Part Two… An Inside Look at Spiritual Depression a Personal Story
By Gary Piper
- Scripture quotations marked ESV "Are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."
Quite awhile ago following a sermon I had presented to our church a kindly gentleman commented to me that I was too honest about myself. I cannot recall what my reply was but what I can recall is I disagreed with him. While I believe we cannot be to honest I also believe there needs to be limits put on the minute details on what we reveal about ourselves because of the diversity of our experiences those minute details of our story can and will distract from the basic story. By inserting the details of our story the focus shifts from others to ourselves. Part 2 is my attempt to tell you about my experience with depression. Revealing this part of my story has not come easy when I first discovered I unknowingly entered the valley of depression I immediately opened a closet door where I could lock my experience away thus protecting myself from those who would judge me weak in the faith. A couple of months ago the Holy Spirit began helping me see there may be others who like me have locked away their own experience in the valley of depression. As I walked with the Holy Spirit through my experience in the valley of depression I began to see depression against a different backdrop – the backdrop of spiritual development/growth. In Part 1 wrote:
“While those observations apply to our physical, and mental wellbeing for me they are not adequate observations of our spiritual lives because I believe depression also has a spiritual facet as well. And I believe there are times when our depression rather than being physical or mental is actually spiritual… With those thoughts in mind I am discovering that spiritual depression is not something to be avoided, something where we run and jump into Jesus’ arms but something we need to embrace and take Jesus’ hand and walk with him to the next scene. That does not mean I will go in search of a reason to be depressed it simply means that I will no longer see depression as something to be avoided.”
As I begin revealing my story you need to remember this is only my story as experienced and written from my imagination. And because this is my story it may not be for you, if you are experiencing your own valley of depression while being a spiritual experience it may also stem from a physical/mental reason therefore you may need to see a health care professional.
For me one of the most powerful truths of the bible is its total honesty, in more than a few places it leaves the lives of the biblical powerhouses wide open for all the world to see. Above you’ll notice a picture that depicts the prophet Jeremiah standing over a valley filled with bones. I would like to suggest that instead of thinking of the figure in the picture as Ezekiel but as I write these words I imagine myself standing there. I am sure you are familiar with Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones vision but in case you’ve forgotten or would like to be reminded here’s the biblical account.
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD."
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. (Ezekiel 37:1-10 ESV)
Ezekiel’s vision ends with “an exceedingly great army” however since we are imaging me in the story rather than a great army let’s instead imagine the story ends with the brokenness of my fragmented hopes and dreams ending in a newness of life. For me the main focus of the story is NOT about Ezekiel’s prophetic abilities but about God’s prophetic abilities. What I mean about God’s prophetic abilities is God’s ability to bring about his blessings in our lives. However, it is also about God assisting Ezekiel in understanding his own part in God’s prophetic abilities, in a sense God is prophetically working through Ezekiel to bring about his prophetic blessings. That same prophetic process applies to us as well.
Before going any further lets think about Ezekiel the man first rather than Ezekiel the prophet (even though we really cannot separate the two aspects of his life). Ezekiel stands with head bowed facing a vast valley not of green grass, tall stately trees in full splendor, and fields of fragrant wild flowers, instead he sees a sun shrouded by a heavy layer of clouds, there is no summer breeze only a hot dry howling wind whipping pockets of dust storms. Scattered all over the burning sand are sun-bleached bones, the remnants of a mighty army once feared by everyone and suddenly instead of Ezekiel standing in a valley of dry bones I am now standing in the valley of depression. Using my imagination to visualize myself standing where Ezekiel stood I find myself not just in the valley of depression but also a victim of discouragement and disconnectedness.
One of the things I have discovered about depression is that while it can strike on a moments notice it may have been building for years. Such is the case of my frequent trips to the valley that has been widening for years. As a matter of fact I can tell you the day and hour mine began forming – 3:00 PM, September 16, 1968 and ending around 9:00 AM on April 17, 2009 it was completed and stood in the background waiting for my arrival. September 16, 1968 was my first day of employment and April 17, 2009 was the day I retired. The moment I punched my time card the first day until the time I punched out the last time our hopes and dreams of retirement were building, we were looking for life after Mueller Brass Company.
As I look back at the years of working there were many discouraging times, layoff times, labor strikes, time when monthly bills were more than our paycheck. That also includes 12 major operations and while there were many times of anxiety and frustration I realized as difficult as they were an integral part of life, in other words it was normal to experience them. So if they were a part of normal life how can it be they were at the same time creating the valley of depression? (Side note… It is now March 10th and as I formulate in my mind and imagination my experiences in the valley of depression the words do not come easy in fact I am pulling them out one-by-one out of a deep sense of guilt. So please bear with me as I explore a valley I do not want to see myself in.)
Here’s MY non-technological definition valley of depression: the valley of depression is where hopes and dreams are created one-by-one out of past difficulties and adversities to be experienced in future times, yet present circumstances leave the hopes and dreams broken, shattered, and scattered. For MY present circumstances the valley of depression I find myself in is spiritual and not physical or mental, although others may disagree with me. (Side note… as a reminder do not miss the emphasis I’ve placed on the words my and me. Please do not assume it applies to your experience or your situation. Depression is very serious stuff.)
Since beginning to writing this part over two weeks ago I have made numerous trips to the valley and on one occasion I found myself sitting alone in the sanctuary of the church I attend when suddenly the Holy Spirit spoke to my spirit and pointed out I’d knocked Jesus out of the center of my life and put myself there, “Life is not about your agenda Gary,” the Spirit revealed.
Ouch! I’ve written about that very subject how could I do such a thing, I asked myself. Immediately in my imagination I found myself on my knees begging God to forgive me for dishonoring the blessings he’d given me. After 4 days on my (spiritual) knees the Holy Spirit once again opened my imagination and I discovered a huge difference between Ezekiel’s story and mine. Ezekiel wrote, “The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones.” (Emphasis mine.)
On the morning of March 8th the hand of the Spirit was on me again and set me down at the edge of a valley and rather than just see one figure (me) I saw two and in my private blog I wrote…
Insight… In my imagination I can see Satan standing next to me showing me what my life might have been if I cast off my relationship with my family. “Follow after me and your hopes and dreams will become a reality,” I can hear him saying!
Ah ha! It is Satan who is putting me to the test, it is not God and not anyone it is Satan! With that insight in mind two things come to mind 1) As long as I draw breathe Satan will continue to test me; 2) It is only with the Holy Spirit I will be able to choose things as they are rather than as presented to me by Satan.
I wonder why I haven’t realized this before! Looks like I owe God a real BIG apology for thinking the testing was coming from him. Sometimes I think because I know God has plans for my life I assume that everything that happens to me comes because of God’s plan for my life. But I am learning that is not the case. What happens to me in life is a result of the complexity and diversity of life lived in complex and diverse relationships not only with loved ones but with all others as well. When bad things happen to good people the author is not God but life. God’s plan for life means meeting us in the midst of “bad things” and turning them into “good things”.
I wonder why it is so easy for me to forget Satan’s activity in my life? I suspect it has something to do with his stealth-ness. Looks like one of the first things I pray for at the beginning of each day is the ability to see Satan’s activity I my life.
I wonder how I can go about relating my new found insight with others in such a way that their eyes would be opened to Satan’s stealth-ness in their lives as well.
In retrospect as I reflect back on my many experiences in the valley of depression I am beginning to realize that even though it appears as if Satan was testing me (and will continue to test me) God was using Satan’s own stealth-ness with help from the Holy Spirit to expose himself. I have discovered there is a major difference between knowing something intellectually and experiencing that something. There is a major difference between knowing Satan as the ultimate deceiver and experiencing first hand his ability to deceive.
However, as big a part of taking me to the valley of depression as Satan could (and can) only use what I give him to work with. In other words it was the importance I placed on the hopes and dreams I had for our lives that gave him the “stuff” to exploit my relationship with God. Following the insight given me by the Holy Spirit I ended my private blog with prayer so I would like to end with it.
Father God, words cannot express my love for you and my thankfulness that you have become such a big part of my life. Words cannot express my regret for the times when I have blamed you for all the negative things in my life. words cannot express the many times when I’ve thought it was you who were at fault for cancelling my hopes and dreams for my life. I am so sorry I have caused you pain and disappointments because of my failure to stand on your love for me.
Father God, you are the only power in my life I want to have. While I am powerless to defend myself against Satan I know that he cannot hold a candle to you. Please Father help me to see that the Holy Spirit has been made available to me to not only defend myself against Satan but also to obtain victory over him thus passing the test. AMEN!
(Side note… There was over a two week gap between when I began this part and today yet I have not altered what I wrote those beginning days so if it seems as if there was an important change in my experience it is because there was an important change. Please see this as an example of spiritual growth.)
And so begins Lent 2012, My Spiritual Journey Continues…
Part Three… New hopes and New Inspiration
Grace and PEACE,