Just a few days before the depression took over, I agreed to write a book about the kingdom of God. My publisher was glad I’d shaken my fears and started writing again. My working title was Beggar’s Fortune and I hoped it would inspire Christians who’ve only been told what they were saved from to do what they’ve been saved for: See to it that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Writing brings out insecurity in me like nothing else does. But on that day I was unusually unafraid of the blank page, uncharacteristically sure of my ability to get the job done and do it well.
I fired a first outline off to a pastor friend who’d championed the book idea. While I waited for his revisions I checked my Facebook inbox. A girl I barely knew in high school had written me a note. She brought up a mistake from all those years ago that I don’t even remember making. She accused me of being a hypocrite because today, all these years later, I stand on stages to sing and speak about God.
“…no matter how successful you become or how far away you go-you will still be the skinny, dorky saxaphone player when you come back home…I guess what I am really trying to say, probably quite poorly, is-practice what you preach. I for one would actually have some respect for you-if you did.”
She’s never been to a concert of mine. She’s never heard me speak. We talked for a total of maybe fifteen minutes almost two decades ago. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about – most of me thought. But the weakest part in me, that remnant of the self-loathing kid I once was, took her words to heart.
I replied kindly. We had a good conversation. We made peace. She admitted she had recently been in an abusive relationship that left her angry. What she didn’t realize was that her anger spilled out of her fingertips and across my computer screen at a most inopportune time.
I’m afraid to tell you this. I don’t want to be labeled a flake or some overzealous Frank Peretti fan. Here goes: I believe depression is a physical, mental and spiritual monster but I don’t believe it always affects all three dimensions equally. My bout with it, I believe, was primarily spiritual.
Here’s what my closest friends and I (and even my very rational counselor and his PhD) think happened to me. We think my brain broke – something went haywire with serotonin and whatnot. Then I got dog-piled. My head quickly filled with half-truths and lies and false accusations, a dozen at a time. Doubt jumped in the mix too. And then came the most horrific nightmares in which “God” himself told me how worthless I was and beat me. There were fantasies about dying and heaven being replaced with hell, and an overwhelming urge to hurt myself.
And all of this happened at a time when my marriage was solid, my kids were healthy, my ministry was effective, my calendar was full, my body was rested, and opportunities abounded? Every aspect of my life was intentionally guarded and strong.
We believe Satan came at me in a moment of weakness the way he comes at us all: With lies, half-truths and accusations placed with precision where we’re most vulnerable. Even my counselor, who stands to profit most if I’m mentally ill, told me last week – after poking around in my past and the rest of my baggage – he’s convinced this depression was primarily spiritual.
Or as that older wiser friend of mine I wrote about earlier said: “I know this may sound crazy, but rejoice that you have either really pissed Satan off or he senses you are about to!”
I didn’t want to hear that at the time. It felt like I was being pressured to do something great with my life at a time when getting out of bed was work enough. It felt prideful too. I felt too unimportant to be messed with by some unseen spiritual power who surely had better things to do. But I believe it now.
I don’t know that I was messed with because of something I did or am about to do, but I know I was messed with. I think Satan messes with all of us. It may be that for many of us four hours of cable does the trick nicely enough. Or an ego stroke here or there. Or all the shiny stuff on store shelves and a credit card. Or a juicy piece of gossip keeps us busy. Or an addiction. Or dissatisfaction with friends, family or church drives us into seclusion and self-service. Or…
I don’t know exactly why this happened to me. But it happened. And I think it happens to all of us who call Jesus our King and live like it.
Living like it means, in part, expanding the borders of His kingdom: recognizing every second, talent, dollar, relationship as an opportunity to bring heaven to earth by doing God’s will down here as it’s done up there. When a kingdom expands it’s always at the expense of another’s. And that “another” doesn’t like to give up his territory. He’ll fight for it.
He prefers we pay no attention to him, that we look down on people who do, that we call them superstitious or charismatic or worse. He’d like to go unnoticed, undeterred. But how can we ignore him? He’s gotten a lot of press.
He was there with Joshua the high priest, whispering lies into one ear as God spoke truth into the other. He was there in the Garden, never asking Eve or Adam to do anything – simply misquoting the truth and prodding them to think and doubt. He was there in heaven asking God for the chance to test Job’s faith. He was there in the desert with Jesus, spinning the Torah into three precisely planned temptations. He was there giving Peter the wrong words to speak to Jesus. He was there giving black eyes to the sons of Sceva.
He was there on Facebook telling me I’m still as insignificant and incapable as I thought I was at sixteen. He’s likely to be there at the very end to tell me God can’t be trusted, that I should fear what’s next, that my life was meaningless.
He’s always going to be there. But when he comes for us he can be resisted. And when he is, he leaves. Sometimes it takes the better part of a month and a small sea of persistent friends, but he does leave.