For weeks, I have been avoiding depression. My therapist says it’s more fear than it is avoidance, but for years fear has kept me on the road paved with joy. It may sound strange but go with me here. No one likes a “Debbie Downer”; that person that is ho-humming through life. I don’t think any of us choose to be that person, but in this world, and all its efforts to suck the life out of us, sometimes it’s just hard to avoid. So, I have chosen to be intentional to stay on the road paved with joy. And fear, for as long as I can remember, has been my friend. Fear has protected me from falling off the embankment by placing white lines, rumble strips, and guardrails along the way. Every precautionary measure to prevent even nearing the edge to leading to pain, discomfort, and eventually landing in a deep pit of sorrow and depression. And I have gotten very good at staying between the lines.
At the age of 14, my mom died of cancer. When I felt the rumble strips cautioning me of my closeness to the edge, joy reminds me I will one day see her again because of the assurance we both found in Jesus. At 19, I found myself a college dropout and homeless. Once again, I used joy to make the necessary adjustments to see that while I was indeed homeless, I was never shelter-less. Years later, when I was a 23-year-old, divorced single mother, fear and joy worked together to ensure a good life for my son and me, regardless of any sacrifices I ever needed to make. Blow after blow — some self-induced and some not — those precautionary measures put in place by fear kept me from pain-filled descent to sorrow and depression.
Through therapy, I have learned to be grateful for fear and those protective measures, because there were times that I saved from experiencing any further trauma. Truly, fear has been a dear friend to me. And, as all good friendships, we must learn to grow and adjust. To mature and recognize that sorrow doesn’t always lead to pits of depression; joy and sorrow do not always have to be independent of each other.
How we do this is by closing our eyes and visualizing it. The scene doesn’t look the same for everyone. So, as an example, I will use my road visual and share with you what I see as I close my eyes…
As I stand on one side, I see a single-lane road, a white line, rumble strips, and a guardrail preventing one from falling over the edge. I don’t know much of what is on the other side. However, what I do see isn’t very inviting. A descending forest of tall wanna-be trees, so thin they can barely hold on to their leaves. The ground is less inviting with its rock-laced dirt like an unappealing slide waiting to happen. As I set in my mind that is not the place I want to be, I see on the other side of the guardrail, Jesus. Not only is He standing on the very I side I have been doing everything to avoid, I see His outstretched hand, inviting me to join Him.
“Um, Lord? I know You know this, but it’s not safe over there.”
“You know, I don’t do risky things and that edge You are on is risky and unpredictable. If I go on that side with You, I will surely lose my footing and slide down into Go…well, You know where.”
Do you believe that I would lead you towards danger?
“Possibly. I mean, if You think it will help me in the long run You would.”
I won’t let anything happen to you. Take My hand. I will guide you down.
“Yeah. About that. See, I am not the most steady person. So, I could see myself slipping, tripping, losing balance, falling on my face, and then will I not only be sad but also hurt.”
Ok. Jump on My back and I will carry you down. (like He’s reading my mind.) Unless you don’t believe I am strong enough to carry you?
“Ummm, yeah. I believe You are. I just know me and may cause You to stum…”
Trust Me. You won’t.
I reluctantly accept the offer, jump on His back, and trust Him to carry me down. Still trying to make sense of this senseless trip, how the road above was so much more smooth and easier than this, I see how My Heavenly Porter skips from rock to stump, to ground without any effort. My trepidation dissipates into awe of His gracefulness and unshakable confidence even with me on His back. After landing a rather wide jump, I find myself giggling. How can I be giggling? Isn’t this supposed to be scary?
As we reach the clearing of the trees, I am gently placed on the rock-laced, flat ground. I take a few steps and see the most beautiful, peace-filled scenery. I look back to see nothing but a steep uphill forest. I inspect my arms and legs, not even a scratch. There is no way I could’ve done that alone and come out unscathed.
I turn again to see what is ahead of me. Peace found in a flowing river filled with shiny, smooth boulders welcoming me to come to sit and enjoy the surrounding beauty. As I make my way through the cold water, the abrasive ground reveals all of these were once sharp, jagged boulders and how time and the combination of water and sand have made the inviting scene I see before me.
As I sit and watch the water crash and flow through the rocks, I see how joy and sorrow can coexist. The refreshing, cool water symbolizes the joy that smooths out the sharp and jagged edges of sorrow. I look on to the shore and see the steep and dangerous downhill trek that leads to this tranquil spot. A trek I surely would not have survived on my own.
I now realize fear was not keeping me from the edge, it was more heeding the potential danger on the other side. Caring for our mental health is similar to the descending forest on the other side of the guardrail. If we aren’t careful, we can lose our footing and painfully fall. We may reach the beauty on the other side, but at what cost? When I trust my Savior who is also a capable Porter, He can lead and even carry me through the most dangerous terrain.
I am still working through my current emotional state, but I don’t see it as a struggle or an avoidance anymore. I see it more as an invitation to work my way through the scary to get to the serene.