What I'm Learning About: Depression
We can't always control darkness that invades our lives, but we can control how we respond to it. Here's how four women have learned to seek help and depend on God in times of darkness and despair.
Lord, Why Won't You Help Me?
"Lord, why won't you help me?"
How often I've moaned those words. Although God has intervened repeatedly in miraculous ways in my life, at times God and his help have seemed a million miles away. This has been especially true in long-lasting struggles such as my battles with PMS, depression, and relationship problems.
In the past I viewed God's hand as closed with his help tucked away inside; I thought I just had to do the right things and then he'd open his hand to help me. As I result, I often felt ashamed when it seemed like I couldn't figure out what those "right things" were.
But over time I've realized that God's hand of help is always open. When it seems to me that his help isn't available, the problem isn't God's closed hand but rather my closed heart. I tend to refuse God's help the same way rebellious teens refuse parental assistance because they think they know better than their parents.
As I reflect on times when God's help seemed to be flooding into my life, I realize I was doing three things that opened my heart to truly receive God's help.
1. Expect God to Help—In His Way
Even though I ask God for help, sometimes my prayer is merely words and I don't actually expect God to give it. Then when God does help, I often refuse to accept the kind of help God is offering me.
This is particularly true in my marriage. God may be using conflicts and my efforts to work through them in order to help make me a better wife and a maturing Christian. But often the help I want is something different: I want God to give me a conflict-free and pain-free marriage. I want wedded bliss!
My prayer is often, "God, change my husband." Instead, God offers help for me to change. I plead, "God, deliver my husband from this sin in his life." God responds, "I will give you the gift of mercy, so you can forgive." As I've let go of demanding that God help me my way, I've begun to see amazing changes God has worked in my heart and in my marriage.
When I remember that God's ways are above my ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), my perspective changes. I stop expecting God to help in ways I prescribe and I begin to lose that "God isn't helping me" feeling. When I remember our marriage isn't all about me and what I want—but about what God wants—my heart opens to God's help, which is sometimes given through "a word fitly spoken" by my husband (Proverbs 25:11, ESV).
The truth has finally dawned on me: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly" (James 4:3, ESV). When I insist that God help me my way, that's pride, pure and simple. There's no getting around the truth of this convicting verse: "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6, ESV). When I seek God's help in humility rather than pride, I acknowledge that ultimately God knows best.
2. Wait For God's Help.
The Amplified Bible reminds me in Hebrews 4:16 that God's help is not only "appropriate" but is also "well-timed." One friend puts it this way: "God's clock isn't the same as yours."
Impatience often sabotages my ability to be fully aware of and receptive to God's help. If God doesn't deliver a truckload of help with lightning speed, my feeble mind—powered by self-pity—immediately assumes God doesn't want to help me because I'm unworthy or because he's stingy. I quickly begin to look for help elsewhere.
The question I've found myself asking lately is, "If Scripture promises that God is an ever-present help I can trust when I face trouble (Psalm 33:20; 46:1; Isaiah 40:31), then why do I have to wait for his help?" I've come to realize that God gives enough help for the moment—and I may need to wait for the next installment.
In college I dreaded taking a chemistry course because I'd struggled with the subject in high school. But then a chemist from Germany (who was required to start her schooling over in America) sat next to me in class. I asked her for help. Did she instantaneously pour her expansive knowledge of chemistry into my brain? No. I had to get help bit by bit as she tutored me, assisted me in test preparation, and patiently worked on labs with me. The result? I got a B in the class.
Similarly, if God gave me help all at once in a crisis, I wouldn't need to depend on him the way I depended on my chemistry classmate. My friendship with God would not grow the way my friendship with Helga did. God doesn't just want to give his help; he wants to give himself so that I can grow in my relationship with him.
3. Stay Dedicated to God's Will.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "I want your will to be done, not mine" (Luke 22:42). After that, Jesus received help: "Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him" (Luke 22:43).
In various ministries I've been involved with, I've prayed for a way out when things got rough. (My idea of help was someone to replace me!) That's when I sensed no help from God. Why? I was asking for help to go against God's will while God was offering me help to continue in it.
When I've prayed, "If it's your will for me to continue, I'll do it; not my will but yours be done," I've received God's strength, comfort, and grace. Too often I want a way out of things rather than help from God to make it through (see Isaiah 43:2). Staying dedicated to God's will-even in difficult times—helps me to see God's purposes, which are so much more noble and far-reaching than mine. I'm learning that God helps those who are dedicated to his will; "The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him" (2 Chronicles 16:9).
Recognizing the Helper
I've come to learn that the question I need to ask is not, "God, why won't you help?" but rather, "God, why do I keep refusing to recognize and receive your help?" In order to do so, I must honestly ask myself: Am I insisting that God helps me my way or am I open to help God's way? Am I willing to wait for God's help? And most important, am I dedicated to God's will?
I'm so thankful God is eager to help me and to be my help. In fact, as I reflect over some of the difficult areas of my life, I am able to thank God for:
* sustaining me during my PMS days and then delivering me from it completely.
* delivering me from depression (over many years) and giving me great empathy for those who suffer with it; and for opening the door for me to work on a psychiatric ward and helping me to minister to patients (for the past nine years).
* continually offering me his wisdom, strength, and comfort for my relationships.
* using even painful circumstances to help me become more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29).
I'm amazed that God wants to help me so much that he sent the Holy Spirit, called "the Helper," to live inside me (John 15:26). I no longer whine, "Lord, why won't you help me?" or insist, "Help me—my way!" Instead, I'm learning to pray, "Lord, help me to recognize and eagerly respond to you and your help in times of trouble." That's a prayer for help God is delighted to answer.