This post has been a long time in coming, both writing, thinking, and living.
The darkness closes in. You can’t breathe. It is hard to fight for that breath. You can sense the deeper darkness of a chasm you cannot see, but know is there. You are coming close to the edge of the chasm. Almost without thinking about it, or being conscious of it, or being in control of yourself, you approach the edge of the chasm. Even though the bottom cannot be seen, and even if it could, it is too dark to see, you still approach the edge.
The thought of falling in mesmerizes you. Maybe it would end the darkness. Maybe the pain, or the absence of all emotion, would then be over. You contemplate giving in to the pull to just fall in, to let yourself go, to let go of life completely.
You’ve become accustomed to the darkness. You are no longer aware of not being able to see. The darkness is almost your friend, despite its desire for your destruction. You have grown so accustomed to the darkness that you want to embrace the chasm as much as it wants to embrace you.
Yet, before that final step into the chasm, you see a soft, barely visible, red glow, as if from an ember. The glow is so faint that were you in the light of a candle, the glow could not be seen. The glow moves so that as you continue to watch it, your back is now to the chasm.
Once your back is to the chasm you sense a gentle blowing that begins to stir the ember. The ember changes from a barely visible red to orange. Most of you still struggles towards the chasm, but a very small, but very strong part of you keeps you rooted in place, watching the ember.
The ember, due to the consistent gentle blowing from the unknown source, goes from orange to white. The light it gives off is still feeble, but the slightest light shines brightly in such darkness.
The unknown source stops blowing, and the ember fades from white to orange, then from orange to red, as even the red seems to fade, you turn once again to the chasm.
While in such a place, time has no meaning, it seems forever until you see the faint red glow again. Again, the faint red brightens to orange, then to white. Again, all your attention has been pulled from the chasm. The tiny yet strong part of you does not stop staring at the light.
Again, the light seems to fade from white to orange, orange to red, to all but gone. Once again you face the chasm and think to surrender to its pull.
Then the light…
After who knows how many times (for it all seems endless), finally instead of turning away from the light as it fades from white to orange, you step towards it. The light does not continue it fading to red. It stays orange. You take another step toward the light. You’re not quite sure, but it seemed that the light brightened a bit. You take another step, then another. You keep takings steps toward the light, and you realize that the light is indeed getting brighter.
As you continue walking toward the light, the last hint of orange has been replaced by white. Suddenly, you are struggling. It’s hard to take another step. Somehow you find the strength to take still another step, and then another. At last, you feel the last of your strength give way. You could just give up. Just like falling into the chasm, you could fall down where you stand.
Before you decide, as if, it seems, there is much for you to decide, you feel a breeze, a slight one. In your feeble strength, it almost irritates you. Somehow you realize that the breeze you feel is the same breeze that is causing the light to brighten. Since the breeze is good enough for the light, you decide, it’s good enough for you.
Like a switch was flipped, the breeze is no longer irritating, it is invigorating. Your body seems to regain its strength, and you push on ahead toward the light. Despite your new-found strength, you still struggle towards the light. Your new strength seems to be fading quickly. Again, a time of decision, to continue or to quit. The gentle breeze gives you a little more strength, so you trudge on. The cycle of fading of strength, the point of decision, the gathering of new strength repeat for some time. You get so accustomed to the pattern, that it takes you a great number of cycles to realize that you aren’t making progress like you were. You stop. You stop walking, listening to the breeze when it seems to speak, you stop letting your strength be restored.
It seems to you that you have come to a point of greater decision. Your time at the chasm and your journey toward the light swirl inside. Something clicks, and you realize that you used the breeze to restore you strength, which is good, but you didn’t allow the breeze to do its work, which was to pull you toward the light.
With that insight, you take another step, and the light becomes a flame.
For those who know this “dark” part of me, the parallels are obvious. For those who have experienced similar feelings, welcome to the club. The open and honest truth is that for me the darkness is depression, and I have been dealing with it since childhood, and it came into full fruition during the teenage years (When else?).
Well, if the darkness is depression, what is the chasm, you might ask?
(Before you panic, or read too much into that single word, please read the rest of this.)
So I was at the edge of the chasm many times. Frankly, it scares me how close I was. By God’s grace, I never tried, but I also knew that trying was only a one-time thing. I’ve struggled with and fought depression. My friends, who were aware, struggled with me. My parents struggled with me, too, but I don’t think they were fully aware of it all until much later. Of course, at least three out of four of my parents struggle(d) with depression as well. I’m not sure theirs was/is, on the most part, as moribund as mine, but, frankly, depression is a depressing thing to deal with, let alone talk about.
The light is the key. Before I knew God, as I know Him now through Christ, even in my darkest hours, I just couldn’t give up. Part of it, I know, was just plain stubbornness. The other part, though, was something else completely. It seemed, even then, that there was a kernel of hope and optimism that, frankly, wasn’t mine.
Regardless of one’s view of baptism and all that, my life (rather than my life as a child, and thereby an extension of my parents’ lives) was not Christian until well after my first true failure in life, in my mid-twenties. The Christianity of that time was also very immature (not that I’m saying I’m particularly mature now). All through that time, I’ve struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide.
I’ve railed (internally) at all those who say no real Christian could possibly be depressed. I knew that they didn’t have a clue (and I still believe that most of them don’t).
However, I heard a sermon from Pastor Garcy (who was a temporary pastor at Moscow Church of the Nazarene when Joni and I first moved here to Moscow), who apologized to all of those who he mis-served (with a good heart and intentions) by not addressing their pain. I don’t think I ever cried during a sermon before, but I did then.
It was okay that I was in pain.
Not okay as in, continue to have it, but okay in that I was still a Christian. Just because I love Jesus, that doesn’t mean that all my pains are instantly cured (not that it doesn’t happen to some). Jesus warns us that we will still have pain and troubles in this world.
I think I can safely say, as I look back, that that sermon was a turning point. I still deal with depression, and it can still wallop me pretty hard, but it seems, from my limited perspective that the duration is shortening and, for sure, the depth is becoming shallower for my episodes.
On the 9th of this month (July 2008), I had an experience that I wish I could share fully with those who suffer with depression. I realized that not only had Jesus died for my sins, but to ease my burdens. I had understood that intellectually, but not to my core, especially the core that included the dark chasm of my soul.
In case you were wondering, the light in the story is the Spirit. While God puts the Holy Spirit in us, he grants us the freedom, in His love, to accept it. Jesus carried the light to the world, and into me. I am nowhere near done with the darkness, but now there is more light than dark, and each day a little more shadow fades away.
The other problem, which I think was also part of my struggle was that I wouldn’t change my view of myself. I was just going to have to deal with my depression; that I would always have it. I defined much of myself by my depression, and I suspect it was that change of heart that was key to this latest experience. We are called to surrender our lives to Christ, that includes my depression.
like the light that casts the darkness away,
so the joy of the Lord refines the darkness,
the dross, the weight, the entanglements,
these things that infect the deepest parts of me.
While I cannot know the walk that you are on, I hope that you can open your heart and mind to my words.