The Best Question
I’m driving down a Michigan road on a winter afternoon. An old red barn crumbles in front of me, and I see a corn field stretching far into the distance. I’m out here to escape my husband and baby for an afternoon. I’m out here to try to listen to God one more time. I’m out here to ask God to save me from this depression.
I slow the car down because I hear something, but it’s not audible. It’s the kind of hearing deep within the soul—a thought—that doesn’t seem to be from my own mind.
I imagine it’s the voice of God asking me, “Will you live the life I ask you to live?”
A simple question.
I knew, even in the haze and darkness of clinical depression, that this question was the most important question. This was the question that would change my whole life. Will you live the life I ask you to live?
For months, I had been fighting against the reality of my life. Suffering from debilitating darkness, I finally went to a therapist. He told me that depression can be a gift from God to alert the mind that something is out of balance. And so much was. I felt like I was drowning, like some oppressive force was holding my head underwater. My therapist began to ask what sources of oppression (external and of my own making) operated in my life. What cruel master did I obey?
I discovered three “false narratives” that had set my soul off kilter: appearance, achievement, and affluence. These oppressive narratives governed every aspect of my life. Prior to my depression, I lived a life of appearance (spa treatments, expensive wardrobes, obsessive focus on my figure), achievement (advanced degrees, awards, relationships with prestigious people), and affluence (wealth that allowed me to buy what I wanted, when I wanted it. My husband, for example, had to build me another closet one year because the new clothing line I brought home wouldn’t fit in my old closet.)
Over the course of a few months, I was stripped of all three narratives. I became sick, gained 40 pounds, and began losing my hair. My face swelled and my skin peeled. With a surprise pregnancy, I abandoned the tenure-track job market that year. And, in the midst of illness, confusion, and exhaustion, I followed my husband into a non-profit ministry organization. Instead of a lavish income, we now raised support to live.
In less than a season, my whole identity unraveled. Who was I apart from these gods of beauty, prestige, and wealth?
My therapist challenged me to read the scriptures and talk to God for one hour a day through contemplative prayer. And then I was supposed to sit and listen in order to rediscover who I was in Christ. I thought he was crazy. Didn’t he realize I had no time for that kind of terrifying silence? Did he not realize that God was so far from me that I’d just be sitting in a room clenching my fists and hating my life?
But I was under doctor’s orders to sit with God. So I did.
For months, I did.
The cracked winter earth nearly swallows the dilapidated red barn. I’m staring at it, listening again to what I know is God’s voice.
Will you live the life I ask you to live?
Very slowly, I respond, “Even if it means I’m ugly?”
“Even if it means I’m anonymous with no achievement or prestige?”
“Even if it means I’m poor?”
I pause. I see that false self staring back at me. I cry out, “Yes, Lord.”
At that moment, the depression begins to lift. My head emerges from the water, and I breathe.
That day, I knew God had me on a beautiful journey of freedom, but the road to travel there was clinical depression to expose the false narratives directing my life.
Days later, I’m reading the book of Genesis.
In Chapter 41, Joseph gives a blessing to his son. In this simple benediction, no more than a few words, the tiniest ray of light came into my heart. The author writes, “The second son he named Ephraim and said, ‘It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering’.” Some translations say “…in the very place of my suffering,” or “…in my affliction.”
God used depression to restore my true self—a woman not tied to beauty, fame, or wealth to feel significant. Like Joseph, I can say now that God made me fruitful in that land of my suffering and turned my affliction into freedom. I discovered intimacy with my Savior. And he revealed to me the best Lenten question I can imagine: Will you live the life I ask you to live?
Photo by Gilad Benari. Used by permission via Flickr.