My God

I feel like I am at the bottom of a cliff. I’m in the water and the waves are crashing over me one after another. It seems to never end. I guess it’s tidal because every now and then I get a couple of months pause, where breathing is temporarily easier. Like the waves are smaller and I can keep my head above the water. Generally though, I feel as though I am drowning but never dying. It’s exhausting.

I have so much to be thankful for, and there is a part of me which feels horribly guilty for the fact that I – who has so much – should still feel so hopeless. And I find myself despairing when, so often, I don’t recognise the God so many other people seem to know. I often wonder why no one else appears to be drowning. The testimonies never end with ‘and I still don’t have a job’ or ‘and I still have chronic back pain’. The preacher never says ‘I don’t know how to get through the week’ or ‘life really is pretty rubbish most of the time’. My experience is that it is in the darkest places that we find the most hope – even if the darkness doesn’t appear to have the testimony ready ending. This doesn’t mean that there are not tons of people that feel the same way as me, but it seems that the God who lets me be bashed against the base of a cliff, tossed about by the waves, gasping for breath, is not the God that I am meant to know.

The thing is, I can understand why! What use is a hero who lets us take hit after hit with no relief? I mean isn’t God meant to make it all a bit easier? Isn’t he meant to make it a bit more bearable? Doesn’t the bible say that God will not give us more than we can bear?

This idea though, has always slightly jarred with me. The idea that God does not give us more than we can bear seems so at odds with the bible. The story of David or Job, the cries that come out favouring death over continuing in that pain. Were the women of Bethlehem strong enough to bear their sons being slaughtered? The bible is the book which tells me suffering is normal, it tells me that I am normal. The often quoted verse – 1Corinthians 10:13 – seems at odds in so many ways with the rest of the book:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Yet, in an article from Relevant magazine, Michael Hidalgo unpicks this idea that somehow we are supposed to ‘bear’ our suffering, otherwise God wouldn’t have ‘given’ it to us.

Jesus himself felt forgotten by God whilst dying on the cross. The night before he died he despaired, and God didn’t save him. This idea that suffering is not something we bear, it is not temptation where we can choose what we do but is just what happens, seems to line up so much more clearly with my God.

My God doesn’t make my life ‘easier’, he doesn’t seem to want to take away the constant daily battering my brain seems to think I deserve. My God is the one who dives off the cliff to offer me his breath to breathe in the violence of the waves. He is the one who gives me the strength to swim just a little longer, the one who gives me the hope of land.

My God is not the God of the happy pill. He is the God who came to earth and bled, who felt what I have felt but so so much more. Who had relationship with God but allowed himself to be abandoned so that I never would be.

On my way home from work today I was miserable, I feel like there has been one wave too many in the last few years. I had this image of being stuck at the bottom of a cliff, drowning but not dying, stuck in this place of breathlessness, and ‘I Will Exalt’ by Bethel Music came on.

Your presence is all I need
It’s all I want, all I seek
Without it, without it there’s no meaning
Your presence is the air I breath
The song I sing, the love I need
Without it, without it I’m not living

I will exalt You, Lord, I will exalt You, Lord
There is no one like You God
I will exalt You, Lord, I will exalt You, Lord
No other name be lifted high

There will be no one like You
And no one beside You
You alone are worthy of all praise
There will be no one like You
And no one beside You
You alone are worthy of all praise

I guess I will just gurgle this out until I start to feel the tide shift and I find my feet on land again.

It is a real challenge to end such a depressing post on a light note – and yet I feel I ought to. However, my brain is not in a joking mood so I will settle with stating the feelings expressed above are a manifestation of an illness I have. I am fortunate enough to be happily married, in a safe home, with wonderful friends and family. Many people struggle with these thoughts and much much worse and feel they cannot talk to anyone. If you recognise something from this within yourself or someone you know and don’t know where to turn to for help, there are many places but I would take a look at Mind and Soul for some good signposts and resources.

51 Comments

  • Katharine, thank you for writing so honestly and in a style that leaves the reader in doubt the anguish and suffering you so frequently experience. I can relate as for over forty years by father suffered with hugely debilitating depression. In January he experienced a huge stroke, but extraordinarily survived but eventually passed away just 12 days ago. To see my father suffer in such immeasurable ways does seem cruel. Yet my father could daily testify to knowing in whom he did believe and knowing his experience in this life will be nothing compared to all of eternity. That may seem cold comfort in the midst of earthly suffering. Yet our hope should always be in a future in eternity which will be incomparable. May God grant you a sustained period of respite in the midst of your pain.

  • I have had so many dark times like this. The church (and the Christian community at large)’s obsession with a happy ending, deliverance, and a joyful conclusion is selling us short so often. Sometimes it is all I can do to get-through-the-day. Rejoice in my suffering – as if!
    But there is a place deep in my soul where I can connect with God in the pain. You are so right about a Jesus who walks with us through the crap – not removing us from it, but joining us in it. And we need to keep telling this story… of hope in the darkness, even without the release from the dark-nght-of-the-soul that we would love… because this is the truth of the gospel-on-earth: Hope in the ashes. Promises in the pain.
    Keep going. I just know you are doing great. Much love x

  • I love everything about this post. This is the lesser-told story, and it’s the one that so many need to hear.

    I wrote a post entitled ‘when God doesn’t heal’ (http://www.prodigalmagazine.com/when-god-doesnt-heal/)
    and it got 4K Facebook shares. I think it is because there are so many struggling to fit their experience into the testimonies we hear so often at church. But they’re all there in the Bible, the ones who struggle and say, ‘lord, take away my life’ (Elijah), ‘lord you tricked me’ (Jeremiah), ‘we despaired even of living’ (Paul et al).

    I love your courage in continuing to take te breaths, continuing to battle the waves. I don’t think you really know how much strength you have, and how much light you exude, even while you describe the darkness.

    Sending SO MUCH LOVE.

  • Your testimony is just as valid and God-honouring as one that has a “happy ending”. Maybe we need to change the sorts of testimonies we share? Widen our definitions a bit?
    Take it one day a time, I’m finding Stuart Townend’s new album good currently, music is such a help.

  • Maybe in the end “All shall be well” but now that is a faith not an experience. C.S Lewis commented in Screwtape how easy it is to fool ourselves that we need to manufacture the right feelings, when actually all we need to know is that truth is not dependent on how we feel about it, nor indeed what we believe.

  • I thought I saw someone else bobbing about down here in the water! I love that you are so open with how you feel; it helps to know it’s not “just me”. You made me smile!
    A fellow swimmer.

  • Thank you for writing such a startlingly clear account of what it feels like to be depressed. I don’t think of illness as God given but He is always the companion to those who are ill, even when it doesn’t feel like it. xx

  • Thank you, Katharine. I am fortunte not to suffer in the way you do, but I do relate to the thoughts you so honestly share. I find myself having less & less time for a “stong & victorious” faith that had everything neatly boxed & tied up. Life just isn’t like that — and, as you say, the Bible just isn’t like that. It brought to mind some words that someone once said — in the midst of it all, “God Is, and He is For us”.

  • From someone struggling with PN depression thank you.

    Thank you for being honest and sharing te struggle. Especially the struggle with guilt as well as with the darkest of thoughts. You are an inspiration.

  • Thank you so much for writing this. As a parish priest I hear so much of suffering and like you I do not go along with the glib ideas that we are not given more than we can handle but I do agree that Jesus walks with us in the mess, tries to hold our head above the water. Sometimes that works, other times not. My son’s friend suffered from mental illness from the age of 13. When talking to Laura, you knew and she knew that she was never alone. When she cut herself God was there, when she was happy God was there and I know that when, in a dark moment when life overwhelmed her, God was with her and welcomed her home. I thank God for your family, friends and above all for you.

  • Thanks for writing this. A vital testimony to hear because all true testimonies don’t have a happy ending…yet because the story has not ended. I’m sure what you have said will bring hope to those who are still living with chronic pain, still facing uncertainty at work, still fighting a temptation.

    You’re comments about being tempted beyond what we can bear are spot on. I think you are right -biblically it’s not that we won’t face things that are beyond what we can bear but rather that we won’t be tempted beyond what we can bear because God provides a way out and the way out is always to run to Him admitting that the circumstances are much more than what we can bear

  • Thank you so much – we need voices like yours. For me right now the tide is blessedly out, but I’ve been under the waves too, and your testimony (because that’s exatly what it is) helps.

    Adrian Plass wrote this recently following a slight stroke:

    “The thing I want to make clear is that, however shitty things get, they will never be a measure of God’s love for me or those who are close to me. Terrible things happen to Christians. They die in car crashes. They become paralysed. Businesses fail. Dreams plummet. Nightmares become reality. Our leader was crucified. If we can’t beef up our puny little theology by embracing and incorporating these inescapable facts we might as well give up our ridiculous faith and join the Ember Day Bryanites. They do coffee and biscuits. They’ll do.

    Not for me. I’m in for the long haul, stroke or no stroke.”

    If you want to see the rest – which is well worth a read and mostly about dandelions – it’s here: http://www.adrianplass.com/letterfromadrian.htm

    Thanks again.

  • Such a beautiful, honest, reflective piece can only come from someone who has experienced the suffering and continues to walk with God through it. Or to use your imagery, kept gulping each small breath of air He gives. Bless you, Katherine.

    And please don’t feel the pressure to end on a positive note. One of the most consistent pieces of feedback my wife and I have received from readers since Resurrection Year was released has been ‘Thank you for your honesty – I’m tired of hearing success stories.’ There is a comfort in knowing that those of us without happy endings are not alone. We are a tribe that can support each other while witnessing to a God who suffers also.

  • Thank you for this. In Malcolm Guite’s sonnet ‘Jesus falls for the third time’ is the couplet “in that cold hell where you freeze, you find your God beside you, on his knees”. That and the book ‘The Female Face of a God in Auschwitz’ have been hugely helpful in re-configuring my understanding of God and suffering.

  • My testimony does end with – and I still have a lifelong debilitating condition (Hypermobility syndrome/eds type 3). Even if you just recognise the good that you are able to do for others through your understanding of depression coupled with your faith then you can see how God uses every situation, even our suffering, for good. The God I know does not deliver suffering on us, he gave us free will and as a race we turn away from him and create suffering ourselves (as a race, throughout history, not saying you cause your own suffering). As you say, he is the one who is there with us, offering us strength and support to make the best out of every situation. A wonderful parent who lets us make our own choices and is waiting with open arms when we need Him.

  • Katherine, your words are such an inspiration and encouragement. Thank you so much for your bravery in sharing your journey and struggles with the world. I am reminded of words of prophecy once spoken over me which gave a similar picture of me struggling to keep my head above water in stormy seas with wave after wave battering me and crashing over me. Only a life jacket seemed to keep me from going under but on closer examination it was Christ and not a life jacket that was keeping afloat.

    While the storm is over for now. The waves still often crash in and the dark clouds often loom on the horizon. I hold on to the belief that He is there with me always.

    I hope and pray He continues to be your life jacket too and protect you on life’s journey.

    God Bless.

  • Thanks for sharing this Katherine – great to read. I’ve suffered clinical depression myself and written about it a couple of times. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Thank you Katherine. I identify with all you suffer. I could have written it myself but nowhere near as eloquently. God bless you and your family.

  • So grateful and encouraged by your honesty. I’ve been there – that whole thing of waves rings so true. Can never understand why I can wake up one morning and feel like I can’t move due to the weight trying to suffocate me after weeks or months of feeling good.

  • Thank you for this blog post. My parents frequently ask me how I can be depressed when I have so much to be thankful for and think that it dishonours my faith in God for me to be depressed. They are getting a link to this forthwith. Thank you again, and I will keep you in my prayers.

  • Thank you for your honesty. I can relate to how you feel – I suffer from debilitating anxiety and share many of the faith struggles that you mention.
    Theologically, it’s not something I have much knowledge of, but I am doctor and God has guided me towards a career in psychiatry and I am to help Christians and non-christians with these sort of struggles one day. So i guess as a person and as a professional, your insights remind me that I’m not alone and that my own difficulties with my career aims are not in vain. Look after yourself x

  • The problem is that believers `are not allowed` to be depressed. We are to continue to walk the walk knowing that God never leaves us. Doesn’t happen like that though. It’s human to ask why and wonder why prayers go unanswered. Even Jesus asked his father why had he forsaken him..We all know he wasn’t forsaken. A refreshingly honest post. Thank you.

  • Ah yes… I know all too well of those crashing waves. I’ve lost years of my life to hideous depression and spent too many hours crying in the pew. There is so little that is redemptive about it. But how brilliant to find fellowship here in the form of other strugglers. Thank you Katharine. I have a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder. It sucks. : ( Even in the stable phases I find faith hard going. But somehow God is good. Doesn’t that feel impossible to say sometimes! Thanks for your honesty and eloquence. One day at a time.

  • I am printing out this post and putting it on my wall immediately. I think I can be eloquent about my depression and how this impacts on my relationship with God but then you come along and put all my efforts to shame! I have just read all of your blog posts with a ridiculous smile on my face because so much of what you write about resonates, and it is so reassuring to know that I am not the only one who struggles with all these things-especially the battle between happy and sad brain, which is the way I have always described it. It always inspires me to see how God works through all people, even if it is through incidentally finding a blog which is what happened today. Thank you for being so wonderfully honest and in doing so making my day that bit brighter 🙂

  • Katherine”

    I just read this today, almost a month after you posted it. Let me just say, reading your words was one of 2 ways that God breathed little life into me today. Keep swimming. And please keep sharing.

  • Thank you. Well spoken. I’m currently in a very bad major depression exacerbation. No one but another person who has suffered can understand. Which is why it’s important to speak up. Bravo.

  • Hello Katharine…
    I saw you on Breakfast just now, and wondered if you might be interested in one of my books, which both contain some non-standard interpretations of certain mental illness. One is a long and careful semi-academic book, the other is a humorous novel. If you think you might like to try one of them, take a look at http://www.thirdleafbooks.co.uk
    The longer book is DarwinPlus!; the novel (just completed) is Mr Grooby and Me (not on the website yet).
    I would be pleased to send you a free copy of either book via email.
    With all best wishes Chas Griffin (chas at thirdleafbooks dot co dot uk)

  • Thank you for your honesty about your struggle with depression. I have struggled in the past with it myself. God got me through it. Praying that he will help you to heal too. God bless, Laura

  • Hi Katharine, thank you so much for this blog and for sharing your feelings about depression-beautifully written. I have been battling with depression on and off for the last ten years. It’s been really bad over the last few months after losing my baby. My husband, family and friends have been great.

    I saw you on BBC World last night (I come from New Zealand), and wanted to make a connection with you and join this blog:). God Bless you and your family xo.

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