“Elijah was a man just like us” (James 5:17).
I’ve been studying Elijah lately for one reason: I wanted to understand why, after all God has done for me in recent months, I could tumble into depression. Elijah was a prophet of God – a very outspoken prophet – and most of his outspokenness was directed at King Ahab and His queen, Jezebel who were evil personified. Elijah predicted a season of drought because of the evil and idolatry in Israel. During that drought, God miraculously provided for the prophet – he never lacked for his daily needs. Elijah defeated and put to death the 450 prophets of Baal, Jezebel’s god, and showed the Israelites the power of Jehovah. Because of him the people’s hearts were turned back to the Lord. What a victory! Yet when Jezebel got wind of it all, she threatened Elijah. And the prophet ran. Depressed and overwhelmed he begged God to take his life. Despite all that God had done for him and through him, Elijah wound up in the pit – or cave as it were – of despair.
I can identify with old Elijah. God has been so good to us through a very difficult year of health problems, unemployment, family strain, and financial hardship. So why this downward spiral into depression? It isn’t the first time I’ve battled this – I am prone to the grip of depression, and it often comes on the heels of blessings and fruitfulness. I suspect, based on conversations and comments, that I’m not the only one.
I see some similarities between Elijah and me. The old prophet was physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. The long-standing conflict with Ahab, three years of drought in the land, coupled with the intensity of the showdown with prophets of Baal drained Elijah. Likewise, we struggled for over a year with my husband’s work-related injury, surgery, rehab and battles with worker’s comp and his company. I had made a disastrous job change and was miserable. We were caught up in a great deal of relational tension with a family member. Then the heat intensified. My husband could not go back to work, so now we faced settlements, disability, and the loss of his income. When my employer found out I was looking for another job, they hired my replacement before I had a job to go to. Faced with double unemployment and a minimal settlement, we realized all we could do was move back home near family. Two days before we loaded the truck I was hit with a severe leg infection and excruciating pain. That meant medical bills with no insurance and no income and nearly a month of being flat of my back. God had graciously led us to a great house to rent, but before we could move in, the house flooded from an open tap and we juggled furniture around while the floors were replaced and I tried to recuperate with the daily noise of saws and hammers. There was the added anxiety of being separated from our adult son for the first time in his life as he decided not to move with us. As soon as I was back on my feet I began searching for a job with disappointing results.
But God had been good to Elijah by miraculously providing for His prophet, and He did the same for us. Despite all our struggles, God poured out blessings on us and provided generously and unexpectedly. And He eventually opened the door to a wonderful job for me at a small Christian college nearby. You would think, with all this, I would be on the highest of highs. But I soon found myself crashing physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like Elijah, the long drawn out struggles and intensity of the recent months had drained me. Elijah fled to the desert, a fitting place for a dry and weary soul. There he begged God to let him die, “I have had enough, Lord” (1 Kings 19:4). And the overwhelmed and exhausted prophet lay down and slept the sleep of the depressed. While I haven’t physically run anywhere, I have retreated into an emotional desert of discouragement and weariness. That is why, you may have noticed, I have been silent on my blog and social media the past month or so. I just haven’t had the energy or the heart.
So how did Elijah come out of the darkness of despair? The same way I will. Through God’s tender care and hearing the voice of the Lord. As Elijah slept in the desert, God sent an angel with food and strengthened him so that he had just enough energy to get to the mountains where he hid in a cave. But it was there, in a dark and lonely cave, that the God of mercy and grace spoke to him in a gentle whisper. I am seeking the help of a physician to deal with the physiological aspects of depression, and I am digging into the Word to glean the whispers of God for my soul and spirit.
Why am I sharing this less-than-encouraging message with you? Because I don’t want you to think I am some super-Christian through the words I write. I am just as prone to the struggles and hardships of life as anyone. The have the same discouraging effect on me as they do on you. In all honesty, I write to encourage myself as much as to encourage you. And I am just as prone to failure in my walk as anyone – but that’s a post for another day. I’m also sharing this because someone else is struggling with depression – someone who loves Jesus and is doing their best to be a good, faithful Christian. You’re questioning your faith because of this season of darkness. You may even be questioning God’s love for you. And the enemy is using that to his advantage. I hear the accusations too: “If you were really a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed. God is so disappointed in you. Why don’t you quit pretending to be something you’re not?” I hear the reminders that Christians are supposed to be full of joy, joy, joy! So why aren’t you? There may be many reasons; everyone’s situation is unique. And there is no shame in reaching out for help. Doctors, counselors and others have the God-given wisdom and expertise to treat depression. Please get the help you need. Today. I am writing this so that you, my weary and hurting friend, will know that there is no shame in depression – even for Christians. The Bible shows that we are in very good company in this cave – Moses, Elijah, David, Jeremiah, and Paul all expressed similar emotions and seasons. Many of the great men and women throughout Christian history struggled with depression.
I am also writing this to let you know that God really does love you – even in the pit or desert or cave of depression. He is not angry or disappointed in you. He has not written you off. In fact, He has drawn near to you, like a loving parent does when their child is hurting. He speaks gentle whispers of love and encouragement, and He tenderly wipes away the tears on your face. Let Him love you. Let Him minister grace to you. Beloved, there is hope for you and for me in the face of depression. I’m going to get better and so will you. God is too good to leave His child in pain. He will turn the darkness into light. We have His Word on it.