Swimming in the Deep

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- Carissa Woodwyk

I have a friend who lost her mom.

I have a friend who lost his job.

I have a friend who has chronic pain.

I have a friend who lost his ability to run and exercise.

I have a friend who had a miscarriage.

I have a friend whose wife cheated on him.

I have a friend who had baby blues.

I have a friend who can't secure a job.

I have a friend who was abused years ago.

I have a friend who was betrayed by a friend.

I have a friend who feels like no one loves him.

...and their hearts ache.

What happens when life changes? When we lose something or someone significant? When something gets taken or taken advantaged of? When our purpose or identity or role fades?

Our world begins feeling so different, and sometimes, really scary.

Our mind begins swirling with that question, ”Why?”

Our heart begins swimming in unknown places. 

Sometimes we swim. Sometimes we sink.

Sometimes we ask for help. Sometimes we don't know how or who to ask for help.

And so we wade into the deep waters...alone.

We sink, deeper and deeper and deeper...until it becomes hard to even breathe.

No one ever gave us a manual on that - how to navigate the deep, dark, unforged places of the heart.

We hear the word “depression” all the time. It's all around us. Friends and family, professionals and pastors, moms and housemates. Probably all of us know of someone right now who would describe themselves as depressed, or even despaired. The loss of hope consumes us.

So, if it's that common, then why are so few people talking about it? Why do so many wear a veil of shame? Why are there so many quietly hiding? Why do we suffer silently?

Here are a few thoughts...

We have an enemy – someone who is out to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). I have this notion that what the enemy would love to steal and kill and destroy is our heart. If he can “depress” the very place that creates and motivates and moves us...to bring forth life and bear God's image - in us and in other people – then that would be brilliant, right? Isn't the heart a perfect target? And then when that “good” place feels so “bad,” we don't feel like we're being “good” Christians. We're embarrassed. We're scared. We hide. But, be aware...it might not be the job or relationship or circumstance depressing you, it may just be that you have an enemy.

For some, depression poured into their life quickly and instantly. For others, it entered slowly and steadily. Whichever way you met it, it doesn't feel good. The emotions, wherever they came from, are fierce and deep and life-sucking. Everything inside of you wants to escape and get rid of and get out of and be done with. You feel stuck, pinned, sqwashed, debilitated, despaired, dead. Any energy that you have is used to exist and survive. The agony...it drowns. The hard and ugly and awful feelings are forced down, shoved aside and literally “depressed.”

But...what if suffering is the very antidote you need? What would it look like to give yourself permission to actually feel those feelings? We live in a culture, especially a Christian culture, that praises people for not feeling too deeply, less they be dramatic or overly sensitive. We report that someone is doing “good” or that they're “strong” after they've lost a loved one if they're not crying too much or hurting too much or grieving too much. Something just isn't natural about that. Why wouldn't a person be lamenting deeply after someone they loved is gone? It's kind of like we don't allow one another to be human. So, maybe the better question is, “What does it look like to give yourself permission to be human?” A mentor of mine encourages me to suffer creatively – to allow my suffering to birth something new. To me, this means, “Allow myself to feel...to feel deeply. Weep. Ache. Yearn. Wrestle. Ask. Despise. Kick. Yell. Go to those deep heart spaces because that is where God can speak to me. Let my head sink deep into my heart, and then listen...for how he wants to birth something new...in me...to make me more like him. Because he loves me – all of me – that much.”

Don't run from your humanity. Follow it.

And to those who know the person who is depressed...I don't have the perfect formula for what to “do,” but I have a few suggestions of what NOT to do:

Don't send the message, “Your heart, your emotion – it's too much for me.”

Don't distance yourself. Don't run away. Just ask, ”What do you need? Right now? Today? This week?

Don't quote Scripture. Just plain unhelpful.

Don't rescue with your words. You can't. It's not your job.

Offer your strength. Offer your consistency. Offer your empathy. Offer your ear. Offer your voice.

“You're gonna make it. You're gonna get through this. I will believe this for you when you can't.”

Remind that person of who he/she is. Depression doesn't define anyone.

Maybe saying, “I am with you” is the best thing you could do.

And then listen...to how God asks you to step towards that person.

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Carissa Woodwyk is a Korean adoptee, wife, mother, and a licensed counselor and marriage and family therapist. She is also a co-author of Before You Were Mine: Discovering Your Adopted Child's Lifestory. She enjoys speaking on relationships, marriage, identity, adoption and the human heart. She and her husband have two children and live in Hudsonville, MI. You can read carissa's work on her blog here and keep up with her on facebook here