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Living in the Fog of Feelings

To speak from my heart would mean I would have to acknowledge the very dark days of postpartum depression I have faced over the eight weeks since our third baby was born. For a number of years, I believed that Christians couldn’t (or maybe shouldn’t) face depression and that the root cause of that depression (if they were to claim going through it) was a lack of trust in God. Because it is true that often sinfulness of varying forms leads to depression, I came to the conclusion that real Christians couldn’t suffer from it unless they were living in sinfulness.

But I found myself misled by my own conclusions, for here I have been walking through postpartum depression. The first day it truly hit was about four weeks after I gave birth. I could feel a cloud over me. I was struggling to meet the demands of my house and keep up with my kids before my husband came home from work and then whisked off to youth group less than an hour after. The effects of weeks of little sleep was catching up. I sat, staring into the air, listening to my kids play around me, listening to the baby crying, and feeling like I just couldn’t go on. I prayed the whole time, asking God to help me through that, asking Him to keep teaching me things. But that didn’t take away the circumstances. I didn’t feel better. I couldn’t pull myself out of the despair I felt.

When Billy came home, he found a wife unable to stop crying for several hours. He asked me what the hardest thing I was going through right then was, and I told him I didn’t want to be alive. He stared at me. “Why would you say something like that?” he asked. I couldn’t even respond.

I have wrestled and struggled through what this means to my walk with God. My whole life, I have been taught over and over again, “Don’t live according to your feelings. Your feelings change; truth doesn’t. Live according to truth.” But that teaching seems to say I should walk through life’s circumstances ignoring that I have feelings. I knew I couldn't believe sinful thoughts that might say, "I don't feel like God loves me, so I'm not going to believe He does." Yet I found myself living in the middle of feelings I couldn’t change or control even while I was believing God was Who He said He was. I felt like I must have a deeper spiritual issue that I couldn’t grasp or “fix” that was causing me to feel this way, yet my soul-searching was bringing up no unconfessed sin. What was physically going on in my body (also what God Himself chose to put me through) was pushing me through feelings of darkness, inadequacy, grief.

Yet here is what I have found: God does not expect me to annihilate my feelings. They are a part of my humanity. Ecclesiastes clearly states that there is a time to weep and a time to mourn (3:4). This is the reality of living in a sinful world. “Happiness” in hurting circumstances is out of place and detaches us from others around us who are hurting. I can't always have a smile on my face.

God Himself has feelings that were never sinful, and I think our feelings show, in part, how we have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). The Bible shows that God the Father felt grief in Genesis 6:6, when He looked at the wickedness of men and was sorry He had created them. When Lazarus died, Jesus Christ not only wept, but He was “deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33-35). He withdrew Himself “to a desolate place by Himself” when John the Baptist was martyred (Matthew 14:13). He was in full emotional torment in the Garden of Gethsemene before His crucifixion, praying “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42, 44).

Often, the greatest biblical source of comfort that Christians run to through pain are the Psalms, where David’s words mimic our hearts’ feelings. Even being the “man after God’s own heart,” David confesses, “I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing…” (Psalm 31:9-10b). Repeatedly, he cries out to God with the troubles and turmoil he faces that have led him to physical and emotional distraught. As David wrote so many psalms of this nature over a long period of time, we could conclude that he faced this kind of distress (might we say “depression”?) over a large portion of his life. His trust and faith in God didn’t make his feelings go away.

David’s time spent with God rather proved to him that God could be trusted, even when the circumstances never changed. Later in Psalm 31, he says, “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’”

As I stepped back and looked at my own relationship with God, I realized that it wasn’t a spiritual problem of my heart that had led me to this situation. Granted, depression or feelings through difficult circumstances never excuse thinking or acting sinfully. But this was a circumstance God was using to pull me to Himself, an opportunity that I could trust Him through it. James explains that in trials of varying kinds, the consistent, persistent testing of faith will produce steadfastness (Greek hupomone), and I (as his reader) am instructed to let that steadfastness work, let it come to its full effect over time, so that I can “be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4).

So, I choose to walk through this circumstance fully trusting that God is who He says He is. I am learning to stop trying to get out of it, and to stop feeling guilty for going through it. I am not expecting it to end just because I have verses memorized or because I get up on Sunday and go to church. I fully expect God to continue to teach me about Himself as I read His Word, share with others His truth, and obey His commands (which do include being with the body of Christ). I am surrounding myself with a community of godly friends who are willing to give me truth and walk this road with me. I am learning the need for rest as a proof of my humanity (I am not God, who does not sleep) and my physical dependence on God. I am learning that I need physical, tangible help through these days. And above all, I am learning that God’s goodness and love to me remain unchanged.

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