My deep, dark well

I was 11 the first time I sat down with a counselor. I remember the itchy orange upholstery on the metal-framed couch, the toys on the shelves that I would never be invited to play with, the windows that gave me a view into the hallway of my new elementary school.

I was used to being singled out in school, all for good reasons. I was a good student, a nice girl. But something about this meeting with Mr. Mac felt different. I stared at his blond mustache as he asked me questions about myself. I answered each one politely and succinctly and then struggled with the silence that ensued. I smiled awkwardly and looked around at the motivational posters on the wall—a kitten clinging to a tree limb for dear life: HANG IN THERE!, a little boy with a huge, goofy grin: SMILES ARE CONTAGIOUS!, a field of sunflowers: JUST BE YOURSELF.

I looked for a clock to tell me the passing of time; there wasn’t one, but it didn’t really matter because I didn’t know how long I was supposed to be there. Mr. Mac was young—even at 11 I recognized that he was hoping his mustache would make him look older, make the kids respect him. But he was too eager; his eyes sparkled with excitement, and my confusion and discomfort increased not knowing how to please this adult. I felt like my answers were wrong and I didn’t know why. I already felt weird that year—like I wasn’t able to be happy with the people around me no matter how hard I tried. And then trying to convince a stranger that I was okay was exhausting.

After a few sessions, I started hiding in the library during my appointment times. My parents tiptoed around the issue, unsure of how far to push. One time Mr. Mac tracked me down and called out to me, but I pretended I couldn’t hear him and walked away. Eventually he gave up and no one bothered me about going to see him anymore.

I don’t know what his conversations with my teacher and parents were, but I know now that what was going on in my mind and heart at that young age was simple and common: depression. I’ve been to many counselors since then, sat on many uncomfortable couches, answered many personal questions, and I have come to understand that this is something I will deal with as long as I am on this earth.

When depression hits, I feel like I’ve fallen down a well in a place where it is always night. Sometimes I try to climb out, but the walls are slimy and I am weak. I slide back down to the bottom where I struggle to find the energy to even lift my chin to try again or to look for stars. Maybe the well is so deep that I’m too far away to see the stars in the sky. Sometimes I just lay there. Sometimes I call out for help. Sometimes I scream and cry and beg God for help and hope. But always, in His timing, Jesus reaches his hand down into my well. He grabs my hand and I hold tight as He lifts me out into deliverance.

It was the worst after my parents died. I saw so many counselors and doctors that I lost track. My mind and body do not respond well to medication, so I have done without. And thankfully, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand my triggers, and so my seasons of depression are not as dark or as deep or as long. Another thing I’ve learned is that a lot of Christians do not like to talk about depression. Even though King David himself struggled spiritually and mentally and begged God for relief, it seems to make many Christians uncomfortable to talk about. That makes me sad. And nervous to be sharing my story on Mundane Faithfulness!

In the days leading up to Kara’s Homecoming, I became concerned that depression could hit hard once she was gone. My husband Aaron and I talked about what it would look like to lean into Jesus in our pain and lean into each other as well. We wanted to grieve together and share our mourning instead of drifting apart in our hurt. My sisters were also aware of my fears and were praying for me diligently.

I am relieved to say that while I’ve had very difficult days and stretches of days, I haven’t fallen into my well. I remember thinking a few weeks ago, I’m home free! If I haven’t fallen into my well by now, it’s not going to happen.

But that’s the funny thing about depression: it can hit any time, any place, and without any warning.

I started recognizing the signs last week. I noticed my trains of thought were sad and dark. I was struggling to articulate my feelings, and my prayers were jumbled and disjointed. I cried every day for Kara. My grief felt fresh and the familiar darkness of depression started rolling into my mind like hazy, black smoke. I was angry at myself for no real reason. I was standing at the top of the well, darkness closing in, the inevitability of falling taunting me even in my sleep. I had experienced this before—grief morphing into deep depression.

Sunday I sat in church praying. For the first time in a long time, I had words, and I called out to the Lord. The words of the songs we sang became the cries of my heart in ways that doesn’t happen often for me. And as Aaron led us in a favorite Sovereign Grace song, “The Lord Is,” I cried and prayed and made those lyrics my own. Even though we’ve been singing this song for years, the second verse struck me as though I had never heard it before:

You’re with me through every dark valley
There’s nothing that I have to fear
You are there to comfort me again and again
Protecting me, assuring me You’re near

I realized in that moment of prayer and calling out to Jesus that all these years of depression, I was wrong. I sat in my well for days—months!—on end, waiting for the hand of God to touch me, to deliver me. I waited, hoping that eventually God would help me, that He would notice me in my well, that He would delight to save me.

What I never realized is that Jesus was sitting with me in that dark, slimy well. The entire time.

Jesus has never left me. When I fell down that well again and again, Jesus was with me. When I have imagined myself to be alone in that well, scared and wondering when God would notice me, afraid that the darkness would envelop me, Jesus was always there. Just like God promises in Isaiah 43,

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God…

I am so grateful for this truth and that the Lord saw fit to penetrate my heart and mind with the presence of Jesus. Why would I ever have doubted that when I fall into my well, I land in the arms of Grace?  I am grateful and full of hope. While I can’t prevent a fall into my well, I also can’t prevent my God from being there with me. I am reminded how much God delighted to hold his children, to wrap his arms around us, to cradle us in our sadness, grief, depression.

What a tender Lord who delights to remind me—convince me!—that He loves me and that His Grace supplies all my needs. There is nothing good that he won’t provide, and His Grace! Oh, His Grace! Lord, never stop reminding me that you give us gift upon gift of grace upon grace (John 1:16).

What are the dark wells you are facing today? Do you believe that Jesus is present even in your darkest days? Can you trust that God provides grace upon grace? Can you pray that God will point out even a small grace to you today? Is there someone in your life who needs to be reminded of God’s presence in their sorrow? What can you do to remind them and love them in that way?