I remember when I was in elementary school, I remarked to my friend’s mom that I could make myself laugh. I was an awkward adolescent, and I have no real recollection the context of this admission, but I do remember her response: “Well good, then you’ll never be depressed.”
And well, the joke’s on her.
I want to take a little break from mom-specific things things this week. Yes, this topic is important for moms, but it’s important for dads and kids and everyone else too. If you or someone you know has depression, I hope you know that “depression” doesn’t mean “super Eeyore-sad all the time.” It doesn’t make you start dressing all in black and going in hard on the black eyeliner. It doesn’t make you an invalid… until it does.
I didn’t officially latch on to the clinical depression diagnosis until my second son, Jonah, was born. I realized then that the fog all mothers experience postpartum wasn’t lifting. The bond with my newborn wasn’t forming. But most of all, I think I realized that I was finally in a space safe and easy enough to just call the doctor and request medicine. No one can fault the weary new mom for asking for help when she needed it, right? And about ten days later, once the medicine had time to get in my system and start working, the fog lifted. This call was absolutely the right one for me. My only problem?
That I hadn’t called sooner.
Before I continue, please know that I serve a God of miracles, of compassion, of love. The God of renewal and transformation. The Creator of heaven, earth, and me. I heard, at churches and retreats, over and over again how God answers prayers. How he can save us from the depths. How He is all we need.
The first time I really felt doubt about this was in college. I put on a mask that I had worn for a long time – the “funny one” – and didn’t let people really see me when life got overwhelming. I hid in bathroom stalls and pretended to be asleep to just be “off.” And while off, I prayed. To be happy. Just be happy. Please God, I’m not asking for much — I just want to be happy.
Keep in mind, I had a lot of great things going for me. I had great friends. I went to a great school. I won awards and scholarships for singing – my major – and my future was bright. By my junior year, I was engaged to the only man I’ve ever loved. If you’re waiting for the shoe-dropping moment, there isn’t one. My life was good. My life was good. But I wasn’t happy. Because this is what depression does.
Years passed, college ended, married life and real jobs began, and I still prayed for happiness. My first teaching job brought with it much praise and success, but I still doubted myself so strongly. There were never enough compliments to drown out my own voices of insufficiency.
Please, God, let me be happy. I just want to be happy. I know You can just make me be happy. I know You can. Please.
I believe God had been answering all of those prayers, but I didn’t really listen until I was driving with a preschool-aged Boone and a infant Jonah in the backseat. I was listening to the Barenaked Ladies album, Born on a Pirate Ship (because most of my music comes out of the 90s), and when I heard the words “I have faith in medications/I believe in the Prozac nation,” I knew God was declaring the answer to my prayers for happiness. I pulled into a parking spot and cried. I called the doctor with the strongest voice I could muster (which was still pretty shaky) and the rest is history.
That’s when my ears started hearing pastors urge congregants to pray for miracles. To trust God can fix everything. As I said earlier, I truly believe He can – but I think we need to be careful about how we present this to brothers and sisters in a time of struggle. A previous pastor of mine used to end prayers filled with requests with the line, “we know that You can, God, and we pray that You will.” I’ve adopted this into my own prayers, but I’ve added an extra step. I still pray for the miracle – but I ask God to show me how He wants me to fix the problem. Sometimes He’s quiet and I learn patience. But more often than not, I find that He helps my ears and eyes to remain open to see the answers He’s placing in front of me. I cannot tell you how many times I heard people talk about the power of anti-depressants while I was praying for God to simply take away my unhappiness. Do I believe God could have said “You’re happy now,” and I would have been? Of course. But He created us to live in community, and I think He needed me to find happiness by reaching out to others, by trusting scientists and doctors, and by sharing the journey with those who might need to hear it.
Don’t get me wrong, “I had a problem and God immediately fixed it,” is a decent story too. But what does it say to those who pray and pray and pray without feeling like they are getting a response? “Why did God fix them and not me?” No, I believe that God can and does perform miracles. Sometimes He works alone – He will make a tumor disappear in such a way that medical professionals are baffled. But sometimes, sometimes He’ll take an ordinary human and use them to revive an infant born without a heartbeat. Through medical training and expertise, that baby will live where he otherwise would have died. Surely God could have said “baby, breathe now,” but He wants to use His people.
If you know someone who struggles with depression, share this story if you don’t have one of your own. Pray for them. Pray with them. But ask that God uses His people to heal instead of only requestly He directly do all the work Himself.