How to Survive the Dark Place! Where is God In My Dark Place?

Some years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It happened to me – it has happened to others and far too many are ashamed that their prayer meetings and devotion to the Lord Jesus has failed to bring a remedy.  It is debilitating and painful , but with God’s help and some common sense one can survive.

My first segue into discussing this in a public way was in conversation with the church I pastored.  For all of us it was the first journey into the experience of having a pastor who was dealing with a negative situation of this sort, that would be talked about. The wonderful people at Springfield’s Truth Tabernacle, were so very much like Jesus and gave me hope and an opportunity to get better. In 2007, I wrote about it a bit in an article in the Pentecostal  Herald.  The resulting phone calls and continued contacts seemed to indicate a tremendous need for honest conversation and some healing help in the matter of surviving the “dark place.”

Have you ever felt like saying, “Wait a minute, I have some questions!  We need to ask those questions of some Bible heroes.” 

“Elijah . . . what in the world went wrong? I’m disappointed in you. Running from Jezebel? Praying to die? Sitting in anxious frustration under a juniper tree – and so soon after you’d prayed and God’s fire fell?”

“David, . . . hey you King David . . . don’t I remember reading about you being a man after God’s own heart? Were you backslidden when you wrote, ‘. . . the enemy hath . . . smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, . . . Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me . . .. ’” (Psalms 143:3-4).

I know . . . I’ve heard it . . . thought it – probably preached it . . . Christians do not have the feelings expressed in Psalm 143. Well . . . here goes nothing or maybe everything. I’ve actually survived dwelling in the darkness and my spirit being overwhelmed. My story is probably different than David’s, but for me my dark dwelling place was:

  • Unrelated to reality
  • Unimaginable
  • Exhausting
  • Humiliating

You see, it was medically diagnosed as clinical depression. Again . . . I know . . . I know, clinical depression does not happen to saints, and certainly not to preachers. Well it happened anyway . . . it was bad and it was real.

It’s tough to explain. Jack Dreyfus founded the successful Dreyfus Mutual Fund empire. He recalled trying to explain to others about his depression, “It is almost impossible to convey to a person who has not had depression what it’s like. It’s not obvious like a broken arm, or a fever . . . it’s beneath the surface. A depressed person suffers a type of anguish which in its own way can be as painful as anything that can happen to a human being. His brain permits him no rest. His mood is low, he has little energy, and can hardly remember what pleasure means.”[1]

One Sunday, C.H. Spurgeon shocked 5,000 listeners when he said, “I am the subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever gets to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.” Historians think Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther, and Winston Churchill had recurrent bouts with depression. Churchill called it the black dog. A recent book focused on what the author called Lincolns melancholy.

So what is depression like? Someone I can’t properly cite said it well.

Depression is

Debilitating, defeating,

Deepening gloom.

Trudging wearily through

The grocery store,

Unable to make a simple choice,

Or to count out correct change.

Work undone,

And not being able to lift a finger.

Doubting that God cares,

Doubting in my prayers,

Doubting He’s even there.

Sitting, staring wild-eyed into space,

Desperately wanting out of the human race.

Sounds a bit like David in Psalm 143. Actually, I think what is described is rather common – even among those who serve God. So my observations aren’t for the one who has not endured or will never endure the “darkness” David described. The validity of clinical depression as a diagnosis is not my topic. It is rather to say . . . you can survive, prevail and overcome! Your dark personal pain can be the springboard to another dimension in God.

Surviving and finding God in your dark place isn’t glitzy. I have no trite answers. Well-meaning people offered me advice like, “Pray your way through it,” or the more frustrating, “What is wrong with you? You have a wonderful life – give God praise!” At one time, I gave similar suggestions; a man presenting travel directions to a place I’d never been. Having been to the dark place, I can now provide a better travel guide. Several things helped me survive my dark place . . . (More of them later – today only 1.)

A vital remedy:  Praying the Psalms aloud. A depressed person does not feel like praying and almost certainly does not know how to pray. Pray anyway! How? Read Psalms – to yourself and to God; except read them out loud. It works. Actually, Author Eugene Peterson believes this is the way the Psalms were meant to be read. In the dark place, I borrowed from the nakedly honest feelings of the Psalmist and as I read aloud they became my own. Interestingly, every Psalm that begins by expressing dark thoughts closes with praise and worship.

Perhaps my observations about this are not real. Maybe, me, Jonah, David and Elijah are the lone candidates to have an interest in reading this sort of information, but perhaps not.  If you’ve dealt with the ‘dark place’ I’m interested in hearing from you.  What have been your solutions?  What remedies did not work?  What (if anything) precipitated your fall into this swamp? 

 


[1] P. 109 Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives – By: Richard A. Swenson, M.D.

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7 Comments

  1. Been there and life consistently brings me back to the dark places. I have followed the “advice” of those who have had so much success that they convinced themselves that their approach will work in any situation. To them every type of soil will yield a bountiful harvest.

    • Pastor Seivers, I appreciate the work you are doing. I’ve decided specific “how to” does not work for every person. There is too much variance in our “place and personality.” That being said, there are principles that work. These work regardless of place and personality.

      Your observation about the soil is “on point.” The reality of planting a church in Mobile, Alabama or Houston, Texas will generally be quite different than the experience of planting in Boston or Portland. Those pastors who work with difficult soil, which consists of much tossing or rocks and pulling weeds, will likely receive a great reward. CLC

      • Thank you Bro. Coon. Planting a church in a rural area, 30 miles from anywhere, is a lot different than the metro areas as well.

        We are told to “not be weary in well doing” (Gal 6.9), but after 30 years of waiting for a “reward” that is getting more difficult to do. My lot has been to be in rural areas for most of my 30 years of ministry, and I have close friends who have also labored alongside me for a great number of years with less than average results. These men are men of prayer, uncompromising, truth preachers, yet they are limited to 10-15, if that many, in their congregations for decades?

        My daily prayers include my fellow laborers in the Lord. I pray that somehow they will be counted worthy of their hire, yet we face the end of the day without having received wages for our labor. We work in another field to provide for our needs and those of our family, but for some reason we are considered unworthy to live of our calling. Yet, we are inundated with requests to exceed the departmental giving goals of last year.

        • Bro. Sievers, I can empathize with the challenges you describe. It is not always easy for any of us to just look at “faithful” as a measure of being effective (I dislike the word ‘success’ which ends up being attached to numbers.) However, faithful will be heaven’s eternal measure. Faithful is not measured by numbers. Two factors come into play:

          1. The soil – we talked about that earlier. The production of rocky soil will be different than the production of “good ground.” A farmer working in the stony field may actually be as good a farmer as the one working on the good ground. Faithful to farm – to plow and plant is the measure!

          2. The laborer. A man with five talents will have the potential for more increase than the person with one talent. To measure all of us by the measuring stick applied to a “ten talent” person is not just. Jesus is always just. He simply calls us to be faithful to increase what He has given us to work with.

          I think the idea of praying for each other. Particularly those of us ministering close to each other. Our praying for the farmer in the very next field really bothers the devil.

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  3. Janell, bounce it out to some others. It may help. A wide array of people go through seasons of difficulty. I’ll have two more posts on this topic.

  4. The subject matter of this article is one of the most insightful I have read about clinical depression. Removal of the shame of a shattered state words can’t even begin to describe. Informative helpful remedy thru the Word of God, and Biblical examples of this condition. Maybe you have to have “been there” for this to resonate so deeply. Thank you, Brother Coon, for a ray of light in ‘the dark place’.

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