From Depressed to Discipled
John Devries in his book, “Why Pray?” illustrates prayer as a child flying a kite. We do the work of stepping outside with our kite in hand, but we ourselves can’t make it fly. When we try to live without reliance on God in prayer, we’re like the little boy that runs in circles trying to keep the kite in the sky through his own activity.
In prayer, God supplies the wind that gives our kite flying power. Whenever I catch myself running in circles of activity, or my mind running in circles of anxious thoughts as I try to run a mental marathon, I picture the boy huffing and puffing to make his kite fly on a windless day. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve gone days, weeks, months, even years where I run in my own anxious circles trying to keep my life in flight through my own effort and activity, but, again and again as I reach the end of my own strength, God reminds me of the power and rest available as I return to relationship with Him in prayer.
DESPERATE & DEPRESSED
I thought I understood what “depression” was until I felt the crippling weight of it during my first pregnancy. Friends and professionals encouraged me to snap out of it by getting outside and getting more involved in the community, but despite my attempts to muscle through it, the depression distorted my perspective so much that my pre-pregnant excitement quickly spiraled into doubt and despair over whether I really wanted a baby at all.
I know now that I suffered from “prenatal depression,” a mood disorder that was set off by my escalating hormones, the isolation of where I lived, and a sudden job loss. I know now that my condition wasn’t due to a fault in my character or lack of effort—and that I really, truly wanted that beautiful girl that is now my oldest daughter, Bree. At the time, however, lack of education and support left me feeling isolated and utterly broken. Worse, my husband felt emotionally abandoned and confused over my sudden personality change and new negative outlook. Previously we had cooked meals together and gone on long walks, and now, I could hardly get out of bed to shower or eat.
One day, I dragged myself to the grocery store, and when I returned, I found my small blue duffle bag stuffed with my clothes and toiletries beside our front door. “We’re checking you into a hospital,” Nathan said with paper-thin resolve. “This is beyond me Lindsay, and I think we need support from professionals.”
I wouldn’t go. A hospital felt too real. Like a passport stamp that verified that I was truly off the reservation. It didn’t take much to change his mind. Nathan had packed the bag to illustrate to me that he was drawing a line in the sand. From this point on things would improve. They needed to improve for the sake of our marriage and our baby growing inside me. Our compromise was that I would return to my parent’s house, seven hours away, for three weeks, and meet regularly with the pastor that I’d had since I was four years old. It didn’t feel like a solution, but it felt like we were doing something to disrupt the cycle of hurt and misunderstanding that had crept into our lives and re-patterned our days into a confusing and unrecognizable blur.
Our hope quickly morphed into disappointment at our reunion. After three weeks apart, when Nathan came to stay at my parent’s house for a long weekend before we’d return home together, the tension between us had thickened into a mortar that glued together bricks of resentment and bitterness. We loved each other, but we didn’t know how to communicate with each other through the wall of hurt we’d erected between us.
One morning we drove to the coast to enjoy the day together, but the silence in the car was poignant, no longer punctuated by jokes, stories, and laughter. Nathan pulled over and punched a new address into the navigation on his phone. No pizza lunch and sandy toes, instead we were driving to the church of an old friend who volunteered to sit with us in this moment of crisis.
Before we began our time together, the first thing he asked us to do was hold hands.
“Are you kidding me?” I thought. I didn’t even want to look at my husband let alone hold hands with him. But in a smug display of effort, I offered my hand in nonchalance, while turning my toes in the opposite direction in a kind of stubborn yoga.
Despite my display of resistance, Nathan reached across the distance and division and wrapped his rough, warm hand around mine. We were aloof and disconnected, but this one touchpoint, our fingers intertwined, sighed of our longing for our hearts to mingle and twist together again —an impossibility at that moment, but a whispered promise that each of us would extend our arm, open our clenched fist, and try.
I held his hand, through the confusing blend of resentment and numbness that made my skin electric, my limbs slow and dumb. I held his hand as hurt burgeoned in my chest and became needles of tears behind my tired eyes. Fat drops rolled down my face, as attempted words spilled out in incoherent sobs, and I held his hand.
Pastor Eric taught me a lot that day. The kind of learning that stings down your throat like hot hearty broth and strengthens your bones. It wasn’t a lesson like math facts in a memory test, but more like a way of moving in the world with more self-awareness and self-acceptance. He offered me the grace I needed to see myself with painful clarity, and yet the warmth of hope that could thaw and remold my hard heart. Pastor Eric helped me to see that I was doing the impossible and frustrating work of trying to change my husband when the only heart I could work on was my own. And in that painful process, I could hold Nathan’s hand and wait and trust that he would also open himself up and allow God’s Spirit to perform surgery on his own calloused heart.
The first step, for us, was to link hands, and stand firm in the sacred ground of our marriage vows, even when circumstances and emotions goaded us to let go and walk away. Pastor Eric was not only teaching me a new posture in our marriage, but also a new posture in my faith.
Like it or not, our emotions are like a rollercoaster that pushes and pull us closer to God as we climb to thrilling heights, and plummet to unexpected depths. We are not in control of the direction our experiences will take us, nor are we always in control of our emotional response. But like the experience of healing, I found in my marriage as I held my husband’s hand, prayer is our way to hold hands with the Father as we stand on the security of our faith through the Spirit, and our forgiveness through Jesus’ work on the cross. When we come to God in prayer, we don’t have to feel His closeness to know that He draws close. We don’t need to use our emotions as the barometer of God’s love and loyalty to us. Certainly, those inspired feelings, the warmth of the Spirit in our midst, can be a thrill like no other. Yet, like a husband and wife, anchored together in the promises of their marriage vows, we are assured of God’s love and promise for us in Jesus.
I have learned to reach out and hold hands with Nathan, even when circumstances and my emotions draw me far away. It isn’t always easy to return to this place, but as I do it, again and again, as I learn the rhythm of abiding in our love as a shelter in the storms of this life, even when the storms rage within us and against one another. God promises to be that shelter for us.
PRAYER IS GOD HOLDING OUR HAND
In Isaiah, He promises the Israelites, “For, I the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who says to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you’ (Isaiah 41:13). As we hold hands with God, remaining connected to Him in prayer, He comforts us, guides us, helps us. As we reach out to Him in prayer, we are reminded that we are loved, and His love shapes our identity.
We are created in God’s own image, like two hands that are a mirror image of each other, our hand enfolds perfectly into our God’s. We are created for that purpose. But unlike any other relationship, God’s hand is always reaching out for ours, ready, available, patiently waiting.
Life’s trials can leave us on our knees—but we have a choice to take the posture of prayer or the posture of defeat. On our knees, we can reach up and grab hold of God’s hand as we remember our reliance on Him. In the swirl of hurt and anxious thoughts, we return to God’s promise to help us as we hold hands with Him in prayer.
PRAYER STARTS NOW
This preaches beautifully, but it still leads to the practical question: How does prayer help me in the midst of the anxieties and distractions of my everyday life? I hope that each of you has a Pastor Eric in your life that can make the time to be with you in your crisis and remind you about how to respond in faith. I encourage you to identify those people in your life that can be a listening ear and point you back to God’s promises.
Thinking about and establishing these people is a wise step to take before a storm hits in your life.
I also believe that daily rhythm of time in God’s Word and in prayer is a way to abide in God every day as He rearranges our hearts and perspective to align with His. This is a way to soften and prepare for the seasons that test our hearts and our faith. For me this is over coffee at the breakfast table with kids chomping down their bananas, chatting and clambering for my attention. This is what my season of life can accommodate and so I take what I can get. I’ve learned that if I wait for the right time or season, for me, it will never happen.
As we shift our attention from inward to upward, God gives us renewed purpose and propels into a relationship with others as we see the world through His eyes. More, as we pray over the things that burden our hearts, we can trust that He not only hears and responds to our prayers, but He works in our hearts as we learn to see and respond differently.
We pray in the hopes of effecting change to our world and circumstances, but it just may be that the biggest change, as we pray, is happening in our own hearts as we welcome God to make his home there.
Sarah laid hands on my "Bree-filled belly" that day in the parking lot of their church as she and Eric prayed over Nathan and I. They prayed for a hope and a future in our marriage together, for our family, and our ministry. We prayed and linked hands. We prayed with a cloud of witnesses. That day they lifted up my arms when I was too weak--and God heard.
**Below is an update from Pastor Eric about his health and battle with cancer. Please join me in praying for him and Sara, for their marriage, their family, and church.