In many ways, I have had a wonderful life; blessings surround me. I was born to a strong, faithful, and loving Catholic family. I was raised be thoughtful, fair, and loving. I received an excellent education, never went hungry, or wanted for anything I needed, including love and affection in my family. I’m now married to a wonderful man, have two great kids, and a third growing within me. My life hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t included the challenges that break my heart to see others struggle with, such as hunger, homelessness, abuse, lack of love, or a lack of faith.
And yet…as a teen, I attempted to end my life twice.
I thank God I was unsuccessful, but I still sometimes have suicidal thoughts. For many years, I cut myself in a terribly unhealthy attempt to cope with severe depression. Even now, I can feel the urge to do that again, despite knowing how destructive it is. Many days, I just can’t see the blessings in my life or believe they’re real. I’ve never been able to see the good in myself that others see, and am constantly amazed when people want to be around me. While I understand that these are the results of an illness–depression–and this is something I’ve struggled with since a small child, it’s purely an intellectual understanding. It’s similar to how someone can understand the physics of flight from a book, but the book can’t teach them what it is like to float free on the breeze with the air rushing past and the ground flying by below. In many ways, I have to trust my “book understanding” of myself as a good and worthy person, in spite of my “gut understanding” of myself as the opposite.
Earlier this week, a man who raised our spirits and made us laugh for many years chose to take his own life, based on a similarly twisted view of himself and the world. I’ve seen and read countless articles this week about what depression is, how it affects a person, and how we should view it as a real illness, as well as many debates about depression and mental illness in general. This has all prompted me to finally write about this topic, since it is weighing so heavily on people’s hearts.
But what can I say about depression that hasn’t already been said? What can I add that’s useful and good? What does God keep pushing me to write about this subject? I think he is pushing me to share my own experience of depression as a cross in my life. I’m know I’m not the only person who carries this burden, or the only one who views it as a cross, but I pray that this will touch someone’s heart and be what that person needs to hear.
There are many biblical references to our crosses, such as Jesus telling us in Matthew 16:24 that, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
And you know what?? That SUCKS.
I hate that following Jesus means I’ll have to willingly take on pain and sadness, as well as the hatred and doubt of others, and that every day and night I must embrace this heavy, painful load that keeps me from ever truly being comfortable. That’s not what anyone wants, especially when there are voices everywhere telling you how Jesus is really just about love, tolerance, and warm fuzzies. But I’m betting Jesus didn’t want be whipped and spat on; I’m sure he would rather have been comfortable and happy instead of hefting a massive beam of wood on his split and bloody back, climbing a hill while surrounded by both helpers and haters. I’m sure it was torturous to allow his hands and feet to be pierced with spikes as he also heard voices taunting him to prove he was God by rising off the cross in safety.
Yet Jesus ignored his tempters and embraced his cross, along with the tears, sweat, blood, and heartbreak that came with it. Every time I hear the Passion story, I tear up when Jesus–God himself–cries out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Even knowing the glorious end of his story, it was all he could do to take up his cross and accept everything that came with it.
Well, excuse me, but I DON’T WANT TO DO THAT! If even our Lord felt forsaken as he endured his cross, what hope do I have? And why would he tell us that we must pick up our own crosses to follow him? Why would a God who loves us ask us to endure such pain?
Honestly, I have no idea. I’m sure there are excellent theological explanations about why Jesus told us to take up our crosses, but knowing the intellectual reasons for suffering doesn’t matter on a day-to-day basis. Why do I get up each day and heft my cross on my back and keep walking, even when everything in me is screaming to stop because it’s too hard? When so few even see the cross, or so many tempt me to put it aside?
Because my cross is His cross. My Lord is there with with me carrying the weight, and when I put my shoulder to the weight, I put my arm around my Savior.
Sometimes I fall under the weight, but I know Jesus is right there with me when I do. I reach out and clutch him like a drowning person clutches a life preserver. Without that cross, I wonder if I would stay as close to him. If I didn’t need his help with every step, would I wander farther from his side? And when troubles hit unexpectedly, how could my “life preserver” even be within reach if I had left him behind?
I know the answers to those questions too well. Which is why I truly embrace and love my cross. It keeps me close to the One, to the person who saves me. And I know that when I try to struggle alone and refuse His help, I’m simply not strong enough. I have been nearly crushed by the weight too many times before I humbly reach for His hand. (Apparently, I’m a slow learner, because I keep trying to prove I can do it alone.)
I don’t know why God allowed me to have the cross of depression and other challenges in my life. I’ve been blessed to see some small good come from my suffering, but most of the time, I can only trust that He has a reason for asking what he does of me. I can’t make sense of it in this world, but he has given me reason enough to trust him so I work every day to take up my cross and follow him. That is all any of us can do.
So tell me: Do you love your cross? Or do you need to hold tighter to it, so that you might hold tighter to the One who asked you to carry it?
Image Credit woman silhouette: Free Apple Wallpaper
Image credit cross: Flickr