If you struggle with depression, anxiety, strange and/or wayward desires… some thoughts on life “in the body”

Hey friends –

Friday is “Sabbath” for me and my family, and so as a rule I don’t generally blog… but this one was churning a bit inside and I thought it best to share it while it was still hot in my soul.  So, here’ goes.  Hope it helps you.

As summer gives way to fall, like many people, I generally experience a slight uptick in my anxiety levels.  Not severe.  But enough to be annoying.  In several situations recently, I’ve found myself experiencing all sorts of odd, vague, ambiguous, churning emotions.

Always the question is “What shall I do about it?”

And of course the answer is that I offer it up to the Lord.  The Psalmist declares that “In my distress I called to the Lord…my cry came before him, into his ears” (Ps 18:6).  But what sort of an “answer” shall we expect?

In my experience, I think that when we offer things like this (anxiety, depression, the raging of strange and perhaps seemingly foreign desires, even bodily pains and the like) up to God, we can expect him to give us grace in one of three ways:

First, He may simply take the thing away.  We pray for healing, and healing comes.  A miracle.  A breakthrough.  A deliverance.  A parting of the clouds through which the hand of Heaven comes down and rescues us.  God does this.  And when it happens… it is wonderful and fills our hearts with joy.  Mercy comes rushing to meet us.

Secondly, He may give us insight into the thing.  We pray for healing/deliverance, and God responds with, “Let me show you what’s going on here.”  He gives us insight, and as we walk faithfully with him into the insight, the thing clears up.  The healing/deliverance unfolds “naturally”, as it were.  We participate with God in the “miracle.”  Those times also are wonderful… and I have had many of them.

But I confess that in my experience, there are perils in #2.  Sometimes the pursuit of “insight” into the thing becomes a trap, a maze, a hall of mirrors, a labyrinth, even an idolatry.  We seek the insight but don’t get it, and we feel lost, lonely, heartbroken, and confused.  Or we DO get what we THINK is the insight that will solve it all, but it turns out to be hollow, which leaves us feeling emptier inside.  Or, worse than both of those, we seek the insight as a form of control.  We achieve the insight, and things do get “better”, but our hearts are actually more corrupt on the other side of it than they previously had been.  We have learned to exist apart from God.  We have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in our own souls.

Like I said, perils.  Many of you have experienced this.

In my younger years, I thought #s 1 and 2 were the only options.  Which meant that if God wasn’t taking AWAY the thing or giving me INSIGHT into how to walk free from the thing, I was completely hosed.  Then one day it occurred to me that there was a third way, a way that largely transcended both: the way of faith.  Let me explain.

This “way” first began to dawn on me in seminary when I was struggling mightily with what had been my very intense seasonal depression.  It occurred to me one day that the depression, which God had not taken away simply by “miracle”, despite my many petitions, and which neither was yielding to the many amazing “insights” I had collected along the way, was perhaps simply the result of my living in a body that, like ALL other “bodies” on planet earth, was corrupted by sin and death, which meant that it didn’t WORK RIGHT.  Verses like this helped clarify it for me:

But if Christ is in you, your body on the one hand is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive through righteousness… (Rom 8:10)

It was an incredibly liberating thought for me to realize that my depression was not a signal that something was “wrong” with me, and that if there WAS something “wrong” with me it was, in point of fact, the very same thing that was wrong with EVERYONE–namely, that sin causes a breakdown of the human machine on every level.  And even more (and this was the BIG realization), I discovered that, insofar as my depression was a decidedly bodily phenomenon, when I experienced it, I did not have to despair that something was wrong with my relationship with God (which much of my charismatic tradition had conditioned me to believe).

Quite the opposite was the case, in fact.  The depression, I discovered, was actually PUSHING  me to God, which was an evidence that my union with God was very much intact, that my spirit was very much “alive through righteousness.”  And one day, the power of that union, to use the language from St. Augustine, would be intensified and consummated such that it would “flow over” into a glorified and fully healed BODY.  Or to use the language of Paul:

And if the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also MAKE ALIVE your MORTAL BODIES through his Spirit, which lives in you… (Rom 8:11)

Until then, I could and would walk “by faith”, “in the Spirit”, as it were, even if and when my “body” (emotions included) betrayed me.

This took away all the angst about my depression and gave me the ability to, in a sense, stand apart from my body and laugh at it a bit as I continued to let my spirit, united as it was with the Spirit of God, guide my life.  To put it one way, it took the “angst out of the angst.”  Even more, eventually albeit slowly, my depressions became less and less serious until, as it is now, they occupy a very small and nearly insignificant part of my life.

That helped me then, and it helps me now.  I do not know why, under certain circumstances and at certain times, my body experiences these upsurges of anxiety.  What I can say is that I live in a body that is under the curse of corruption to decay.  At the very least then, I can rest in the joyful union of my spirit with Christ Jesus, having a good laugh at my broken little body, even as I await the redemption of all things.

I do hope that some of you reading this will take this to heart.  All of us have to live with this, with impairments and frustrations and futilities of various kinds that simply are not going away and do not yield to insight.  Chronic aches and pains… depression and anxiety… wayward sexual desires… many more could be added.  If you have put your confidence in Christ Jesus, you need to hear this loud and clear: your spirit is okay.  Its just that the “body” you live in (which includes your desires and emotions) is broken.  God may fix it via a miracle, and insight may come… really… it may happen… and often does…

…but when and where it doesn’t, in the midst of it all, let me invite you: rest in your union with God.  Let your  bodily brokenness be a pathway into the depths of Jesus Christ, and the blessed hope of his coming.  For come he will, bodily, and then all will be made well, and the frustrations and futilities of our current bodily existence will be swallowed up in Glory.

Amen.  So be it.  Grace to you…

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