Please God, just kill me. I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to hurt my family. I just want it to stop. Please just make it stop.”
That was my nightly prayer for about a year and a half. The other, less frequent, prayers included, “Why did you make me this way?” and “I know I don’t deserve it, but…”
Going in Blind
I grew up going to church every Sunday morning and every Sunday night and every Wednesday night. I sang in the Christmas plays, and I went to vacation Bible school every summer. Even as I grew up and my family changed churches, I still remained the sweet, knowledgeable bubble of joy with her hand in the air, always ready to answer the questions during Sunday school.
Then those teenage years crept in.
I still knew all of the right answers, but I embraced the hardheaded, sarcastic attitude that comes with puberty. As I became more aware of myself as a person, insecurities began popping up like pimples. I had a whole list of flaws I mentally recited every morning while I brushed my teeth: You’re too short; you talk too much; you’re annoying; no one really likes you; you aren’t good enough at anything.
And I was going in blind.
My struggle with depression was accented with periods of very real and intimidating suicidal thoughts. Some were brief time lapses, only lasting long enough for me to write and then delete my note of apology; however, some lasted months, years even. I can honestly say those longer periods were some of the worst times of my life.
Looking back, I can see my relationship with God left something to be desired. Well, more accurately, it left everything to be desired because I had almost no relationship with God. I didn’t read my Bible, and I didn’t listen when the pastor was preaching. Instead, I thought about how much I would rather be asleep or just alone in my room doing nothing. It was confusing because all the adults at church called me spiritually mature.
Even as I struggled, I was still highly involved in my youth group. I went to all the camps and volunteer service opportunities, and I knew all of the important verses and stories. If we had a test on the Bible, I would have gotten an A.
Yet it all seemed so disjointed.
I failed to understand how I went from being a teenager, lifting my hands in worship, to this young woman hiding from the same God I had loved so dearly. My life felt like a page from a science fiction novel somebody just stuck into a cookbook and hoped no one noticed.
In time, I realized something: Out of all those sermons I listened to and all of the Bible studies I attended, not one talked about suicide or depression or self-harm. I mean there was always that one kid who asked whether suicide sent you to hell or that daring preacher vaguely referencing hurting yourself before running off to the next topic. No one sat us down and really talked about it with us.
No one prepared us for what has become almost an epidemic for my generation.
I was afraid. I was depressed – sorry, “I was discouraged” – and I had no idea what was happening to me. All I knew was this big knot of pain sitting somewhere deep inside of me, and I couldn’t get it out. No matter how much I cried or tried to rationalize the pain away, it remained.
My fear inspired doubt, and my doubt inspired shame. Then, Fear invited its friend, Anxiety, and it all amalgamated into this horrible, cruel voice that never let me rest. The voice told me lies about God and His love for me. It made sure I stayed isolated and defeated. It made me push away my friends and family. If they knew what I really was, they would leave anyway. And I didn’t even bother thinking about God because what would the perfect, all-powerful creator of the universe do If He saw the mess I’d made of myself?
And here we’ve come to the heart of the problem.
I was afraid of God. Not in the good, respectful way, but the way that makes you run as fast as you can in the other direction. I thought He abandoned me, but it was me who was shunning Him. I wouldn’t give Him a chance to speak because I was scared of what He would say when I finally listened.
I tried to hide my weeping heart from Him. I decided I didn’t deserve His healing. When I asked Him to just make the pain stop, I was convinced my selfishness and cowardice angered Him. I was terrified He could see who I was—the scared little girl, turning her back on Him. Why would He ever choose to love her? I didn’t want Him to see me fall so I ran, straight to the shadow in the corner no one told me to watch out for.
A Place for Mental Illness
Now, I’m not saying it’s the Church’s fault people become depressed. But I am saying we are so hesitant to give mental illness a place in church that we are failing people. We can talk about discouragement and finding strength in community all we want, but when our brothers and sisters in Christ are confronted with a hateful voice drowning out all reason, they need to be able to give it a name, not a euphemism.
I am speaking from experience here.
When that voice tells us the only way to make the pain stop is to cut it out, we need to have Scripture to guard our hearts. When a creature visits us and hisses in our ears, “No one would miss you,” we must be equipped to respond.
Church, you cannot use your sword to fight an enemy you do not recognize.
Believers follow a God of mercy and grace and love. Those ideals are so desperately important for people who struggle with depression. People sitting in our congregations will, at some point, struggle with depression. Shouldn’t we, the Church, strive to do all we can to prepare them, even if it makes us uncomfortable?
When the Church doesn’t address mental illness, going to church becomes an obstacle for the hurting–more of a stress than a blessing. We begin to feel like we have to hide what is happening. We believe we can’t come as we are because no one wants to talk about how we really are.
Jesus healed the lame, the sick and the possessed, so why can’t we take a second to offer that healing to the depressed? Why can’t we take the time to address mental illness in our churches?
Thankfully, my parents equipped me with the tools and understanding I needed to overcome depression, but there were many times when the only reason I dragged myself to church was because I was desperate for answers. And there I found some adults who saw through me and took me under their wings. I thank God for them every day. They provided me with hope and comfort in a very difficult time. I have been recovered for two years now
I wonder about the other millions of people facing depression, whether they will be as fortunate as I was.
They need that hope and love I received.
They need the Church.