

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians 6:13-17

Learning to trust God in periods of depression is a discipline. It is the discipline of saying, “I believe You are who You say you are, and that your promises hold true even when I don’t feel your presence. My recent periods of darkness have left me feeling lonely, sad, and at times abandoned. It is in those moments that I begin to feel the tide of terror swelling—just as I felt in the Touch Tunnel. But even in those moments I have found that Jesus is faithful.

Yesterday I rose with the bleary-eyed shame of a cookie hangover. I didn’t have the strength to get out of bed, much less put on my workout clothes and go outside. So I did it anyway. If I waited until I felt like working out it would rarely get done. So I jogged and I walked, and I climbed hills and I cried because I didn’t feel well and because I was ashamed that I didn’t control my eating the night before. I was ashamed that I couldn’t stop binging on foods that seem to make my depression worse. And I felt the guilt fester and ooze and overwhelm me with hopelessness.

But on the dirt path I walked in the park, there in the pre-morning light, I heard a wonderful truth. It was a verse I had memorized many years before and it shone like a heavenly light deep into the darkness of my afflicted brain. The Great Healer said to me, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” (Titus 2:11) And I felt his kindness overwhelm me and salve my heart with peace. I felt Jesus shame and guilt as he bore my sin on the cross, and I was impressed again with the great truth that He knew I didn’t have the capacity to do what is right and so he did it for me. The gospel message is simply this, we are sinners—broken and helpless—and he loved us so much that he paid the price to set us free.

I don’t really understand what happened in that moment yesterday, but as I was driving to work, I realized my depression was gone. It was as if a light switch had been flipped and I simply felt really, really good.

Last night I danced in my yard with my favorite boxer dog, Tank. Today I am celebrating another good day with lots of smiles, jokes and laughter.

And I am fully cognizant that depression will find me again. And so I choose to celebrate this good day and any others that choose to follow.

Years ago my friend Kitty took my hand in the Touch Tunnel and led me into the light. She didn’t eliminate the darkness, she only walked with me through it. But the touch of her hand reassured me. In sensing her presence I knew I was not alone. Today if you are walking in darkness, take heart. You are not abandoned. Sometimes we must feel around in the darkness and find the hands of those people who are just as terrified as we are. We must wrap our fingers in theirs and find our way along the dark path. But we must never, ever stop trusting and hoping that we will find our way through. And most importantly, we must remember to keep the promises of Jesus close to our hearts and wait. He is faithful who promised. 

Martin Luther King Jr Quote

Comments

  1. I read so many of blogs and yours is the only one on which I comment

    Thank you for what you so rawly share and the truths you beautifully articulate. So needed and meaningful for me.

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