Responding to your letter of 7/4 is a high priority and privilege. Thank you for inviting me to speak my heart about depression. You have sent your letter to both a first aid station and a general's tent. Let me quote your words. Someone else may read this letter and be blessed by our correspondence.
“I was wondering if you could give me some insight into something. I'd like to know how you were able to cope during the times of depression and how you were able to push through.”
Only those who have experienced the dark night of depression have the right to speak or write about this subject. Others far too easily and quickly speak with condemnation. As you already know firsthand, depression can descend at any age, any time and for no apparent reason. It is like a dark cloud suffocating the soul; it is like claws piercing, paralyzing and immobilizing our whole being. It is hard to verbalize the pain, especially to those who have never experienced it. Nevertheless I will try. Depression can last an hour, a day, a month, a year or even many years. And just as suddenly as this dark cloud can descend, just as quickly and as unexplainably can it lift. It does not make sense, at least not to our human intellect.
The current buzzword for depression is that there may be a “chemical imbalance” in the brain that triggers depression. No one at this point knows for sure if the problem is strictly physical, mental, spiritual or a combination of all three. There is no one, absolutely no one, who can unequivocally say, “This or that is the correct explanation and solution;” although a few people continue to try. The best I can do for you, dearest Linda, is to honestly tell you about my own battles, how I survived, and finally how I was set free. I can also tell you what I am doing to avoid slipping into another depression. Whether or not I will, only God knows. I am still alive; or maybe I should now say: “Christ in me, the hope of glory,” is alive!
When the saints of old spoke about “The Dark Night of the Soul,” they may very well have referred to what we call “depression” today. When King David wrote the 23rd Psalm, he may have been in a depression, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. During these desperate times he learned to hold on and trust the Word of his God; for he could neither feel nor see the path ahead of him. And this is what I have had to learn. This is what you have had to learn. That is what we all have to learn. I remember a vision I had some thirty years ago. I was standing at a gate. I was almost ready to walk through the gate when I sensed a very long line of people standing in back of me. Somehow I knew their eyes were on me. If I failed to enter the gate, so would they. That vision has continued to challenge me to persevere and not allow myself to go over the edge. “If I can hang on until the sun rises again, I will live,” has been my heart's cry at times. I pray this letter will help many to pass through the gate and into His presence.
I have been in two major depressions in my life. The first one came when I was fifty, the second one about five years later. Each one lasted for three or four months. When I was in this state of despair, I was nearly paralyzed. I was unable or unwilling to engage in any gainful activity, always tired and weary, sullen in countenance, morose in my disposition, hard to be around, unwilling to meet people or answer the phone, unable to find pleasure in a good meal, encouraging words, good books or pleasurable activity. God seemed far away. I wanted everyone to leave me alone. I felt crowded by a hug, which I normally enjoy to give and receive. My ability to draw inspiration or life from the Scriptures was minimal. Life was not only difficult for me, but also for those who loved me and had to endure my presence.
I did not seek help or counsel from professionals. I did not solicit or appreciate advice of any kind, especially advice that was unsolicited. I had a need to find and fight my way through this jungle by holding on to the hand of Jesus as best as I could. It took every ounce of strength I could muster to get through each day. The only people I permitted in my life were my immediate family and those who spontaneously surfaced for no apparent reason. I remember one lady coming with her two small children. They had just come from a birthday party. Each one had a balloon. One of them tied their balloon to Susie's collar, our golden retriever. From my vantage point I could not see the dog, only the balloon dancing behind the couch and chairs. That did more to cheer me up than anything else I remember.
The depression came upon me four months after my Dad died at the age of 91. Rebekah and I had rushed to California to be of help and comfort to my Mother. Rebekah returned to Pagosa Springs a few days later. I remained in Rancho Bernardo attending to my Mother's needs; and they were many and continuous. One day, some four months later, I raised my hand in anger towards my Mother. Although I did not strike her, I realized I was totally exhausted, nearly out of control and could no longer be her caregiver. My thought was, “Get back to Colorado as quickly as possible and everything will be all right.” But everything was not all right. I slipped into a deep depression, a state of mind and mood totally unknown to me heretofore. I felt like a dead man walking.
One day, several months later, a friend asked me to make a sandblasted sign for her with the words: “BE ENCOURAGED”. I reluctantly filled the request. A few weeks later Rebekah and I delivered it to her home. As we walked into the house we could not fail to notice her young son of about 12 playing with some toy cars at the kitchen table. He was in a wheel chair, paralyzed by cerebral palsy. He only had control over his neck muscles. A pencil was secured to a headband. The eraser was pointing outward. The young boy used this makeshift device to arrange his toy cars in a straight line. Whenever another car got lined up, a screech of delight could be heard. He was not able to express himself any other way. Contrary to what anyone might expect, his mother had the face of an angel in the midst of such adversity.
This picture of mother and son was like shock treatment for my besieged soul. Inwardly I was totally ashamed and convicted of my sullen disposition. I could drive a car, read a book, wash dishes, cut the lawn, talk and see clearly; and yet I acted like I was the most miserable person in the whole world. From that moment forward I purposed in my heart to act like a grateful human being even though I might not feel like it. The picture of that boy and his mother has never left me. It continues to challenge me not to allow my emotions to immobilize me or determine the look on my face. I don't always succeed, but I continue to try. At times I secluded myself when the pain and exhaustion was too great. Trying to explain my pain to someone just made things worse.
The depression did not lift, but I tried to act as if it did. Maybe a month later we were invited to spend a week with very special friends in Lubbock, Texas. On the way to Lubbock we dropped off the manuscript of our book at the printer in Albuquerque. That provided closure to a long and exhausting project. Our friends in Lubbock always treated us like royalty. We had our own bedroom, TV, an unlimited supply of Snicker bars and supper at any restaurant of our choice. One morning, two days after we arrived, I awoke and the depression had totally lifted. It was a miracle. One thing is for sure, “Love Heals.” Maybe not right away, but by and by.
Five years later another depression engulfed me. It was shortly after we completed building “The Upper Room,” a guest apartment for the walking wounded. I had become one of them. We labored for two years to build the apartment over our garage. I poured myself into this project. When it was finally completed and ready to be used, I was totally exhausted. After its completion my only thought was to sell our home and move. Where, I did not know. When I am depressed, I make poor decisions and should not make any. Thanks to Rebekah's guiding and restraining influence during such times, this did not happen. Today some thirteen years later, we are still enjoying our beautiful log home on Lake Pagosa; and so do many others who come to sit in Jesus' lap in “The Upper Room.” It has become a place of rest and spiritual renewal for many. I am allowed to feel their exhaustion the moment they walk in the door.
I do remember that numerous friends prayed for me during both seasons of my depression. God answered these prayers in unique ways. The second depression vanished as mysteriously as the first. One night I had a most unusual dream. In this dream I was in a basement filled with people. It might have been a tavern. I walked amongst the people dressed in a heavy overcoat with big pockets. My pockets were filled with copies of our story, “The Wood Blossom” - A Search for Sanity in an Insensitive World. I passed these books out to anyone who wanted a copy until there were none left. Then I stumbled out of the basement totally exhausted. I was so exhausted I could not take another step. I found myself on a dusty country road. There was a fence on one side. I laid down next to the fence. A few moments later a crack appeared in the earth's crust where I was lying. Some unknown force was trying to pull me deep inside the bowls of the earth. Before this happened I could make the decision whether or not to wake myself and thereby interrupt the dream. I decided against it and said to myself, “Whatever happens, let it happen.” The earth pulled me into its very innermost parts as I sank into the deepest sleep I can remember. When I awoke, the depression had lifted. I have not had a major depression since that time. I shared the dream with a friend who said, “In your dream you entrusted your whole being to God.” When we do this, we enter into God's true rest and healing is possible.
I am hard pressed to believe that my depression was as a result of a chemical imbalance, although it could have been. It is common knowledge that some women as they go through menopause can experience severe mood swings. These can often be corrected with hormone supplements, either natural or synthetic ones. The sudden manner in which my depression came and left leads me to believe that it was “The Dark Night of My Soul” during which I learned to just hang on to the hem of Jesus' garment. I also choose not to believe that my pain was a waste. Shared suffering creates a real bond and trust between people. And that bond is a true gift from God. I feel closer to you than ever.
I was inwardly restrained not to medicate myself with anti-depressants. I had a need to come face to face with this monster of doom and gloom. By the grace of God I survived. I have more than survived. Jesus has become more real and personal and so have the powers of darkness that tried to snuff out my life. My wife Rebekah has also labored under heavy clouds of depression. She said, “It was like I was living in a black hole.” These clouds came upon her one day when she was only 12 and remained until the age of 27 when Jesus visited her in a most personal and powerful way. Intermittently since that time depression has gripped her soul; but she too has learned to lean on and trust Jesus to get her through these valleys of the shadow of death. Every journey through that valley seems to be tailor made for each individual. Many of King David's psalms show us that he battled numerous depressions. It is in those valleys we learn who we are, who our adversary is and who our God is. Some of the most beautiful poems, songs and psalms have been birthed during those midnight hours when death tries to beckon us as the most logical option. But right now, I ask the Lord Jesus to rebuke the angel of death until God's appointed hour has arrived.
I believe we become candidates for depression every time we pour our lives out to the point of total exhaustion. Exhaustion is the enemy of every good soldier. When I ask myself what I might have done differently, the answer is, “Pace yourself, Peter. Don't tackle any project in your own strength. Don't give your oil to everyone who asks you for oil. Use wisdom in your giving. Always hang on to Jesus' hand. Encourage others and you will encourage your own heart. In other words, do nice things for those who hurt. Don't attend or throw pity parties. Don't allow anger to rise up against God or others when you hurt. Be an intelligent and loving steward of your own body, mind and soul.” I am going to include with my letter an excellent two tape “Lives in Crisis” series by Pat Robertson entitled “Dealing with Depression and Brokenheartedness.” Pat draws a much more complete and precise picture about depression than I have or can. There is no hesitation in my spirit to say “Amen” - I agree with his words.
I do not believe there is a generic answer for depression - one size fits all. I do not believe all the answers will ever be found between the covers of a self-help book. I believe our Creator has created life-situations that compel us to come to Him and one another to unwrap the graveclothes we are wearing. As long as we inhabit this frail human body and sin-sick world, pain and suffering can either be viewed as a curse or as a catalyst. It can bring us to God, to our knees, to repentance and to our senses or drive us away from Him. Pain can serve as a wake-up call that causes our soul to awaken from its deep slumber. The concordance in my Bible has a whole string of references under the words “suffer” and “suffering.” The verses that are referenced have always been filled with comfort and consolation for me. Pain invites us not only into the fellowship of His suffering, but also into the fellowship of His resurrection and glory.
Last night I dreamt that the debris dumped upon the fire in my soul threatened to suffocate that fire. My soul was in great anguish when I awoke. Maybe I was interceding for a loved one in prison or what the apostle Paul refers to as “groaning in the spirit.” (Romans 8:26). It was a real effort to plow through the day. Was I depressed or was I interceding for an imprisoned soul? Before the day was over the latter was confirmed. There must be a very fine, almost indistinguishable line between intercession and depression. It is time for that subtle difference to be exposed. “Show us, teach us, Lord Jesus.”
I know, dearest Linda, there will be those who read this epistle who will sense God's loving, outstretched hand. There will be those upon whom God's Spirit will fall like dew from heaven; and suddenly they will break through their depression or time of intercession. Many will have played a part in the miracle. You will have played a part. Tara will have played a part. The person who gave us this computer will have played a part. My handmaiden Rebekah will have played a part. My Mother will have played a part. The young boy with cerebral palsy and his beautiful mother will have played a part. Many unnamed saints who have experienced “The Dark Night of the Soul” will have built that invisible bridge between heaven and earth upon which the angels of God travel back and forth to bring hope and healing. Oh, how wonderful to have been chosen to build that invisible bridge together with you and others.
For the last twelve days I have been wondering why I have been unable to put a period at the end of this letter and say, "It is finished." This morning, Thursday, July 20th, I knew why. Let me explain.
Yesterday we received a book in the mail from our friend, John Curtis. John has been a part of our lives since June of 1982. On June 12th, 1982 John visited us together with one of his co-workers, Darrell Scott. This morning I looked for his name in our guest book. And sure enough, there it was, Darrell & Beth Scott. Rachel Scott did not sign the book. She was only a baby then. But who is Rachel Scott? Many will remember the shooting at Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999. Rachel was murdered, shot in cold blood together with ten others by two teenage assailants. On that day Rachel became a martyr for Jesus.
The book we received is called, “Rachel's Tears”. The byline reads: “The Spiritual Journey of Columbine Martyr Rachel Scott.” On the cover it also says, “Featuring excerpts from her private journals.” After reading a few excerpts from the book this morning, dearest Linda, I knew I had the words to finish my letter to you. I will quote two entries here, but do hope you will purchase the book and read all of it. The first entry was penned one year before her death, the second one just a few days before she died.
Why do I feel dry in Your Spirit? Why do I feel that the fire has died within me, yet so many claim they see the light of You, oh God, burning brightly? Why do I have to feel moments of doubt, distrust, disbelief, stages of anger, & states of loneliness when it comes to You, Father? Why do I lose focus of You during praise and worship as well as prayer? Why can't I completely be consumed by You? Why can't I be used by You? Why do I feel self-righteous at times? Why do I feel afraid?
Rachel's father, Darrell Scott, prefaces the next words from Rachel's diary. “The courage to stand for godly truth, in a time and place where you may feel you are standing alone, can best be drawn from my daughter Rachel's own words, penned in her personal journal only a few days before her untimely young death on April 20, 1999.”
In my own lake of despair.
My hands wrapped around my neck.
I'm dying Quickly my soul leaves, slowly my body withers.
It isn't suicide. I consider it homicide.
The world you have created has lead to my death.
I believe we have plowed through to some fresh answers, fresh hope and fresh ammunition. Depression is a deadly cocktail, a poisonous cloud, a black hole. But let us also be quick to ask, “Is it really depression or are we interceding, praying and warring for someone else's life?” Depression can be deadly and lead to suicide. A self-inflicted death grieves God, surviving family and friends. Don't do it. Don't even think of doing it. It is never the right answer. It is one of the worst legacies we can give to our children. It gives glory to no one except the devil. Intercession, on the other hand, may also lead to death; but it is death through martyrdom. Martyrdom equates to victory over the powers of darkness. Rachel Scott was a martyr. Her death has already swept thousands into the Kingdom of God. Lord, I thank you for every intercessor. I thank You for Rachel Scott and others like her. I thank you for being our High Priest and victorious Intercessor. I thank You for being my intercessor. Lord, I partner with every person who looks to You for the answer and victory, who will not quit, who is willing to persevere against ALL odds.
“Intercessors, ARISE! Weep and war over those languishing under clouds of depression.”
In the grip of His grace,
Jesus' Stretcher Bearer
965 Cloud Cap Avenue
Pagosa Springs, Colorado 81147, USA
PS. I am including the poem “Columbus” by Cincinnatus Hiner Miller, also known as Joaquin Miller (1841-1913). The words of this poem are from the General's Tent.
Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores;
Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
For lo! The very stars are gone.
Brave Adm'r'l, speak; what shall I say?”
“Why, say: "Sail on! sail on! and on!”
“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Adm'r'l, say,
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say, at break of day:
"Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”
They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.
These very winds forget their way,
For God from these dread seas is gone
Now speak brave Adm'r'l; speak and say”
He said: “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”
They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:|
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight;
He curled his lips, he lies in wait,
With lifted teeth, as if to bite:
Brave Adm'r'l, say but one good word;
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”
Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
And peered through darkness.
Ah, that night Of all dark nights!
And then a speck - A light! A light! A light! A light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time's burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: “ON! SAIL ON!”
Words from the First Aid Station:|
“YOU ARE LOVED”
Words from the General's Tent:
“ON! SAIL ON!”