Girlfriends in God - June 15, 2009

June 15, 2009 
What Am I Doing in This Pit? 
Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth 
Psalm 40:1-3 “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” (NIV).

Friend To Friend 
It was the spring of 1995 and Spring Breakaway was just around the corner.  Normally this conference 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 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 to 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, so 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.  We had no idea how to navigate these unfamiliar waters.  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 few months, Dan and Betty 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.

Let’s Pray 
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.  

In Jesus’ name, 

Now It’s Your Turn

  • Pour out your heart to your God, asking Him to uncover the dark places in your life.  As He does, record them in your journal using simple, honest words. 
  • Each day, read Psalm 40:1-3 and claim it as a certain hope from God’s heart to yours.   
  • Up until now, 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!

More From The Girls 
I do not like pits – in cherries or in life.  I pray that my journey out of the pit of clinical depression will encourage you or someone you love and bring hope instead of despair.  It is a long, hard road, but through God’s power, grace and love, you can do it!  If God can deliver me, He can deliver you, friend.

You can read Mary’s complete journey from darkness to light in her book, Hope in the Midst of Depression.  (Coming Out of the Dark is also available on CD or as an MP3 download.) Mary also has a weekly online bible study, Light for the Journey.  Check it out! 

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Matthews, NC 28106

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Originally published Monday, 15 June 2009.