It was the weekend before Thanksgiving the year I turned twelve. Our church was small, and I’d been recruited to help teach Sunday school. I sat in the big comfy chair in my family’s living room reading the story of Noah from a teacher’s manual. All was comfortable in my world, but it would not be for long.
One moment I was lost in the teacher’s manual, and the next, a dark, horrible feeling engulfed me—an inexplicable hopelessness that gutted me emotionally. Fear wrapped around me like a straightjacket. Terrified, I locked myself in the bathroom and wept and prayed. I didn’t know what was wrong; I didn’t know what I was afraid of.
The unwarranted oppression did not leave—not that day, that week, or that month. Like a zombie, I ambled around in a fog of dread and apprehension. Fear’s hold was so strong that I was terrified to talk to anyone about what was happening to me—even my parents. I remember going to school one morning, sitting in class, and staring at the clock on the wall, on the verge of bursting into tears. It was 8 AM. How would I make it through the day?
I made it through that day and the next and the next. I dropped weight, but I mostly kept up the façade that I was okay. But I wondered: Would I ever be happy again? Would I always live in this prison of unfounded terror? Every day after school, I locked myself away and I prayed and cried.
Four months after it hijacked my life, the oppressive fog began to lift. It didn’t go all at once, but one day, I realized I was beginning to feel alive again. As if riding on the rays of the springtime sun, beautiful light begin to shine on what had become the black hole of my existence.
Whether it was severe depression spurred by preadolescent hormones or just an attack of spiritual oppression, I don’t know. My family was happy and healthy. In my twelve-year-old mind, the world was safe. My parents were diligent to keep spiritually detrimental influences out of our home. There is no easy answer for what happened to me.
What I do know is that I can look back and praise God for His faithfulness. Though my nightmare didn’t miraculously disappear during a prayer session, I also never had suicidal thoughts. My grades didn’t slip at school. I never once doubted that God was real. I never had to depend on habit-forming medications.
Almost twenty years later, I’m happy to say I never experienced anything like that again. God has given me joy and a passion for life, and I revel in the beauty of His blessings. Still, I’ve never forgotten the very real terror of the emotions I felt, and over the years I’ve hurt for those struggling with depression.
As Spirit-filled believers, we can take our trials to God; He will break every chain. Even so, life sometimes detours us through the valley. Ask Elijah or Job, both who became so overwhelmed with life, they thought they’d be better off dead. In times like those, we can be comforted by the words of Paul:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Such a beautiful promise from Scripture! Does it mean God snaps His fingers and all our problems go away? No. God allows us to go through painful experiences because He cares more about our spiritual condition than He does our physical condition. Our physical bodies will someday cease to exist, but our spirits will last forever. As unpleasant as it is, suffering often refines us spiritually (Job 23:10).
If you’re dealing with mental or emotional anguish, please talk to a pastor, parent, or trusted Christian mentor—and don’t underestimate the power of persistent prayer (see the story of the relentless widow in Luke 18:1-8). Don’t give up; God will bring you out of the valley!
“Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings” (Psalm 61:1-4).