Today is about changing my perspective in writing, but instead, I am going to attempt to change yours. I am going to take you into the dark and show you light.
“How can she believe in God and be going through that?” the woman repeating those words to me didn’t seem to want an answer. She seemed happy to use the words as one more admonishment to me that I, their pastor’s wife, superintendent of the Sunday school, mother of three children was where I was and suffering from what I was suffering from. How can a person who knew God and had accepted God in their life, how could a Christian be sitting in a Psych ward suffering from depression to a point of being suicidal? One more crushing accusation to add to all the reasons I would be doing a favour to God if I died and quit ruining his name.
Yes, dear fellow Christians, when a person is in the depth of depression to a point of wanting to die, “buck up and get it right” speeches don’t help. The books on understanding depression should be read by you not given as gifts as they sometimes contain the very information that can make things even more dangerous. Handing scripture references of victorious living can be one more backlash. When I reached this point all these were the means being used to “help” me get back on track.
Except for Linda B and Merna. I had said to Linda B, “Please pray. There is a battle going on inside and I don’t know who is going to win.” She said little but with a hug and a shared cup of tea, she still welcomed me. Merna’s help had come more in bolstering me before it reached this stage. Now she, the person who had been the only real support through the months of my baby’s breathing problems was in Calgary. Leukemia.
And the darkness was so dark, I couldn’t even get there to visit her. In fact, I hadn’t been able to stop the crying when my son was in the hospital so realized I couldn’t be with him as I had been for my youngest. I was too broken to fight the battle anymore in the aloneness of being expected to be strong and plan church events when I could barely get the energy to clean my house while caring for my children. I walked from my son’s hospital room to the emergency where providentially Dr. Roetker who had believed me about my infant daughter time and again and helped me get the help I needed for her, was on call. He believed me again and after making arrangements for someone to care for my children longer term. I made the trek to the Lethbridge mental ward so I would be supported in fighting the darkness that was bidding me to end it all.
For years I had had well-meaning Christians lay their accusations on me in front of my spouse with no support. “If you want to serve the Lord, go back to the states. We don’t need people like you,” was one of many in this particular setting. It is hard to argue with a person when you have been taught the same. I was letting everyone down. Something was wrong with me.
Several years before I had come to a place with my relatives and marriage – same messages of not measuring up – where I had been begging God to help me take all the things out of my life that were getting in the way of me being who I needed to be. I wanted so to serve God but seemed to keep falling on my face. Prayerfully I even ask God where to read and the book of Matthew came to mind. I didn’t know what lectio divina was at the time, but there is a belief that suggests:
Under the eyes of God
Until the heart is touched
And leaps into flames
When you believe that you are a failure for everyone around you and even for God, yet some small grain in you still loves God and believes maybe God still loves you, this type of study is a natural last resort. It would be decades later before even that would be affirmed in my life.
And so I began Matthew and through this illuminating heart response to the verses that spoke of those having ears needing to listen and eyes needing to see. Something stirred in me and I began reading for those words. What did I need to see? What did I need to hear? And God led me to the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13: 24-30) – a parable beginning with a servant dismayed because weeds had been sown by an enemy among good grain and ending with the Master telling the servant to wait, that the harvester, when he came would know which was which and be able to separate them, placing the good seed into barns, and burning the rest.
My initial response was to think that the explanation in verses 42 and 43 doomed me but I still got the heavy inner admonition to listen. God had something to say to me through these verses. And so I began to listen with the only part of me that seemed to be able to hear past my head – my hand holding a pen. And this is what I heard.
I was the servant who had planted good seed in the soil of my life with the help of the gifts God had given me. I was the one coming to him dismayed by all the weeds. And like the servant, I no longer could discern what were weeds and what was wheat. I was being asked to wait. To believe that God understood and that the time would come when it would be sorted out and what needed to be cleaned out would be cleaned out. I would begin to know what was the wheat of my life.
Those words held me for almost 5 years until this time of deep darkness. Now the enemy seemed to want me to believe I was the weed. But God wasn’t through with the other story.
Flash forward to three days before I entered the psych ward. Disagreeing with the idea that I needed counselling for my depression, my husband at that time, reluctantly accepted the idea of trying marriage counselling. The counselour ask for us each to come to the first appointment alone. We were to bring with us two lists. The first was “What do I want in a marriage that I don’t have?’ The second was “What do I have in this marriage I don’t want?’ Each question took a full side of a lined paper with one line per idea and no spaces in between to answer. All had to do with having a place for the person I was within the relationship.
Having driven the hour to Lethbridge alone, I read my paper to the pshychologist who sat back silent, even after I had finished. It was then, to break this silence, I told him the thing we had left out in making the appointment. My husband had agreed to these sessions because I was struggling with thoughts of suicide.
I will never forget his answer, “My surprise is not that you are suicidal. My surprise is that you are alive.” I don’t know what else was said in that session. I do know that his words stunned me.
Driving home I was crying so hard I could hardly see the road. I knew that I couldn’t keep driving like that but I felt lost. Being an unfamiliar area of the town, I had missed some turn and didn’t know where I was to even find my way home. I couldn’t even see well enough to know where I could turn in to stop. All I could see was the space inside of me while keeping an awareness of other cars.
In the last weeks before Merna got sick I had somehow picked up a book called “When the Pieces Don’t Fit, God Makes the Difference”. The author, Glaphré, wrote from the perspective of having a life altering condition that was slowly limiting her life more and more. But in that time she looked back at the ways God had led her, back to the days where she even surrendered her time and finances to God and took off driving around the country letting God tell her where to stop. The stories of her journey as a teacher before, of God working through her life during that drive, and through the beginning questioning of the illness that followed had given me hope.
In those moments, driving in the dangerous conditions of crying incoherently, not even knowing how to talk to someone with a clear enough voice to ask directions, I cried out to the one who was with me, “Okay, God, if you can drive her car, then drive mine.” And I drove straight until forward seemed foggy and a turn seemed to be clear. In two turns I was back on the highway heading home. Somehow I knew that if God could do that for me, God could also drive my life.
As I drove, my mind went back to that passage in Matthew half a decade before.
“This is the time of harvest,” I seemed to hear.
“But God,” I screamed to the open prairie sky, “there are so many weeds in my life! What will be left when you are through?”
Like a wind blowing the answer through my mind, the word came clearly and simply, “Wheat.”
Going to the hospital I took my clothes, pictures of my children, my book of songs that I had written over the years and my Bible. The only scripture I could read was Psalm 77 about God walking through the storm even though we couldn’t see his footsteps. The songs I carried were years of crying out to God to help me walk through my darkness and a belief that God would.
So when I heard that comment quoted to me by that woman, I knew the words to say. The question was not how could I being going through this if I believe in God. The question was how could I make it through this if I didn’t.
The story from that time continues today, nearly 27 years later. There is hope in the darkness.
An introduction to lectio divina for anyone who might be interested. The author has made this a public domain page. http://www.valyermo.com/ld-art.html