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.

I suspect that many of them, like me, desperately want to feel better. Admittedly, I'd love to feel the flutters of happiness, knowing that my eyes are authentically sparkling as the corners of my mouth curl into an easy smile. But I need sadness much more right now: It's necessary for what God is teaching me.

In the past six weeks, God has been showing me that my prayers don't heal people. My words and actions don't comfort, and I can't personally bless others. God has allowed me to become frustrated and to feel I've failed so I would get it: I don't have the power to fix anyone or anything. He heals. He comforts. He blesses. When I open my mouth or extend a helping hand, it's merely an acknowledgement that I trust in God's power to transform the heart and mind.

And he does things in different ways than I would. Sometimes, he lets people sit in their pain—for a purpose (James 1:2-4 , 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Philippians 1:12, 1 Peter 1:6-7). In these weeks of questioning and sadness, I never felt despair because I was certain God was still present, glorious, and good.

I came across this quote, from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest, which a friend had posted on her Facebook page: "God by His providence brings you into certain circumstances that you can't understand at all, but the Spirit of God understands. God brings you to places, among people, and into certain conditions to accomplish a definite purpose through the intercession of the Spirit in you."

Some of those places are surely dark. Some of those people are broken. And some of those conditions will feel unbearable. In those circumstances, perhaps our prayers need to go beyond, "God, take this pain away and make it all better." Perhaps we need to pray for the real blessing: that God's purpose would be accomplished. After all, the fulfillment of God's perfect and holy will is the one and only way anything will truly get better.

Holly Vicente Robaina is a writer living in California.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Holly Vicente Robaina
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