“When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Horatio G. Spafford
I have struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. Even as a young child I can recall having these intense moments of despair overwhelm my soul.
I often lived in the midst of the billowing sea of sorrows.
These episodes when I was younger were associated were an unhealthy fear of the unknown. One incident stands out in my mind even many years later.
My parents had gone out for a date night. My dad's ship was harbored in Guam. He was in the Navy and often deployed for months at a time.
They had mentioned a specific time they would return. I overheard and was eagerly anticipating their arrival home.
My babysitter put me to bed hours before their mentioned arrival time, but I lay awake staring at my digital clock for hours waiting for the familiar sound of the heavy front door opening.
As I lay there in bed my imagination billowed. I started considering the worst possible scenarios. At first, these imagination were a side thought. My parents still had time to arrive on time
Just minute over, my imagination paralyzed me. I was so fearful that my parents had a car wreck. I could picture their bodies lying on the side of the road.
I knew my godparents would have custody of me, but they were in California. Who would care for me while they arrived?
I can still feel the weight on my chest as I lay there in bed.
And the moment of relief as my parents walked in the door.
The irrational fears of a child soon became the fears of an adult.
I began to feed off of the deep rooted fear and subsequent depression.
These intense cycles of depression started in junior high. At first, it was associated with my relationships with girls. If I felt loved by someone, I felt good inside but when that relationship ended I purged the pain with an even more harmful depression.
These depressed thoughts became emotional heroine. The painful and tangible emotions festered creating more deep-rooted depression which often led to contemplation of suicide.
I experienced a prolonged period of success fighting off depression during college that coincided with the Spirit renewing my love for God. I had moments, but the shadows had receded for a time.
This period of joy also coincided with meeting my wife. We dated all through college and then married. What I failed to grasp was that I was setting up my marriage and myself up for failure by placing all my trust and hope in marriage instead of God.
Eventually my wife disappointed me (sinners disappointing other sinners shocking I know). It was bound to happen because I placed a weight on her shoulders that only the bloody and beaten shoulders of Christ could bear. I could no longer control these painful thoughts. They overwhelmed me to the point of no return. Or at least I thought.
I went through a nightmarish year where I indulged in sin and then wallowed when confronted. I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to talk to people, but I did want people to notice the pain and share their sympathies.
I had started a new job about three months into this period and was working a second shift driving home on a snaking bleak country road. Many times I heard It would be simple for you to drive your car off the side of the road. A tidy solution. You’ve shamed your family and the name of Christ. It’s over.
Those words were always spoken in Parseltongue.
Accusations from the Enemy.
But the Spirit never accuses or shames. He convicts and moves to repentance and love for God.
When my family had left for vacation for a week, I had a moment of clarity and realized I was wallowing in a muddy cistern. The Spirit clearly spoke to me through the word of God.
I realized how much I had.
I realized how much I was loved by my family and God.
The truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ washed over me anew. I rose from the muddy cistern shedding my skin.
By the power of the Spirit I have become skilled at recognizing Parseltongue. I hear those sounds selling lies, bringing charges against my wicked heart.
I make it a habit of responding to those accusations. I respond with the promises of God in Christ.
The old me is dead...
No one can bring any charges against God’s elect...
And in what court would these charges stand?
I haven’t had any debilitating episodes of depression for almost three years. It’s not that joy comes easy. The joy I enjoy now is hard fought for and hard won. It’s hard to maintain it. It’s the kind of hard work that can only be accomplished by the same power that brought Christ up from the grave.
I don’t want you to read this and think, “No more depression great!” I struggle weekly and sometimes daily with sad feelings. But God has been gracious. He empowers me to fight these thoughts and feelings with the gospel and I have a wonderful support structure with my family, church, and small group. People who see me and point me to Christ.
Why share this with you?
Because I realize I’m not alone. Others have often found themselves living in the billowing sea of sorrows. I just want to say...
Those who approach the God of hope in the name of Jesus will receive a blood-bought joy. Don’t let that pass you by.
“Come to me, all who weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Share your story of depression and blood-bought joy in the comments! The power of the gospel will impact others through your courageous sharing.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. His family is covenant members at Downtown Presbyterian Church.