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  • Finding God in the Deepest Distress

    Larry Roberts


    When through the deep waters I call thee to go, The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
    --from How Firm a Foundation, 1787

    I

    I am laying on my bed in the semi-dark. I haven't eaten and my stomach aches but I don't care. The sun is going down. It will be night again. I groan. Staring at the wall, I fall asleep.

    I am lying on the floor watching television, have been since 11 o'clock when I woke up. At least this show I am watching makes me smile, none of the others have. I have a headache from eyestrain. It's four o'clock. Where did the time go? Do I care?

    I am sitting at the library trying to focus on a book. I don't feel well today. When I got up I just felt bad. Was it going to be like this all day? What's the point? At least I got out of the house. Why is it always like this?

    II

    Most of my life is affected by depression. It was particularly bad in my late teens to my mid-thirties. In the last four years I have been relatively symptom-free and feeling well. It's hard for me to trust this feeling state because I am used to being depressed. I am accustomed to a constant feeling of dread, pressure in my head, sadness, nausea, apathy, worry, and sadness. Where do I go from here? Will I get depressed again?

    Any description of depression is personal; no two people have the same experience, even if they share a lot in common. Loneliness is a terrible thing. Who will help me? Doesn't anybody know what I am going through? Can anybody understand this kind of pain? Does it have a name?

    For a long time my life has been full of questions. Why do I hurt? Why do I feel so bad? I tried to feel better and I don't; what's going on? Is this what it's always going to be like? If it is what can I do? Why should I do anything? It doesn't matter, does it? It just hurts; so what's the point?

    How come nobody notices? Why doesn't somebody do something? How can I still feel bad? Look how much people are trying to help. Why do I keep doing this to them? I tried hard and it still didn't work, why bother? It hurts so much. When will it stop? Why isn't it stopping?

    III

    I am a religious person, have been since I was a small child; going to church is something I do and during the worst years of depression, church was the only place of solace and relief. Many of my questions were directed at God. And I often felt a lack of any answer. There was no miracle; I didn't feel better when I prayed. Often I gave up; God like everybody else couldn't make it stop. Why bother? My depression didn't shake my belief in God, or that God had some role in my life. Mood had a direct relationship to whether I prayed, read the Bible, or felt like going to church.

    My recovery evolved over time. As part of that process I had to answer a question: Was I willing to try to get better? I asked myself that question twenty years ago. I asked myself other questions. Was I willing to get help? Willing to do what I needed to do? Would I depend on other people for help? Would I ask God for help? Could I wait? My religious tradition teaches that God dependable resource. God is willing to help. Could I trust that?

    IV

    My church has beautiful stained glass windows; one is a version of Jesus, the Light of the World. He's holding a lamp and knocking on the door of a cottage. The door doesn't have a doorknob on the outside. Inside the cottage is a man hunched over a plate of bread. He's frowning. The only way to open the door to the knocking is for the man to open it. If I am the man sitting in the house, will I open the door? Why should I? Who's knocking? Why is he knocking? Sometimes I can imagine opening the door and sometimes I can't bear to think about opening it. What happens if I do? Why doesn't He just open the stupid door? Lately the questions are less intense and easier to answer. It's nice to have the door opened.

    Last year I was ready to ask God where God was when I was suffering so badly? My religion teaches me that God is omnipresent. I came to understand that that meant that God was in the room when I was staring at the wall. As I groaned, God heard me. Slowly that answer has come to be a great comfort to me. God was with me, and today that makes a difference to me.


    Larry Roberts is a poet, writer and political activist. He lives with his partner Ross Haarstad in Ithaca NY. He is the program director for the Center for Independent Living in Ithaca and is the chair of his county's Mental Health Services Board. He is a member of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, a reconciling congregation.

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