Pastor Cheryl Mitchell Gaines, J.D.; M.Div.
The Harvest Magazine contributor
If my life can be used to bring you glory Lord Jesus, use me. If you can use anyone Lord, use me. O, Lord. I give you me again, and again, and again.
After Robin Williams’s suicide, many African-Americans began to admit how much of a stigma it is for those of us from the African-American community to admit when we suffer from a mental malady like depression. And those who dare speak a deeper truth are acknowledging how even more difficult it is for Christians who hail from the Black church tradition to admit when our hearts hurt to the point that we find ourselves in a very dark place called depression. I truly can say that depression is finding oneself in a very dark place. I have been to that dark and solitary place more often than I would like to admit and at one point in my adult life I had planned, purposed and intended to end it all “self-inflicted.”
As a believer I know Jesus is the light of the world. I believe even when I had come to the place of choosing to take my own life, I knew then, too, that Jesus is the light of the world. But when I suffered from what was later diagnosed as clinical depression brought on by PTSD, I must admit that I could not see the light. Darkness is the absence of light and in my most depressed state I could see no light so consequently, I could not see Jesus.
A covered over painful past led me to that place of darkness. How could I tell the secret that had been buried in my years of academic over achievement? How could I share the pain of a past that said “What goes on in our house stays in our house”? How could I tell? But not telling meant that I had to keep stuffing and remaining silent with the reality that was screaming to be released from my own lips. I was a survivor of sexual abuse/incest at the hands of my own father. Even today I am tempted to use a pseudo-identity because now I am a pastor. And of course how can a pastor in the African-American church admit she struggled against a darkness that tries to compete with the light of Jesus? And how can she admit the darkness almost won? But God ….
I wish I could say that I just “snapped out of it.” I wish I could say all it took was for me to “pray harder.” I wish I could say that reading my Bible more was the only answer I needed. But God knew it would take every day of the hospitalization and brief medicinal intervention that ensued to get me to the point where I could see light again.
I wish I could say that while I was in that dark place I realized how much I loved my, then, only son and how much he loved and needed me but that is not so.
I wish I could say that I understood that no matter how bad things seemed my life is not my own to take. It is a gift from God.
I wish I could say that I knew then what I know now — that suicide is not an option no matter how dark the day. I wish I could say that I knew then that trouble won’t last always. I wish I could say that no matter how much hell comes my way, that I knew then that there is a greater good to be worked out on my behalf if I just hold on. I also wish I could say that I had cried out for help to someone around me on that very day I had decided to end it all but I did not.
But God ….
Thankfully, I had cried out to God and a call came in that changed the direction of my day right in the nick of time.
What I Know Now
And now I still wish I could say that the life defying darkness that tried to take my life then has never tried to come back again. But I cannot.
What I can say though is that even though it has attempted to come back again, I have an answer that I have found deep in the recesses of my soul: I am not alone. I know that I know that I know that just a little light will dispel the darkest of night. I also know that in that solitary place where only the forces that defy life speak, if I get to the solitary place with God, I can choose differently. I can choose to speak. I can choose to live. I can choose to ask for help.
Today I know that if we wait just a little while longer, storm clouds give way to the rainbow. If we wait just a little while longer, dark days give way to light. If we wait and hold on just a little while longer, we can discover that we are more than the sum total of the bad experiences we have had. We are the sum total of a created life designed to bring God glory. And if we get just a little bit higher than the dark clouds that descend upon us I have discovered that there really is sunshine on the other side of the clouds.
I do know that the God who loves me loves you too.
There are people who live very solitary lives and many leaders in the church live solitary lives. Often when you are an authority figure in your own world you may not feel like you have anyone to talk to. Don’t just talk to yourself. Don’t just listen to the death-dealing forces that speak to you in the darkness. If you are being led to take your own life… If you are being led to believe your life is not worth living, then know “that is a lie.” It is not true. No matter how deep in the darkness you have gone, God is able to show forth His light and, yes, sometimes we need the intervention of doctors, hospitals and even medicine. Thank God for friends, colleagues, teachers, co-workers and loved ones who can see you slipping into the darkness.
My faith in God is deep and abiding and I know that not all who suffer through depression can say that. But I do know that the God who loves me loves you too. The God who created me would have me to say to you that your life matters to God. It matters to me, too.
If you see or know someone who seems to be slipping away, reach for them. Pull them back, baby sit them if necessary. Take the time to do every and anything necessary to get them the help they need to come out of the darkness and to see the light on the other end of a, sometimes, very long and very dark tunnel.
Love and blessings, Pastor Cheryl Mitchell Gaines, J.D., M.Div.