I LOVE JESUS, BUT…

by | Nov 23, 2021 | Depression and Faith

A NOTE FROM TERRY:  This is the story of Sarah J. Robinson, written by Phil Callaway. This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of Servant, a magazine published by Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta, Canada. Used by permission.

As soon as I read this article, I knew two things: I wanted to share it with you as a guest blog, and I would order her book that is quoted in the article. I have not yet read Sarah’s book, but prompted by what I read in this article, I ordered it today. Her book is titled, I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die: Finding Hope in The Darkness of Depression. In order to provide more breaks in copy for social media use, I added subheads to Phil’s fine article.

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“I was a Christian the first time I tried to kill myself,” says Sarah Robinson, author of I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die. “I’d contemplated suicide countless times over the years but I never made an actual attempt until eight months after committing my life to Christ.” Sarah had done all the right things. “I got baptized,” she writes, “went to church every time the doors were open, swapped my old friends for relationships with youth group kids, read my Bible, prayed and worshipped. I should have felt better. But I didn’t.”

Instead, the depression deepened. She felt like a failure. Finally one night in desperation she pressed a knife into her skin. but couldn’t force herself to end it all. “I didn’t want my family to find me [on the kitchen floor], so I got up and put the knife away. I climbed into bed, put on a worship CD, cursed God and went to sleep.”

Escalation of Depression

Sarah is not alone. During the pandemic, according to a Household Pulse survey, about 4 in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, and the number is far higher, 54%, among young adults, who report a 250 percent increase in suicidal thoughts. And though a Gallup report based on interviews with 550,000 Americans claims that the “very religious” are less likely to be diagnosed with depression, nearly one in six are.

Antidote to Sarah’s Despair

“I believed it was a spiritual problem,” says Robinson, “and felt that I had been walking with the Lord long enough that I should have been better by now.” Instead she felt alone, unable to talk about it with anybody, lacking the words for the pain or the knowledge to process her thoughts and feelings in healthy ways.

Shame dogged her steps and one terrible night in a crisis of self-harm Sarah found herself on the doorstep of trusted friends.

Sensing her despair, the couple welcomed her into their home and said the words that would change her life: “We’re not disappointed in you. We don’t think less of you.”

Those words of acceptance gave her a glimpse of hope and began a long, slow journey to wholeness. “I was utterly pathetic when I showed up that night,” she recalls, “but Michael and Angela’s love could handle me even then. Did that mean the promise from Romans 8:39 that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God could be something real and alive to me? Even after Adam and Eve messed up, God didn’t want them to hide in shame. He still wanted them to come close to him, to bring their brokenness to him. I was a Christian for five years before I believed God really loved me.”

A Look At Sarah’s Book

Robinson’s book doesn’t offer easy solutions, but it rings with transparent authenticity, pairing her story with scriptural insights, mental health research, and simple practices to help us reconnect with the God who is present in our deepest anguish.

Author Kay Warren, who experienced the unparalleled grief of losing a son to suicide, says that Sarah’s book “opens to us the journal she kept during some of her worst days, giving the reader a tender glimpse into her intense struggles and suffering, as well as the beautiful hope she has found over time, without trying to tie a pretty bow around serious depression.” She recommends it for struggling friends and loved ones without the fear that the issues will be “minimized, medicalized, or over-spiritualized.”

“When I’m drowning in the darkness,” Sarah writes, “aching with indescribable pain, I don’t need to hear that if I just pray or read my Bible, God will heal me. I need to know, deep in my bones, that being a Christian doesn’t automatically make me better, and that it’s not supposed to. Jesus promised that we would experience trouble and that means there is nothing wrong with us when we struggle in the darkness. When shame gripped me, I needed to hear that God wouldn’t leave me and he was no less present in my pain than in the triumphs of others. Years of wrestling with depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts have taught me that sometimes the greater victory of faith is learning to walk with Jesus when suffering remains.”

The book was researched and written during three years of ongoing battles with depression, even while Sarah worked as a youth minister. “In pews and pulpits, many believers simply assume all mental health struggles represent a lack of faith,” writes columnist Terry Mattingly. “Strugglers will be healed if they dedicate themselves to Bible study and prayer while turning away from their sins. Church-based ‘pastoral counseling’ is an option.”

Like many others, Sarah expected that pushing the right buttons on the spiritual vending machine would yield the right results. Instead, as she writes, the result was a devastating conclusion: “God is good, just not to us. God is present, but not with us. God is gracious, but not to us. These thoughts led to a cancerous self-hate, reinforcing the lie that our sickness is beyond God’s reach.” In hindsight, she would come to realize that it was her undiagnosed, untreated mental illness that made it impossible for her to experience the abundant life that was supposed to be hers in Christ.

The Role of Pastors

Some of us come from families that have struggled for generations with chronic anxiety, abuse, and bipolar disorder. Sarah believes this can lead to intense shame and requires qualified help. She is grateful for clergy “who acknowledge that some of these problems are outside our wheelhouse,” and stay up-to-date with professional resources and partner with licensed counselors and doctors.

“We need our pastors to make this a normal topic in the life of the church,” she says, “not something that is seen as abnormal or strange to talk about. People need to know there are all kinds of issues here, not just something wrong with your ‘thought life.’ We need a team. Churches have to know that they can’t have a one-size-fits all solution to these kinds of problems.”

God’s Presence in Her Darkness

As Sarah slowly came to terms with the reality that she was dealing with a genuine illness, it became harder to face the fact that depression might always be a part of her life. The turning point came one day when, on the edge of despair, she heard a gentle whisper in her heart: The darkness may always be there, but I will always be there in the darkness.

In shock, she realized that what might have sounded like a death sentence was actually a promise of hope. She could stop fighting to fix herself through her own efforts, stop burying the pain and trying so hard to make it go away. The second half of that whisper was sweeter still: God would always be there in the darkness.

“It shook my soul like tectonic plates shifting,” she remembers. “God wasn’t disappointed in me. There’s no countdown clock on grace, no limit on his love. He’s not tapping his foot and looking at his watch, impatient for me to get it together.”

Trusting God (No Matter What)

Sarah has accepted that for her and many others, depression is a chronic illness: “I have good days and bad, times when I can keep pace and others when, like Jacob in the Bible, my limp is more prominent. I’ve had to learn to adjust, to slow down, and to listen to my own needs instead of trying to meet the expectations of everyone around me.”

True faith, she believes, means trusting God even when he doesn’t change our circumstances: “We don’t have to be healed to trust him. We need not be ashamed because God is with us. Whether or not depression becomes a distant memory for you some day, you are not disqualified from the full, abundant life Jesus promised. When all seems bleak and the color is drained from your world, I pray you know that even if the darkness will always be there, God with Us will always be there too. He isn’t leaving, he isn’t giving up. He’ll sit right there with us, holding our sometimes desperate, flailing hearts. We won’t be alone.

“Maybe that’s all we need to know to get through.”

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Mulling It Over

What insight from this article resonated most with you? Why?

\What insight or quote within this article encouraged you most? Why?

How does this story capture a biblical yet realistic perspective about chronic depression?

 

 

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