I asked God to take away the depression. Instead, He gave me the gift of His presence.
by Melissa Maimone
I’VE STRUGGLED WITH depression and anxiety for most of my life. Though my kids are healthy, my marriage steady, and my faith strong, I experience times of deep sadness and overwhelming anxiety. For a long time, I felt deep shame about this darkness that grips my heart and mind when I least expect it. I begged God to take it away. I prayed for healing from this thorn in my side. But the depression would always return.
I believe we have a God of mercy, kindness, and healing. I know He loves me and has a good plan for my life. The longer I walk with Him, the more I’m assured of His faithfulness. As a result of His enduring love, my perspective on depression and anxiety has slowly changed. It’s taken time, prayer, and tears, but eventually I decided that if my struggle has been permitted by the God who loves me completely, then perhaps my focus on removing it distracts me from why He left it there in the first place. When I stopped trying to run from it, I began to see that the hardest aspects of my life have more to offer than just pain.
The darkness of depression — or any suffering for that matter — is disorienting and scary. It feels awful. But when you’ve entrusted your life to Christ, it’s never abject blackness. I’ve come to view the dark parts of this faith journey more like … midnight.
As much as we enjoy the light of daytime, darkness is just as important in the course of a 24-hour day. Midnight isn’t as fast-paced or bright as those pleasant daylight hours, and yet it has a quiet, mysterious beauty all its own. In the light of day, we can see our surroundings. Our path is sure and our steps are confident. The sun warms us and grows things. But even in the darkness of midnight, when we can’t see and our pace becomes uncertain, we’re given gifts. The moon sets the rhythm of the ocean tides. The stars direct the paths of explorers. We need the evening as much as we need the morning. And God has ordained both.
I would love to tell you that I accept depression and anxiety with maturity and fervent faith. Sometimes I do. Other times? My acceptance arrives through resignation with much less dignity and much more desperation. Either way, I’m learning that the deepest wounds of my life are as patterned and prepared for as is midnight itself. God is as capable to work there as He is in the glory of daylight. Therefore, I have learned to make room for midnight. And I’ve discovered there are gifts wrapped in ribbons of things I never wanted.
The Gift of Community
Because depression is so personal, I often felt isolated from others. I was convinced that I was failing in my faith. I was sure no one would understand. When I started to reach out for help, I was astounded to discover that there are scores of women and men within the Christian community who wrestle with depression. They are talented, accomplished, faithful people who lead productive, fruitful lives — and yet, like me, they have spent a lot of time in midnight. And they’ve wondered if they’re alone too. By finding one another and speaking about the things we’re most ashamed of, we’re bringing light into the darkness. It’s building God’s kingdom by knitting us together as His beloved children. We’re the community of the brokenhearted, and there are more of us than I could’ve ever imagined. Churches are now developing support groups for those with mental illness and the people who love them. The gift of community has broadened my world and allowed me to comfort those with the comfort I’ve been given.
Ironically, community has also taught me the importance of solitude. When I’m overwhelmed by my feelings, I don’t want to be around others. I’d rather hide away and stay by myself until I feel like I can be “happy” or at least have something to offer the world. I believed that only the strong, talented, and fun parts of my personality would be accepted by others. But even when I was by myself I was uneasy. When I was alone, my thoughts would race and my emotions felt more out of control than ever. So I’d fall asleep or watch endless hours of television. I’d do anything to avoid my innerthought life. I’d embrace isolation and call it solitude. But I was really just hiding.
Depression can make you believe that you’ve got nothing to give. That no one wants to be around you. But as I experienced more acceptance from my community, I could begin to accept myself a bit more too. And I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, God accepted me too. I became more at ease with the parts of myself I so desperately wanted to escape from. I became more comfortable in my own skin. And I wasn’t so afraid to explore the feelings and thoughts that would send me, both literally and figuratively, running for the covers.
The Gift of Silence
Solitude isn’t the same as isolation. It’s not avoiding pain or cutting off community. Taking time to be quiet, to pray, and to seek out the Lord is an important part of midnight. Facing my innermost feelings and thoughts allows me to question their veracity. When I look at my self-loathing head on, I can hold it up against God’s Word. I can see the stark difference between the damaging beliefs about myself when I read words like Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.” Solitude allows me to confess the thoughts that can pull me away from the truth of God’s plan for my life. Instead of the loneliness of isolation, the gift of solitude offers communion with God. I’m learning to enjoy my own company. And I’m discovering that silence is a friend.
I haven’t always appreciated silence. I admit there are times when I don’t want to ask God for something because I’m afraid He will not respond. There are times when it’s felt like a punishment. When I pray and ask for clarity or direction and God gives a clear indication that His answer is no, at least I know the Lord is working in my life. Even if I’d prefer a different outcome to my request, at least I know He’s there. But when I experience silence, my imagination runs wild. If I call out to God and don’t seem to hear anything from Him, I start to make up stories about what He is doing or not doing in my life. I’ll take God’s silence to mean He’s withdrawn from me. And I will feel more alone in my depression than ever.
The longest silence recorded in Scripture is the 400 years between the Book of Malachi in the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus Christ in the New. But God told the Israelites long before then, “I will not leave you or abandon you” (Joshua 1:5b). If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, God’s silence never means His absence. If I’m free from condemnation in Christ, then God never gives me “the silent treatment.” I don’t always know why He’s quiet at times, but I no longer believe it’s a punishment.
The gift of silence reflects the mystery of God. Silence is necessary to develop a trust that isn’t dependent upon word, action, or feeling. It’s the path to submission before God. I’m becoming comfortable with the quieter places of midnight. I no longer need to fill in the silence with assumptions about what God is doing or not doing because I’m learning to embrace mystery.
I can trust God’s silence as much as I can trust His voice. A life of deep faith in God transcends words. Even when He doesn’t speak, I believe that the Lord is still there, doing His sacred, sanctified, midnight work. It has brought contentment to my soul.
The Gift of the Lord
If you struggle with depression, anxiety, grief, or with just being human, I can’t tell you the secret to being free from pain. And I won’t trivialize your suffering by attempting to give a reason for all of it. But I know this: The God who loves you beyond measure never leaves you alone in your midnight. Psalm 139:12 says, “even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to you.” When midnight descends and you can’t see your next step, God sees the path. He’s there with you in the darkness. He’s there in the silence. He will bring His comfort, His peace, and most of all, His presence. In His presence there is no shame.
We will each face dark times in our faith journey. Times when we will not be as bright or as energetic or as accepting of our circumstances. We will ache. We will hurt. We will cry out to the God we love for relief and we might get it — or we might not.
When I’m blinded by anxious thoughts, when I’m fearful and disoriented, I grope around in the darkness searching for my Savior. It’s not pretty. It’s relatively undignified, to be honest. But every time I cry out to the Lord, I’ve found Him there with me in the dark places. Every single time. I’m learning that the deepest need of my heart isn’t relief from pain — it’s the presence of the Lord in the midst of it.
The gifts of midnight have revealed themselves slowly. In my shame, I avoided things like solitude, silence, and community. I didn’t have a place for them because I didn’t allow space for my heartache. I thought I needed healing to be whole. But it’s not true. I don’t need depression to be removed from my life to be content. I don’t need to be rid of struggle or pain. I can live a life of abiding joy and trust in both the light of day and in the darkness of midnight. It’s not easy. It still hurts. But it’s well with my soul.
I prayed to God to take away depression. Instead, He gave me His presence. His grace. His peace. Himself. It wasn’t what I expected. And it’s everything I needed. For that, I’m grateful.
Melissa Maimone writes with transparency, humor, and grace about the darkness of depression and the light of down-to-earth, authentic faith. Drawing from her lifelong battle with anxiety and depression, she speaks and writes to women facing similar struggles, offering hope in the midst of deep pain. She lives with her husband and children in Southern California.
This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine (October 2019). For more articles like this, subscribe to HomeLife.