What Does It Look Like in the Dark?

My first recollection of it occurred on the back porch steps of my rural home in North Carolina. Nine or ten years old, I slumped, cried aloud for what seemed like an hour, tears cascading down my cheeks onto the steps, obscuring my view of the sun setting behind a mountain.
An overwhelming sadness, a deep-seated loneliness, enveloped me. At the time, I couldn’t put a label on my emotional state nor identify a reason for the hurt.
***
Like any other hormone-crazed high school male, I wanted to date. Yet I never asked a girl out. Instead, I often cried myself to sleep, wishing I could be more “normal” and confident. Why bother to ask when I knew she’d reject me?
The poor self-image, coupled with low grades that fell far short of my academic potential, instilled self-loathing and a daily barrage of accusatory self-talk. More than once, I balled my fists and whammed my head repeatedly until I couldn’t take the pain anymore.
***
I stood with the rest of the congregation for a familiar hymn. Except mouthing the words took a herculean effort. My heart felt numb and parched. I felt out of place in the midst of so many people with smiling faces and praise on their lips. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt buoyant in spirit and worshipped with positive feeling. Guilt badgered me, for I knew that the joy I didn’t have is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
***
I tried to muster enough resolve to keep a lunch appointment with a student, and to teach an afternoon class at the university. My lesson plan was ready, but the last thing I wanted was to be around people.
As I walked to the cafeteria, I hoped the student wouldn’t show. The idea of listening to and feigning interest in another person created pressure that I resented. My gait was slow and my spirit lethargic as I approached the entrance. A high humidity had settled in my heart, smothering motivation and sapping energy for the daily routine, and for responsibilities that I usually cherished.
Due to God’s help, and an adrenalin rush, I taught the class effectively. Afterward, I fell to my office floor and assumed a fetal position, unable to function.
***
Alone in the house, I sat in my recliner, clutching the second handful of tear-soaked tissue. In stark contrast to the afternoon sun, my spirit was pitch-black. “Where are You when I need You!?” I cried aloud to God. “Don’t You care enough to help?”
My weeping became so violent that my body convulsed. Despite a cognitive awareness of a meaningful full-time ministry, plus numerous indicators of God’s blessings, I wanted to die rather than continue in that state of despair. All the prayers for relief that I had uttered seemed in vain. The pain wouldn’t ease up.
***
During our out-of-state drive to my mother-in-law’s funeral, my grown son and I argued. What spawned it was a missed exit off the interstate, but why it became contentious I don’t recall. Frustration within me escalated due to the harsh words, my overreaction to something he said, and the history of strain in our relationship.
By the time we reached the funeral home, hopelessness dominated all other emotions typical at a funeral. I recall thinking, “I wish I were the person in that casket!”
That wasn’t the best state of readiness for the funeral message I would give moments later.

These vignettes, spanning more than fifty years, reveal an inescapable fact: when I write or teach on depression, I don’t take a theoretical, ivory-tower approach. To some readers and listeners, I’m uncomfortably honest about struggle, while at the same time offering hope, showing how rays of light often penetrate my darkness.
The following poem is a case in point, revealing the raw hopelessness of a depressive episode, as well as the hope offered by my view of God and His Word.

Hopeless?
Fleeting, it’s like a bird in flight,
or like a shooting star at night.
Or lightning that spans the sky:
gone in the blink of an eye.

Elusive, like the fog that lifts
when morning sun sends its gifts;
or the zigzagging butterfly
that you can’t catch. No use to try.

That’s my relationship to hope.
It’s like a wet bar of soap
that keeps giving me the slip.
Can’t keep it within my grip.

Hope that a blinding beam of light
will penetrate my soul’s dark night.
Hope that it won’t seem so strange
that habits of the mind can change.

Can God plant hope within a heart
for peace of mind, for a fresh start?
Though right now I am without it,
God shouts “Yes!” Should I doubt it?

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance, and My God” (Ps. 42:11).

In my blogs, I won’t offer you ten surefire steps to victory over depression. Shun anyone who offers such a simplistic solution to a complex condition. But I will share how God has enabled me to maintain a challenging full-time ministry for decades despite the recurring episodes. And I’ll steer you to resources—insights from counselors, books, other blogs, and God’s Word—that offer perspectives and sustenance to keep you walking, even when the pathway is dark.
Typically, I won’t write in the skeletal, bullet-point format of many successful bloggers. The issue of “depression and faith” requires a different kind of verbal data: more personal, description of inner states, more comprehensive reviews of resources or print interviews with experts, and more emphasis on the affective domain that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to short lists of points.
My next post will differentiate between “feeling blue” and chronic depression. I’ll disclose up-to-date statistics on the prevalence of depression, and add to the list of symptoms of major depression embedded within my anecdotes in this post.
After reading the “Welcome” post on my home page, and today’s article, if you believe my blog could help others you know, please steer them to penetratingthedarkness.com. And receive two free gifts for your email subscription to this blog (see my home page).

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Comments

  1. Wow Turk, that’s some vulnerability!. But that openness and honesty will be very important to many of those who suffer from depression.
    God bless you on your new contribution to ministry to others.
    Deedo

  2. I would like to subscribe but when I fill in the blanks and hit submit, I get the message that says to confirm you e-mail address. I have done this several times and it always comes back to the message. Can you help me?
    Thanks,
    Marilyn Simmons
    dmsimmons@southamericamission.org

    i will check this out with person who set up blog for me 10/19

    1. i will check out this with the fella who set up the blog for me Terry 10?19

    2. Marilyn, I had another subscriber check out the process and she said everything worked. I think the process is to conform the subscription when you get the email…it should take you to
      a link for the 2 gifts, and then, perhaps, the 2 different gifts are shown and you may need to click on each of those. Let me know if it still does not work for you and if not, I will send them via email. terry.powell@ciu.edu

  3. As someone with a mental illness and a Christian I look foward to reading your blog and gaining insight into the subject

    1. Thanks for your reply Luanne. I am just now learning to navigate this new blog site so sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I think I sent you an email this morning. terry.powell@ciu.edu contact me again with your request, something about visiting a group. I am open to it. 1:23 Pm 10/25

  4. I would like to invite all of you to the Umbrella support group that meets tomorrow at First Baptist Church 415 Barr rd. Starts at 6:30 its for those with a mental illness. Meets in Fellowship Hall room 213

  5. I was in a group with over 50 missionaries, out of the 200 that attended a conference. The group was dealing with issues regarding addictions, but many had come because they had questions about depression. This topic is necessary to address within the Christian community.

    1. Thanks, Tricia. I hope you can inform others of the blog. I look forward to next Spring and being with ya’ll in Austria

    2. I agree that the topic of depression & faith needs to be addressed more in the Christian community. Look forward to being with you folks next May. Terry

  6. Thanks for your openess and honesty concerning your experience with depression. Every now and then I too may experience some down time but It doesn’t stay and it’s not as debilitating. However, I do know of a close relative I will share this with and pray that this will encourage them and they’ll be able to hear and see that what they are going through is nothing to be ashamed of. God bless you for being the voice for many who are hurting inside because of this issue:) I’m sad but happy inside to know you have Jesus and you are pressing on in the Lord! Thanks again for sharing your life experiences from your heart.

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