By Melissa Maimone
I’ve battled anxiety and depression for most of my life. It has come and gone through the years, but like cobwebs that show up in the corners of my house, the darkness always returns.
I hated being depressed. I fought it. I felt deep shame about it. This formidable presence bullied every area of my life. It undermined my passion. It chipped away at my faith. Its presence in my life made absolutely no sense.
How was I to be strong when I felt so fragile? If I was called to be a light in this world, why was I helpless to shake the darkness in my own heart?
In my appeals to the Lord, I made dramatic courtroom arguments. I told Him how impractical it all was. I told Him He was making a huge mistake. I explained how granting my request for relief would be beneficial for both of us. I flailed my arms around and used impressive, fabulous words in order to convince Him to take the depression and sadness away. I rocked those arguments. Even so, God didn’t budge.
In a letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul explores his own deep pain. In many Bible translations, it’s referred to as a “thorn” in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7) But in the original Greek, the word Paul uses for “thorn” is skolops, which more literally translated means stake; like the kind guys in the movies use to kill vampires. His impairment was more than a slight prick of the finger. Paul was debilitated because of it, and he asked God to take it away three times. In response God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In other words, the answer is, “No, I will not take it away. I’ve got this and you’ve got Me. That is enough.” Like Paul, I asked the God I love and trust to take away this painful stake buried deep in my flesh. And like Paul, the Lord responded with a loving but firm, “No. You’ve got Me. I will be enough for you.”
I believe with all my being that God can heal me, which makes the no all the more painful. I’ve wondered if God is holding out on me. Yet I also believe we have a God whose love is so high, so wide, and so deep we couldn’t see its edges if looking through the Hubble Space Telescope. out of these beliefs—and really, if I am honest, out of sheer exhaustion—I took a radical step: I stopped fighting the darkness. I decided that if my depression 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.
For the first time, I looked at my stake closely. I tried to see it from all angles, but because it’s a part of me, I have only partial perspective. Nevertheless, over the years I’ve poked and prodded and run my fingers along its rough edges and smooth indentations. Because I’m less afraid of the splintery darkness that takes over my heart and mind, I’m more comfortable contemplating its purpose. And here’s what I’ve come to believe: My afflictions are not God’s punishment or cruel game. He is not oblivious or inattentive to my suffering. The stake planted in my flesh is allowed to remain there because God offers His grace instead. He knows my soul needs it more than healing, even when I would argue otherwise. My deepest wounds are invitations to explore the aspects of God that scare me most: His power, His holiness, and His ways, which are so unlike mine. Through my explorations, among my questions and rants and tears, my perspective on the broken places in my soul has changed. I’ve come to believe the darkness has more to offer than just pain.
When you are in pain, wanting relief as soon as possible is only natural. It might feel like your suffering; whether from depression, a broken relationship, or grief is yours alone to experience because you can’t see anyone (or anything) else. Sometimes you can’t hear anything either, because when we are afraid and want to escape, most of us thrash around quite a bit.
But if you quiet your soul just a bit and rest your body for a while, I believe you will hear the voice of the One who loves you most. He is the One who sings songs of love over you. He is the One who has invited you to a life that relies on more than sight or circumstance. And I believe with all my heart this darkness allowed by God is an invitation to discover His powerful grace in unexpected places.
I’ve spent some time here, and my eyes have adjusted to the darkness a bit, so grab my hand and we can go together. Let’s explore this uncomfortable place where we don’t want to be. We will walk step by step into this journey of surrender, suffering, rest, and restoration. We will explore shadowy places, but we will not be alone. Jesus Christ, the lover of our soul and the lifter of our head, will be there too. And in the silence of Midnight, when eyes no longer see and ears are attuned, we will discover God’s gifts in the dark places.
Melissa Maimone is the author of The Radiant Midnight: Depression, Grace, and the Gifts of a Dark Place An exploration of the dark times of the faith journey developed from the psalms of David and lessons she’s learned in her own journey of depression and anxiety. Melissa is a featured speaker at various Christian camps, women’s events and retreats throughout the United States. She and her husband Danny live in Southern California with their two children, three cats, one dog, and a tortoise. She loves Jesus, her family, and her friends. Her hobbies include reading, walking, watching weird documentaries, and searching out the perfect street taco.