Originally published Saturday, 18 April 2015.
Whenever my children have a birthday or some other occasion where I anticipate they will receive presents, I prep them beforehand on what to say and do when they open a present. I tell them to smile and thank the giver for their gift. I remind them not to say that they don't like the present or that the item isn't something that they want or need.
While we often receive presents from well intentioned loved ones that we do not want or need, the gifts God gives us are different. They are just what we need. Some of his gifts we acknowledge right away and thank him for it. Whether it's the good news about a baby, a job promotion, or a beautiful sunset, we respond with joy and gratitude.
Yet there are other gifts he gives that we don't recognize as good gifts. They don't come wrapped in pretty bows. In fact, we might not realize he is the sender of the gift at all. These are gifts that only over time do we look back and see them for what they are.
For me, depression is one of those gifts.
The Apostle Paul wrote about suffering as being a gift in his letter to the Philippians. He wrote, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (1:29). The word 'granted' here means 'gifted.' It has been gifted to us to not only believe but to also suffer. We'll take the gift of salvation any day, but the gift of suffering, that's another matter. That's the kind of gift that doesn't fit nicely into a box. It doesn't wrap well. And it's certainly not received with open arms.
But as James, Paul, and Peter point out, suffering is a gift that is intended for our good. Though the particular trial we experience is not good in and of itself, it is used by God for his glory and our ultimate spiritual good. Because it is in our trials that we are transformed into the likeness of Christ:
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4).
"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:1-5).
"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).
When I first unwrapped the gift of depression, I was not grateful. I did not smile and say, "Just what I've always wanted!" But like Joseph, looking back, I can see how God used something bad for my good (see Genesis 50:20). Though there is nothing good about depression, God used it for my good. He used it to draw me deeper into his grace. He used it to strip me of self-reliance and self-righteousness. He humbled me through it. He used it to show me my great need for Jesus and to turn me toward him, the source of my peace and joy.
Because had I not known darkness, I would not now appreciate the light. And so I can say with confidence what Spurgeon once said, "I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages."
Suffering is to be expected in the life of a Christ follower. We should not be surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12). When we suffer, in whatever form it takes, we are following in the steps of Christ. "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). But we have this hope, that joy lies on the other side of suffering. Eternity with Christ awaits us. And what we experience now can't even be compared with what is to come. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
If we are in Christ, may we accept all God's gifts with open hands, whether they are wrapped in pretty bows or not. And in due time, as we look back and see what God has done, may we return thanks to him, rejoicing in his work of sanctification as he prepares us for that wondrous day when faith will be sight and all our hopes will be revealed.