Perhaps you’ve heard this kernel of Christian “wisdom”: If you feel far from God, guess who moved? The implications are clear: you are at fault for feeling distant from God. It’s no wonder Christians have a hard time dealing with periods of spiritual depression—when our faith walk becomes a slog.
The term spiritual depression is often used to describe feeling far from God, even feeling cut off from his presence. For example, it could be a season of praying and reading Scripture without experiencing spiritual refreshment, without sensing God’s reply, or without feeling God’s presence. But should we really use our sense of God’s closeness as a test of our spiritual health?
As R. C. Sproul says, “The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression.” This is evidenced throughout Scripture: In Psalm 42, David cries out, “O God my rock . . . Why have you forgotten me?” Elijah cries out to Yahweh, “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.” Throughout Christian history, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun, admitted, “If only you knew what darkness I am plunged into.” Even Mother Teresa wrote in 1959, “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not existing.” According to her private journals and letters published as Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, she felt this way up until her death in 1997.
What are we to make when heroes of the faith, both ancient and modern, find themselves feeling far from God? What hope do you or I have knowing that spiritual depression doesn’t spare even them?
Perhaps we can be encouraged to know that “the greats” deal with depression. In fact, it may be that these seasons of depression are a part of what makes them great. Consider the perseverance that comes from serving God faithfully when he feels far off, and the maturity that blossoms when we must internalize truths of God’s love, care, and presence when they are not necessarily self-evident.
Though seasons like these can be oppressively hard, I believe God walks us through them because they are also incredibly valuable. Even when God doesn’t feel near to us, we know that he is. Even David had to claim this truth in the midst of his dark night of the soul: “I will put my hope in God!” David exclaims, “I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” In the midst of his struggles, he continued on. He continued to seek God in prayer. He continued to trust that God was with him. And, usually, that was enough to get him through the dark times.
But that’s not always the case. Some believers face seasons of spiritual depression while others may face a lifelong battle with clinical depression that affects the emotions, the body—the entire person. In this issue of Today’s Christian Woman, Corrie Cutrer examines the depression epidemic and shares how Christians can see past the stigma attached to depression. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, check out Marlena Graves’s article offering simple but powerful ideas to help you find your way out of the darkness.
Many strong, faithful believers have suffered from depression throughout history. Whether your season is short or long, don’t make the journey alone. Continue to seek the face of God, the faces of your loved ones, and medical attention if needed along the way.
May God’s face shine upon you and give you peace.