Today, I share this blog with you not to garner sympathy. I share this so that you might be encouraged. I share this so that you might be empowered. I share this so that you know about this Jesus I have hope in. I share this so that you may know his love. In the midst of trials, my Savior reigns. He is with me. In his name, I will praise. In his name, I will place my hope. In his name, I will love others as he continually loves me.
For years, I have battled depression. I have struggled with feelings of constant anxiety and loneliness. If you have ever known me for a short time, perhaps this might surprise you. Even though I have struggled with depression, I still have joy, yes joy. Abundant joy. Just in case you ever had any doubt, you can struggle with depression and still have joy, and still place trust in an amazing God who loves us beyond all comprehension.
These past few years have been rough. I witnessed my Dad, the strongest man I have ever known, my best friend, decline in health and pass away after a more than 6-year battle with cancer. His death was on December 24, 2019. Since then, I have had moments when my depression worsened, and I felt more anxious and lonelier. Like there was a gaping hole in my heart. I can’t explain it, but even with the support of an amazing and loving family, and communities of fellow believers in my corner, it’s still possible to feel lonely. And yet, I still have joy. Why is that? Why do I have so much joy?
I have joy because Dad showed me what it means to be joyful, especially when times were tough. Even when he started hospice, we would video chat each night. There were still laughs, jokes, and smiles. There was also his positive spirit. He promised me that in some way or another, he would be at my wedding. And when the time comes, and I meet the love of my life, and propose to her, and say, “I do,” Dad will be there with that big smile of his.
Just weeks before passing into the arms of Jesus, not long before he could no longer speak, he turned to me, and asked, “Why is God so good to me?” That is a question I have even now. Why is God so good to me? As Dad has so wonderfully taught me, I know that God is still good. As Dad led us a month prior to his passing, with his and our hands raised, we sang, “Because He Lives” just as he did when I was a little boy. So, why is God so good to me?
Even as the waves crash around us, Christ Jesus calls us to leap from the boat we are in and walk towards him. To miraculously walk on water as we look upon his face and trust in his love.
And sometimes we sink. Sometimes, the waves sweep over us. And still, he is there ready to pick us back up. So, why do I feel anxious at times? Why do I at times feel depressed? Sad? Tired? Lonely? I don’t have an answer to this. And yet, somehow, I still trust that God is sovereign. God watches over me just as he watches over every little sparrow. Sparrows are beautiful. And yet, God thinks I’m even more beautiful. Wow!
If you are experiencing any similar pain, let me tell you this. I hope this doesn’t sound cliché. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to acknowledge what you are going through. Don’t be ashamed of it. God is not and never will be ashamed of you. Even when you fall short, even when you make mistakes, even when your hurt leads you to sin, there God is. God is there, waiting for you to turn and run to God. Just as the father ran towards the prodigal son, so does God run after you. God loves you. God loves me. God loves us all.
Before Spring Break of 2020, before the pandemic upended our daily routines, I walked to Baylor’s Counseling Center, a perk of being a student at Baylor. I was terrified, but I reached out. I asked for help. I know I’ve heard this somewhere. I can’t remember where, but it’s okay to have Jesus and a therapist (or counselor) too. And thanks to technology, even in the midst of COVID-19 and staying at home last year, counseling could be done online. So yes, I saw a counselor. And that’s okay.
So, let me remind you that it is okay to seek help. If you are hurting, please do. It is okay to acknowledge what you are feeling, what you are going through. Know that God loves you. I love you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Even when I am in pain, God is still there. In God, I have joy. Sweet. Amazing. Joy.
I understand, if in the middle of uncertainty, you are feeling anxious. I’ve felt that. But please don’t lose hope. I know, as Bill and Gloria Gaither’s timeless and timely song reminds me, that “Because He Lives, I can face tomorrow!” In every circumstance, I know that “life is worth the living just Because He Lives.”
I know that I can face many tomorrows because he lives. And in the past year, I have had some very rough days. There have been days when it seems as though my depression got the better of me. I still remember sitting in a Zoom class not long ago and anxiety seemed to flood my entire body. You wouldn’t have been able to notice by looking at the little box of me on the screen, but I was having a difficult time that day.
This leads me to today. Easter. The day in which followers of Christ around the world celebrate the resurrection of a risen savior. These past few years have given me a greater appreciation for the resurrection. Not only was Christ resurrected, but in following Jesus, I am being resurrected, being renewed, every day. Recently, I experienced a silent spiritual retreat with other seminary colleagues. It was good for the soul. As I walked the trails through the trees behind DaySpring Baptist Church (the location of the retreat) in silence, I was amazed by God’s presence. As I sat looking at the creek bed below me, as the sun rose through the trees above me, I felt as though Jesus was sitting next to me, telling me to place my trust in him. I felt as though he wasn’t brushing off my pain, but was acknowledging it, reminding me that he knows that pain. As I sat there, I wrote the following poem to express my thoughts, a poem, I simply titled, “In the quiet stillness.”
In the quiet stillness
I find myself at peace.
It is here that my soul finds rest.
In this moment of solitude,
I feel your presence.
I feel your warmth.
As the sun breaks through the trees
And the birds sing songs to you,
I now seem to understand
What you meant when you said,
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Oh Lord, you are my Rock and Shield,
You lift me up when I am weak,
When it is difficult to stand,
When my heart grows weary,
When the weight of the world crushes my bones,
When depression and anxiety seek to defeat me,
When grief casts its dark shadow on me.
In the midst of chaos,
You whisper to me,
“Be still and know that I am God.”
So, let me be still.
Let me rest in your presence.
You are my fortress and strong tower.
Let my spirit soar with eagle’s wings.
Let me slow down and trust in you.
Let my soul run to you as I sit,
With your arms wrapped around me,
In the quiet stillness.
It was in that stillness that God embraced me, understood my pain, and acknowledged it. I knew that it was okay when I wasn’t feeling okay, because God is always there with me. Even when I feel like I am drifting away from God, even when I feel angry at God, God is there, waiting, just waiting for me to turn back to a God who loves me beyond all comprehension.
I see the beauty in the resurrection. I wish I could have been there when Mary Magdalene, who knew the blistering pain of grief, finally recognized Jesus after the resurrection. I see the beauty in the resurrection, because I know that upon his earthly death, Dad was resurrected into eternal life with Jesus. I see the beauty in the resurrection, because I know that in my relationship with a resurrected Savior, Jesus resurrects me. He renews me and guides me every step of the way.
Friends, life can be challenging. At times, it may seem as though the whole world is crashing around you and you feel helpless. Acknowledge the pain you feel. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot be faithful to God while struggling, while experiencing pain. If you need help, please reach out to someone. Take care of your mental and spiritual health. Know that you are loved. I love you. God loves you. I saw something on Facebook recently that encouraged me greatly, and so I will end with this encouragement.
Christ has risen. Because of this, I have joy. There will still be bad days. Depression may get the better of me some days, but I still have joy. Joy in a resurrected Savior who watches over me just as he watches over the sparrow. Praise God!