How to Have Hope in the Midst of Depression

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How to Have Hope in the Midst of Depression

Joy is the deeply rooted confidence that God is in control – no matter what the circumstances may be – no matter what our feelings are – no matter what! Our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outer circumstances. We can find joy - even in the pit.

"I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out 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." (Psalm 40:1-3, NIV)

I had almost forgotten what it felt like to wake up at the bottom of that bottomless, ugly pit called clinical depression. Almost. The darkness has been an all too familiar companion for most of my life.

In 1995, the bottom fell out of my life, and I spent two long years climbing out of that pit of darkness. I wrote a book titled "Hope in the Midst of Depression" that describes the painful but healing journey that totally and completely changed who I was and what I would become in the years ahead. God re-defined me and gave me a new song to sing as He opened doors for me to speak to women across the world about how to find hope in the midst of depression. I have often said, "I would go through that pit experience again tomorrow because of what God has done in my life through it." I really meant those words. I just didn't think that "tomorrow" would really come. But it did. What was I supposed to do then?

I went back to the place where it all began – to the place of complete brokenness - and remembered. Evidently, the Father had some new truths for me to learn. And I had forgotten some of the truths God taught me in the darkness. Depression may not be the problem you face, but hard times will come, and the pit of darkness will find each of us. It may be a pit that we have dug with our own hands of wrong choices, or it could be a pit that has been uniquely designed for us by the enemy. But a pit is a pit – a place of paralyzing fear and numbing doubt that is constantly fed by our human frailty and desperate attempts to escape the darkness.

Let's explore four steps we can take in order to find fresh hope and new freedom from the darkness.

Step 1: Identify the Purpose of the Pit

I underwent what I thought was going to be a simple medical procedure, but when I woke up in recovery, I knew I was in trouble. The surgery went great, according to the doctor, but she had not expected to find so much scar tissue and repair work to do. I certainly had not expected to experience the level of pain, soreness, and inability to function that overwhelmed me.

I was basically helpless. And I do not like to be helpless. I had given myself a whole ten days to recuperate, but it was brutally apparent that recuperation was going to be a long time coming. In fact, those ten days I had so generously carved out of my schedule turned into months of excruciating and slow recovery. I could feel myself sliding into that familiar pit of darkness.

Honestly, I just wanted to stay in that darkness. It seemed easier than trying to climb out of that pit again. I remembered how hard it had been the first time. I wasn't sure I could do it again. I wasn't sure I even wanted to do it again. You see, I have a problem with pride. It has always been extremely hard for me to accept help. I was raised to be strong and independent. So, when anyone asked what they could do to help out during my recovery, I automatically responded with, "I am fine. I will let you know if I need anything." Fortunately, my family and friends ignored that absurd assertion and stepped right over my pride as they brought meals, cleaned the house, did laundry, assumed my teaching and speaking responsibilities, and kept our infant grandson while our daughter attended school three days a week.

I could not even get out of bed or go downstairs without help – and I did not like it one bit! I was furious – with the doctor, with my own human frailty, and with God! Just like a tiny flame can turn into a raging fire, unresolved anger can turn into depression. I soon realized that one purpose of this particular pit was a truth I often shared but failed to practice.

We were created to need God and to need each other. It is so easy to slide into a pattern of thinking, much like the prideful toddler who announces, "I do it myself!" We can't! And the good news is that we don't have to! Lay down your pride, and let fresh hope fill your life. The first step of finding hope in the midst of the darkness is to identify the purpose. Trust me. If you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the purpose of your pit – He will.

Step 2: Choose a Response to the Pit 

We have several choices about how to deal with the pain and darkness in life. We can become bitter and blame God or someone else for the pain, or we can give up and wallow in the mire and mud of that slimy pit. I am guilty of plastering a smile on my face, gritting my teeth, and denying that the pit even exists.

However, the choice we should make is to trust God, knowing He will deliver us. He may deliver us from the pit, or He may deliver us in the pit. And we have to be okay with either way God chooses to deliver us. The Apostle Paul was an expert in squeezing a seed of victory and truth out of every tough circumstance. 

"So that I would not become too proud of the wonderful things that were shown to me, a painful physical problem was given to me. I begged the Lord three times to take this problem away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is enough for you.'" (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NCV)

Paul was not sinning by asking God to remove his affliction. Paul may not have understood what God was doing, but he chose to accept it because he knew God's heart.

Step 3: Embrace the Power of the Pit

"But he said to me, 'My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.' So, I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ's power can live in me." (2 Corinthians 12:9, NCV) 

God was sending Paul a message of hope. It is important to note the tense of the verb in this verse. "But he said to me" can be translated "He (God) has once-for-all said to me." It is an eternal promise. 

God's grace turns defeat into victory, tragedy into triumph, and weakness into strength by providing real power over circumstances. God will not only enable us to survive the hard times, but He will also help us thrive in and because of each trial we will ever face. Paul used his pain and chose to make that pit work for him – and God's power was unleashed in Paul's life.

Step 4: Find Joy in the Pit

"I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ's power can live in me." (2 Corinthians 12:9, NCV)

Joy is not an earthly treasure. Joy is a heavenly gift from our loving Father. God created us to be vessels that contain His joy. Part of the problem is that we do not understand what real joy is. Joy is the deeply rooted confidence that God is in control – no matter what the circumstances may be – no matter what our feelings are – no matter what! Our inner attitudes do not have to reflect our outer circumstances. We can find joy - even in the pit.

"So, we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever." (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV)

In an effort to escape the brutal summer heat of South Florida, our family headed to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Parkway was one of our favorite spots for hiking, so we planned a day trip that included a visit to the beautiful and historic colonial home of Carl Sandburg. We woke to discover the beautiful weather of the day before had dissolved into a soupy mix of drizzle and fog. But we were not about to let a little fog and rain deter us from our original plan. We piled into our van and made our way up the mountain. The closer we got to the Sandburg home, the heavier the fog became. In fact, when we arrived, the fog was so thick we could barely see the walkway leading to the gift shop where we needed to purchase tickets for the tour. We decided we would have to come back another day for the tour, but since we were already at the gift shop, it wouldn't hurt to do a little browsing.

The shop owner greeted us warmly and asked if we would like to purchase tickets for the guided tour scheduled to leave in an hour. Always the diplomat, I responded, "Have you looked outside?" The owner smiled and said, "Oh, you mean the fog? It will be gone in a little while. Now – how many tickets do you need?" I don't like pushy salespeople, even when they are sweet and kind – and maybe a little near-sighted. "I think we'll just wait and see if the fog actually lifts," I responded, convinced that the thick fog would last all day. I resumed my browsing. 

I lost track of time and was surprised to hear the owner announce, "The tour is leaving in 15 minutes. This is our final call for tickets." I walked out of the gift shop to discover that the fog really was lifting, and the skies were actually beginning to clear. I couldn't believe my eyes! Within minutes, the sun was shining - as if the fog had never existed.

It sometimes feels as if the fog of doubt and fear of darkness will never lift from our lives. The promises of God seem to get swallowed up by the problems we face. We want to curse our crisis when what we need to do is choose to praise God in the midst of that crisis. The hurt and pain overwhelm our faith, and we lose sight of the fact that this world is not our home and that the troubles we face are only temporary. Lift up your eyes. Fix your heart and mind on God – He is with you.

"I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV)

Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Riccardo Mion

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.