I became best friends with Charles Spurgeon this week. Not in a literal sense, of course, since he’s been dead for over a century. But after listening to a documentary while at work, I have come to deeply love this ancestor in the faith. At one point I nearly laughed aloud; the documentary quoted him as saying that preaching before large crowds made him so nervous that, on more than one “Sabbath morning, my breakfast was vomited.” (Or something close to that. I can’t remember the exact words). As one who tends to experience the reappearance of breakfast regularly, I appreciate anyone who’s been there.
More importantly, and most especially on days like today when my heart just aches for no logical reason, I appreciate Charles Spurgeon’s very real struggle with the anxiety and depression that caused him to vomit:
Some years ago, I was the subject of fearful depression of spirit. Various troublous events had happened to me; I was also unwell, and my heart sank within me. Out of the depths I was forced to cry unto the Lord. Just before I went to Mentone for rest, I suffered greatly in body, but far more in soul, for my spirit was overwhelmed. Under this pressure, I preached a sermon from the words, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ I was as much qualified to preach from that text as ever I expect to be; indeed I hope that few of my brethren could have entered so deeply into those heartbreaking words. I felt to the full of my measure the horror of a soul forsaken of God. Now that was not a desirable experience. I tremble at the bare idea of passing again through that eclipse of soul; I pray that I may never suffer in that fashion again… – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Soul Winner”
If you have not experienced what Winston Churchill called “the black dog,” then Spurgeon’s words may not make much sense to you. How can faith and agonizing sorrow exist in the same sphere? I cannot explain it, but they can, and they do.
Today…today I am sorely tempted to pursue numbness. I am weary of the pain that so often arises from clinging to hope and searching for joy. I would rather feel nothing at all. I am tempted to believe that God has forsaken me. That His promises are meant for and fulfilled in others, but that I am somehow cast out. Not by some capriciousness on His part, but because of my own stupidity. I have made my bed, and must sleep in it.
But Spurgeon goes on in his story.
…unless the same result should hang upon it.
That night, after the service, there came into my vestry a man who was as nearly insane as he could be to be out of an asylum. His eyes seemed ready to start from his head, and he said that he should utterly have despaired if he had not heard that discourse, which had made him feel that there was one man alive who understood his feelings, and could describe his experience. I talked with him, and tried to encourage him, and asked him to come again on Monday night, when I should have a little more time to speak with him. I saw the brother again, and I told him that I thought he was a hopeful patient, and I was glad that the word had been so suited to his case. Apparently he put aside the comfort which I had presented for his acceptance, and yet I had the consciousness upon me that the precious truth which he had heard was at work upon his mind, and that the storm of his soul would soon subside into a deep calm.
Now hear the sequel. Last night, of all the times in the year, when, strange to say, I was preaching from the words, ‘The Almighty hath vexed my soul,’ after the service, in walked this selfsame brother who had called on me five years before. This time, he looked as different as noonday from midnight, or as life from death. I said to him, ‘I am glad to see you, for I have often thought about you and wondered whether you were brought into perfect peace.’ To my inquiries, this brother replied, ‘Yes, you said I was a hopeful patient, and I am sure you will be glad to know that I have walked in the sunlight from that day till now. Everything is changed and altered with me.’ Dear friends, as soon as I saw my poor despairing patient the first time, I blessed God that my fearful I experience had prepared me to sympathize with him and guide him; but last night, when I saw him perfectly restored, my heart overflowed with gratitude to God for my former sorrowful feelings. I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit: it is good for me to have been afflicted that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary. – Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Soul Winner”
And I am reminded. Why the effect of the Genesis Curse is manifest in my life as a tendency toward fear and sorrow, I don’t know. Why I am relentlessly pursued by the screams of cynicism spewed from the mouths of demons, I don’t know. Why I choose to be a moron so often and live in the doldrums, I really don’t know. I genuinely can’t make sense of it. I don’t understand how the things I can’t control and the things I can control come together to create such a storm.
But I do know this: I must choose God. Even when it hurts, even when it doesn’t add up, even when everything within me and around me calls for giving up. I must choose God. I must allow Him to do that mysterious work of shining in and through the darkness, cutting it to ribbons. I must allow Him space and room to work, that this pain might be redeemed and morphed into something beautiful.
If you read this today and despair yourself, know that you are not alone. You simply aren’t. There are others who cry so deeply that their breath is stolen. Others who are a second away from being convinced that there is no point. Others who want so desperately for the fog to lift. I do not know why this is your reality. I don’t know what you’ve been through or why your brain chemicals are wonky.
I do know this: God is real. He sees the cut in your soul, the gash in your heart, the wound in your mind. He knows how deep it runs and why it runs. When friends and family are gone, He is there. When the medication doesn’t work, He is there. When the exercise doesn’t provide the necessary endorphin boost, He is there. When you can’t get out of bed, He is there. When you think you have no more tears left to cry and yet they still come, He is there. When you feel too much to feel anything, when you are utterly numb, He is there.
You may feel forsaken, but you are not in fact forsaken.
God is there. And He holds you close.
Persevere, little one.