I wrote awhile back of what it is like when the lights go out in my fragile mind. I had a pretty intense period of darkness that finally seems to have lifted yesterday (Praise God!). One of the things that really helped me in the midst of darkness was John Piper’s When the Darkness Will Not Lift. I wanted to mention two points of counsel that really helped my soul. They may be surprising.
Start with Despair
It is really difficult being a pastor that struggles with depression. I feel a ton of added pressure to kick this depression thing. You never want your darkness to negatively shape your preaching, counseling, planning, or other duties. Because I am usually the one doing the counseling it can be very tempting to counsel yourself and try to turn to some sort of self-effort to rescue yourself from this darkness. That is why I found this counsel particularly helpful:
“Start at the easiest place for those in darkness. Start with despair. Despair of finding any answer in yourself. I pray that you will cease from all efforts to look inside yourself for the rescue you need. I pray that you will do what only desperate people can do, namely, cast yourself on Christ. May you say to him, “You are my only hope. I have no righteousness in myself. I am overwhelmed with sin and guilt. I am under the wrath of God. My own conscience condemns me, and makes me miserable. I am perishing. Darkness is all about me. Have mercy upon me. I trust you.” (Piper, 21)
To be honest, those types of paragraphs are not all that soothing at first. But they become like a cartoon character swallowing a Mexican jumping bean. It bounces around inside your heart and soul and shakes things up. Eventually words like this start to calm voices of darkness and heals brokenness, pain, and sin with the beautiful gospel.
You might think that telling a depressed person to cast themselves on Christ as helpless sinners would be counter-productive but it is not. And that is why I appreciate the boldness of Piper and his unswerving trust in the powerful gospel. It is a means that God used to heal my soul.
Duty Includes the Duty of Joy
The last thing that a person in darkness wants to hear is that they are more guilty and messed up than they think they are. But it is, oddly enough, in this truth that I found refuge. After encouraging me to “repent and confess the sin of gloomy faith” Piper says this:
I am aware that this may sound like an added burden to to the one who is in spiritual darkness. But it is not an added burden. If it is a burden at all, it is already there and not added by calling it what it is. Failing to rejoice in God when we are commanded to rejoice is sin. False comforts lead to artificial healing. But the truest diagnoses lead to the deepest cures. (Piper, 49-50)
This in itself may not be all that helpful. But when you are reminded of this in light of the gospel (which Piper faithfully exposits throughout this little booklet) it helps the message of Christ actually heal brokenness and sin. If I am parading around like I am only a victim and not also a sinner and I try to apply the gospel only to my “depression” but not also my sin then it’s not going to go deep enough. If I am guilty, then I really need healing.
So thank you John Piper for being truthful and preaching the gospel to me. I am grateful that the Spirit of God used your words to massage my soul and make the lights start to flicker on again. May the Lord be glorified in both my anguish and joy!
If you battle depression and have seasons of darkness you may want to purchase When the Darkness Will Not Lift.