Downtime

Could God have a sanctifying purpose for the sadness I feel?

Earlier this week, I realized I've been really depressed. I had no appetite. I couldn't sleep at night—though I did manage to sleep all day a few times. It felt like my greatest accomplishment was to get out of bed, take a shower, and dress in something other than my bathrobe.

I realized it was Week Six of feeling like this. And I figured it was time to start thinking about my feelings.

Of course, I've known all along that I was down. But there was always a reason. Exhaustion from working non-stop. Stress. Seasonal changes. The daylight-savings time change. Hormone fluctuations. The way my hair and skin get simultaneously oily and dry in the winter and make me feel yucky looking. I rationalized: This is situational depression. Things will change.

But after six weeks, I was starting to wonder, Will things change?

I was about to make an appointment with a therapist when it hit me: I hadn't told God about my sadness. Not once during my prayers of the past six weeks.

Clinical depression and other mental illnesses are real—I have several friends and family members who've benefited from counseling and medication. But I knew this probably wasn't my case: I don't have a history of depression or the symptoms that indicate something physical needs to be treated.

So I prayed. I immediately realized that I've come to expect the occasional blue day that everyone experiences at times. Yet I wondered, Should I totally ignore my feelings just because everybody's sad sometimes? I began to pray, confessing to God that I doubted whether he had plans for me. Or perhaps I'd misunderstood his plan? Maybe I hadn't done well enough lately, so he'd put me on the bench?

Praying about my feelings comforted me, though I still felt sad. But oddly enough, I didn't want to feel instantaneously happy. I didn't want to create some kind of feel-better system, where a specific prayer—or reading a certain Scripture passage, or doing a devotional exercise, or fasting, or singing a worship song, or asking Christian friends to pray—made everything all better. (Yes, I've actually tried all those things before, hoping for happiness! It doesn't work.) I realized that downtime was exactly what I needed.

Reading through my recent e-mails, I noticed a lot of my Christian friends are experiencing spiritual "downtime" right now. Their ministries aren't functioning as well as they once did. They feel susceptible to temptation. They feel distant from God. And many sound just like me: questioning whether God has a purpose for their lives. They speak of overwhelming circumstances and unanswered prayers.

Holly Vicente Robaina
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May 25

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