Defined by Depression

For 20 years, depression defined my existence. Hopelessness. Worthlessness. Thinking life was pointless. I even convinced myself I was unable to believe in God. I felt broken and discarded. Definitely a life lived in the “valley of the shadow of death.” I wavered between feeling like a dead person walking and wishing for death.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

Assigning this Psalm only to funerals limits it, because it reaches well beyond the grave. If these words were, then maybe I could make it through the valley. Maybe life existed beyond depression.

The Way Out

In “Created to Be God’s Friend,” Henry Blackaby says,

“Faith is based on what you know about God.”

What I knew for many years were what felt like cliché scripture, such Psalm 23, that I simply hoped they were true. I hoped that what Psalm 23 said about His leading and His presence were real and could dispel the darkness. I hoped “goodness and mercy” were following me, and I hoped my path led to God’s table. This hope kept me alive and moving forward.

In Chapter 5 of “The Fire of Delayed Answers,” Bob Sorge talks about what happens “When the Lights Go Out.” He talks about being in the valley, under the trees. Picture a dark place with no light breaking through the trees. Difficult to stay on the path when the surrounding darkness seems strangely inviting.

In that darkness, thoughts and feelings lure you from the path and into the waiting arms of evil that wants to destroy you. But the path, though you probably fail to realize it, leads out of the valley and above the trees toward the waiting mountain top.

Staying on the Path

What kept me on the path lies with what kept me alive. You see, I felt consumed by the darkness. Yet even though I failed to realize it at the time, God led me through. He will do the same for you. Simply take one foot and put it in front of the other.

Now that I can look back on the journey through the valley, I realize that Sorge’s advice correlates well.

  1. Immerse yourself in God’s word even when comprehension evades you.
  2. Give yourself to prayer until God speaks even when you feel deaf.
  3. Give yourself to righteousness and gracious compassion even though you don’t deserve it.
  4. Stay focused on God alone even when feelings try to lead you off the path.
  5. Know that God sometimes speaks through others even when you feel all alone.

As I walked through a valley that consumed most of the first half of my life, I became very familiar with the underside of the trees. One day, though, I suddenly realized that the tops of the trees weren’t as far away. Then the trees started appearing below me with the undersides no longer visible.

“Slowly the believer begins to ascend, but the climb is so gradual that the believer is not aware of any change.” (Sorge)

This valley walk shaped me into the person I am today. Along the journey, I tried a lot of different methods for quickly getting out of the valley only to discover there is no quick way out. The only way out of the valley is by walking through it all the while focusing on God and following the path laid out before me.

Even in depression and discouragement, even for 20 long years, a God-focus leads out and up. Feelings don’t matter. Thoughts don’t matter. Simply putting one focused foot in front of the other takes you out of the valley. In fact, it’s truly the only way out, the only way to see the top of the trees.