Encouragement 05-31-04



May 31, 2004
Encouragement for Today
What Am I Doing in This Pit?
Mary Southerland - Director of Networking, author and speaker for Proverbs 31 Ministries
Key Verse
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, about of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.  Psalm 40:-13 (NIV)

It was the spring of 1995 and Spring Breakaway was just around the corner.  Normally this event was a highlight of my year.  I always looked forward to teaching at this very special retreat for women in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  But not this year.  This year I didn't even want to go, and I certainly did not want to teach.
I felt completely empty and totally drained.  My energy was gone.  My heart and mind seemed paralyzed. I was absolutely exhausted in every way.  But then, I had a right to feel that way.  After all, it had been a nonstop year for me.
My husband, Dan, was the pastor/teacher of Flamingo Road Church, a contemporary, seeker-sensitive ministry in Fort Lauderdale that had exploded in growth that year and begun meeting in multiple services.  I attended every service, going early to welcome newcomers and staying late to smooth any ruffled feathers that came my way.  We were in the process of transitioning from a very traditional church to a very contemporary one.  Change is always hard, but this experience had been a nightmare.  I had never encountered such opposition.  I had never been the target of such criticism.  I had never known such rejection as people I thought were my friends attacked my husband's integrity, heart, and vision.  It seemed as if there was always someone waiting in line to question and criticize what we were doing.  I felt like a walking wound.  I knew we were being obedient to what God had called us to do, but it seemed that many disagreed.  I was hurt and angry, and I did not know what to do with those emotions. 
My ministry as the church pianist had become more of a pain than a joy.  Singing was no longer the overflow of a daughter's full heart, but the hollow performance of a spiritual chore.  I had always loved being a mom, but, lately, even this role felt more like an unwelcome burden.  I was used to being the one who gave help.  I was the one others came to for strength and direction.  I was the great encourager - the caregiver.  People who knew me well would describe me as a  very strong woman.  All of my life, I was driven to excel in everything, and if I couldn't do it perfectly, I didn't do it at all. I was a raging perfectionist...legalistically disciplined...with little sympathy for weak people.  Now I, the strong one, couldn't get out of bed.  The simplest decision sent me into a panic. The great wisdom-giver could not compile a grocery list.  The woman who taught hundreds of women couldn't bring herself to face crowds of any size.  The large tasks of life were out of the question, and even the simplest tasks seemed like huge mountains. 
Meals, housework, and even shopping were all left undone.  If I managed to get out of bed and get dressed by the time my kids got home from school, the day was a success.  All I wanted to do was sleep and be left alone.  I was paralyzed.  I had fallen into a deep, dark, nameless pit.  I had no idea how I got there.  And even more frightening was the stark reality that I had no idea how to get out. 
I decided I was just tired.  All I needed was some rest.  With that hope in hand, my family and I escaped the hot, humid flatlands of Florida to enjoy three weeks in the cool mountains of North Carolina, my favorite vacation spot.  That vacation is a complete blur.  My children knew something was terribly wrong.  They had never seen their mom so quiet...so still...and so sad.  Dan listened patiently as I poured out my fear and confusion night after night.  There seemed to be no answers...only questions.  In his eyes, I could see the growing fear that I felt in my own heart.  We had never been here before.  It was a foreign land.  These were unfamiliar waters that we had no idea how to navigate.  It was very simple.  I was in serious trouble, and I needed help. 
As each day grew darker, Dan and I both realized we had to come up with a plan - quickly!  We decided I would see a Christian counselor Dan often referred people to and in whom he had great confidence.  My first appointment with Betty was uneventful as far as I could tell - and a total waste of time.  I was furious!  She was supposed to "fix" me in those few hours and had failed miserably.  She did, however, accomplish one thing.  She named my pit.
Clinical depression was a problem I knew little about.  Evidently, it was an enemy that strong, committed Christians were not supposed to encounter, because I had never heard anyone in the church even talk about depression, much less admit they struggled with it.  I recoiled at the thought of such blatant weakness in my life.  I felt ashamed of what was obviously a great failure on my part, but I was very desperate and willing to do whatever it took to climb out of that pit.  I also knew I could not make this journey alone.  Over the next months, Dan and Betty, along with many others, climbed down into that dark, slimy pit with me and became God with skin on.  They sounded the alarm and gathered the troops. 
Today, I can say with the certainty of an experienced pit dweller that there is a way out.  I have good news for you, my friend.  You are not alone!  I believe that one reason God allowed me to experience the pit of depression is to help others find the way out.  I want to say to those of you who are in that pit - and to those of you who are peering over the edge of it wondering how to help someone you love - you do not have to be a prisoner of the dark.  You do not have to stay in your pit.  You do not have to stand helplessly by while a friend or family member drowns in the darkness of depression.  We were meant to dwell in the light.  So lift up your head, open up your heart, and listen for the voice of the One who knows you best and loves you most.  He can and will bring you out of the dark.

My prayer for today:
Lord, it seems as if my world has collapsed, hurling me into a deep, dark pit.  I come to you in complete surrender.  I am desperate for you, helpless and afraid.  Please lift me out of this pit and show me the way, Lord.   Amen.

Application steps:
Pour out your heart to your God, asking Him to uncover the dark places in your life.  As He does, record them in simple, honest words.  Each day, read aloud Psalm 40:1-3 and claim it as a certain hope from God's heart to yours. 

Reflection points:
Go back over your life.  When have you experienced the darkness?  How has it affected your life?  In what ways?
What has been your typical response to the dark times in life?  Does that response line up with Psalm 40:1-3?
Do you really believe that if you cry out to God that He will hear your cry?  What does that mean to you?
Are you willing to face and deal with the darkness in your life?
Ask a friend to be your prayer partner this week as you begin this journey to the Light!

Power verses:
Psalm 57:1 O God, have pity, for I am trusting you! I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this storm is past. (TLB)
Psalm 63: 7-8 Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.   My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (NIV)
Isaiah 42: 16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. (NIV)
Psalm 142: 7 Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. (NIV)
Psalm 46: 1 God is our refuge and strength, a tested help in times of trouble. (TLB)

Additional resources:
This material was taken from Coming Out of the Dark by Mary Southerland.

Originally published Monday, 31 May 2004.