Grief has recently threatened to usurp my heart, mind, and body. No matter how long I stay ill, I cannot seem to get used to the pain, suffering, limitations, isolation, and humiliation of being needy.
Over dinner last night, my sweet friend asked how I am doing, like really, how I am doing. I don’t know her incredibly well yet, though I have the desire to know her better: She is married to one of Jordan’s good friends, and though our friendship is just in its infant stages, we experience true, unmasked heart-connection when we share time together. She is a person who listens with her entire being, and when she asks questions, she shows that she really wants to know the truth. I have learned that I can respond to her with the undiluted truth.
I told her that it has been a difficult month. The undertow of hopelessness and despair have tugged at my whole being, threatening to pull me deep beneath the surface of my frenzied existence. I have not experienced the disorienting, terrifying blackout of depression to this extreme since before Lily was born. I desperately have been clawing myself out of the black hole of dark thoughts and irrational fears that accompany the chemical imbalances of a sick body and brain. Quite frankly, however, the demons of a decade ago that are not welcome in my 2018.
For two months, the current of despair ripped and sucked at my mind early in the evening and often lingered until bedtime. I would pray, reach out to friends, speak the fear and despair out loud to Jordan in order to bring it to the light. In the midst of the internal turmoil, I clung to my life-giving and joyful activities for dear life.
Over my lifetime, I learned a few coping skills in treatment, therapy, and hospitalization. I praise God that during this season of despair, the day of hope has consistently dissolved the night of depression and anxiety. I am also aware that there are those who never feel the day break through their seemingly interminable night of agony, and I too have had seasons where night has lasted for years. Though scary, this recent season of emotional anguish has only given me a taste of my former mental dungeon.
The dark night was terrifying, however, because I wasn’t sure if the despair would take over my mind, heart, and body like the kudzu that grows so offensively uncontrolled in the Southern state in which I spent my childhood.
And so, with cold tears streaming down my cheeks, I would sit rigid, pole-straight, on the couch, afraid to move, lest the depression take deeper root, as I whispered to Jordan in the voice of a terrified child that I was afraid: Afraid that I was loosing my footing, my mind, and my hope; Afraid that if I spoke of the mental anguish too loudly, it might stick, and the true Megan that I have come to know might never resurface.
Yet I am coming to trust my healing. And I have found through this dark night that God has carried me to a new place of rock-solid hope.
As I was sharing the past two months with my friend, she made a statement that stopped me in my tracks. She stated: “When you talk about your suffering, you don’t communicate it with despair or hopelessness. You always come back to hope.”
I paused, my breath caught in my throat, as I soaked in the power of her statement; and in my heart, I knew that through the voice of my friend, God was speaking the truth that sustained me during this season of depression.
“Yes, I said. And it’s not that I don’t feel the sadness and hopelessness at times. Sometimes it threatens to suffocate me. But I am learning to lament.”
Before, when I didn’t know my Savior as I have come to know Him now, I would run to my own Megan-made coping mechanisms, grasping desperately at any form of denial. If I could try to “ignore” the depression or hopelessness, I thought that it could go away. At times, I clung to the philosophy, “fake it till you make it.” But with all of my faking, I never “made it.” I just got sick and tired of faking it, and I grew bitter, cynical, and more depressed. Best case scenario, I distracted myself for a couple hours.
My hopelessness haunted me because I never owned it. It demanded to be acknowledged and laid bare in the light, but I only buried it deeper.
Today, by the miracle-working grace of God and by diligent and intentional moment-by-moment steps in obedience to His word and promptings, as soon as despair enters the picture, I bring it to the light. I weep, I cry out to God, I reach out to friends for prayer, and I choose to praise as God brings light of the morning to turn the tears of night into crystalized treasures to be laid at the feet of the Almighty One.
The Song “Even When It Hurts” by Hillsong has reflected my soul during this difficult season.
David’s Psalm of lament and rejoicing has echoed through my soul during this painful season:
Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His presence. O my God, my soul is in despair within me; Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls, All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night.
I will say to God my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?” As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say all day long, “Where is your God?”.
Why are you in despair O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
Psalm 42: 5-11
I can only guess David’s physical state when he first prayed this prayer, but I know my state when I pray these kinds of prayers. Ugly crying: Like the absolute most disgusting, snotty, undignified, violent convulsion-filled gut-wrenching sobs. David seems like the kind of guy who would experience the ugliest of cries.
He is beside himself. And in his stance beside himself, he is preaching to himself: “Hope in God! Praise Him!”
And then he starts talking to God: He’s pleading, begging, crying out. This is where the deepest, snottiest crying comes in: “Why have you forgotten me?” (Sound familiar? I think Jesus said something like this from the cross). Yet, even in crying out to God, asking from the depths of his heart why He has forgotten him, David calls God his rock.
Here’s what we have the opportunity to embrace when we choose to lament before God: We can be absolutely entirely honest with our feelings of anger, frustration, and grief with God and still hold onto the reality that God is faithful, true, loving, and sovereign.
This tension between “why have you forsaken me” and “I will say to God, my Rock” is not only permissible, but it is the only way to survive the depths of despair.
The Psalms scream this paradox. Jesus felt it and communicated the tension in Gethsemane and from the cross. I know that God is good, sovereign, and loving, and at times I feel absolutely abandoned and betrayed by Him.
Why else would one of the most hope-filled verses in the Bible be wedged smack in the middle of a book called Lamentations?
This I recall to mind, and therefore have hope: The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness!” (Lamentations 3:21-22).
How would Jeremiah have known that God’s mercies are new every morning without having experienced the pain of night? He could not. Suffering paves the way for rejoicing, but we must be willing to journey through our trial in the presence of our Lord.
David wrestled with God continuously. He regularly emerged from unfiltered lament in a state of undignified praise. In our suffering, lament paves the path to praise. True lament opens the doors for sincere and heartfelt worship.
I know that as a Christian, I believed for years that it was my duty to “grin and bear it” with suffering. I believed that I needed to don a brave soldier mask. I painted a smile across my pale, withered face. When others asked how I was, through gritted teeth I said, “God is good. I can’t complain” or “I am blessed.” Inside, I was dying, but I felt that it was my duty to bear up under the suffering on my own.
The problem is that we are too often trying to bear up under suffering without taking that suffering to the throne of grace, crying out desperately to God, and allowing the Spirit to be the great Comforter that Christ promised he would be.
I have come to know the Spirit as Comforter, and the sweet time that I spend held in the arms of the great Comforter is incomparable to any of the pathetic numbing coping mechanisms that I formerly used.
Through the glory of the upside-down kingdom, when I experience the fullness of my desperation in the presence of my Lord, God transforms my suffering into the satisfying delight of taste-of-heaven glory.
When I choose to lament in the presence of my Lord, I am given a new understanding of “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:1-3).
Last night, my friend accurately assessed my present state: I am suffering. Mind and body. I have many logical reasons to feel hopeless, but I am not hopeless.
The reason for my hope in light of my suffering is this: I have learned that the dark of night always dissolves into the brilliant light of morning, because I spend my night in the presence the Lord of light.
I wrestle, I scream, I ugly-cry, with snot running down my chin, and tears pooling in my ears when I am too sick to sit up and in too much agony to dam the tears. But I do it in the presence of my Comforter.
The Comforter: The very one that Jesus sent into the world when He ascended into heaven. The Comforter specializes in lament and suffering, and He transforms our ashes into our beautiful redemption stories.