I am not typically one to fall in love with the entirety of an artist’s music album when it comes out. I’m usually contented to have one or two favorite songs that I play on repeat. But every now and again someone writes something that really touches my soul and speaks to the experiences I have had in my life.
While it has been quite some time since it was first released, Sara Groves’ Floodplain has been such an album for me.
Let me start by saying I come from a long line of loving family members who have struggled with anxiety and depression. In my own life, my mother was extremely diligent to take great pains in ensuring I would not struggle to find help if any kind of ‘melancholy mood’ should arise. Throughout adolescence and well after I had birthed my second child my mother was still observing my moods, asking pointed questions, and giving words of advice. It was her great protection and way of showing care for me, as she had been greatly affected early on with depression. Her symptoms came postpartum after the birth of one of her children. It was quite unexpected and, lacking a framework of support and understanding from her doctor at the time, she struggled to procure prompt treatment. This resulted in a pattern of depression that has effected her entire life.
I believe one of the misnomers about depression is that we anticipate a depressed person to always be in a sad or anxious mood. But it is more or less that seasons of depression are woven throughout one’s life; that to the level one might feel happiness, in a moment, they can feel the same in sorrow. So the depressed person can seem like the life of the party, just not perpetually.
There are bouts of depression and anxiety caused by circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes it comes after great milestones, even joyous ones, like the birth of a baby. Other times it may come from the grief and loss of a beloved, the death of a dream or aspiration, the loss of ability. What seems small to one can paralyze another for there is intimately more going on than meets the eye.
Sometimes there are the less seen chemical changes within our bodies that can push us over the edge into an unhealthy space. There certainly are life circumstances that threaten to throw us into the abyss. Much like an opposing team nailing a last second, game winning, point; it may feel like, “What can I do?” I believe it is true for every case of depression that when you have wrestled, and wrestled well…yet still there is more wrestling required of you. It is the very nature of it, for if one no longer had to wrestle they would no longer be depressed.
Unfortunately, in my younger years my mother’s wrestling with her depression and anxiety was a cause of frustration for me and I was not always as empathetic or understanding as I should have been. But as I have grown and matured I have seen her continue to wrestle, to stand for others, and to love on those whose similar struggles have pushed others away. She may still be wrestling herself, but I believe she is wrestling well and using that which she has gone through to love others.
I think it is an important distinction to note that God is not afraid of our feelings. We can be candid with God. He can handle it all, the good, the bad, the ugly.
In fact, our emotions are one of the ways we are image bearers of Him. God‘s emotions are perfect, always in balance, always following the proper course of action, always producing the appropriate response….ours are imperfect and susceptible to a fallen world.
Having emotion itself then is not evil. It is when our emotions are out of balance, inappropriately placed, constantly overwhelming, destructive, or altogether missing that there is a problem.
We are also creatures of habit. In the things that we do as well as the things we think. Just as we might need some accountability and help for the things that we do outside of our bodies counseling can help to take account of those thoughts we might be continually fighting from within.
The Bible says we fight a battle that is not just against flesh and blood. We each have a spiritual dimension. I believe there are times God’s people can be attacked and the assault be completely spiritual.
This is not to say that God is not in control. It is not to say that God is not good or to say that the depressed person is not still trusting Christ explicitly.
I believe you can FEEL the effects of depression-and still have faith. I believe you can FEEL anxiety and, knowing God is in control, still have the peace of God protect you. Having a feeling does not make the message behind the feeling true. I can feel sadness, overcome, or even angry and still know beyond a doubt that God is going to take care of me and the situation at hand. Sometimes our feelings just need time to catch up. Sometimes it takes faith and action for our emotions to realign.
Feelings are not always the product of reality and the depressed person can feel one way and know something else(truth).
There is a great distinction between the depressed Christian and the depressed non-believer. While a Christian may feel depressed, there is still hope. In fact, there will always be a measure of hope thanks to the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 11:1 gives us a working definition of faith; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”In other words, it is a confidence that the things God has promised will happen even while we are waiting to see it fulfilled. This means that in your depression you can have great faith to know and believe and trust that God will see you through even if a complete healing never comes. To know that he is all that is necessary, to trust in his plan and design for your life, even if it is not what you would have chosen for yourself.
This brings me back to the album Floodplain:
The open lines of the title track say:
The floodplain is the flat plain along a stream or river that is NATURALLY subject to flooding.
The words of the song beg the question, what if God made some of us to be more in tune to heavy emotion, to be a little closer to a serious bent, and placed there to serve His purposes?
It takes all kinds in the body of Christ. While there is definitely a necessity for balance, let us not think ourselves better than another person simply on the basis that they are more sensitive or susceptible to a negative thought.
Let us instead do what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:21-27
“The eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. The parts that we think are less important we treat with special honor. The private parts aren’t shown. But they are treated with special care. The parts that can be shown don’t need special care. But God has put together all the parts of the body. And he has given more honor to the parts that didn’t have any. In that way, the parts of the body will not take sides. All of them will take care of one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy.
You are the body of Christ. Each one of you is a part of it.”
Shouldn’t the body of Christ be the most understanding, most loving, most helpful to those who struggle with depression? Can we be there for a friend in need without it being shameful? What burdens do we add to those struggling when we are impatient and apathetic to their suffering? Read the book of Job and take to heart the lessons learned through the bad advice of his friends and don’t be indifferent to another’s suffering. Romans 12:15 says to, “Weep with those who weep.” This also does not mean that your emotions must match another’s, particularly when the emotion is irrational or disproportionate. Rather, it is a call to be present and considerate. Romans 12:15 also says to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”
I am not advocating for you to wallow in your depression if you have it. We all should be healthy. But I am saying it cannot be automatically assumed that a Christian is out of God’s will simply because they feel things in a deeper way or struggle more than the next person.
I’m also not saying God made your depression. But I do believe He has the ability to be good and still allow the struggle.
The defining mark then is Christ, and the hope we have in Him. Are you hopeful, wrestling well to the best of your ability, reaching out to others, but trusting God in your floodplain?
Pictures and post written by Melanie Barnfield. Melanie Barnfield is an artist, closet introvert, wordsmith, and lover of Christ. She has been married 14 years to the love of her life, and has been blessed with 4 beautiful children. Residing in Benton, IL, she is an avid reader who enjoys teaching, gardening, and photography.