Last year I was diagnosed with severe OCD and severe depression. I filled out one assessment form after another and, in the buffet of diagnostic questions (“Do you ever ______?”), I marked “yes” by almost every symptom.
I had what I called a “spiritual depression” about five years ago, brought on by PTSD over our daughter Haven’s seizure on a mountain trail and our family’s pending move to a brand-new church, school, and community. I finally sought a biblical counselor at the behest of a dear friend, and it helped.
Those experiences have a way of surfacing things I’ve not dealt with. I worked through my engagement story (more on that another time), shame over past mistakes, unreconciled relationships, Haven’s seizure, and the suffocating question “Are we making the right decision to move?” As the dark cloud didn’t seem to part, I went to my doctor and had some lab work done. Everything came back normal. He suggested I may need to take something for my anxiety.
I filled a prescription, took it for two days, and then stopped. I stopped because, deep down, I believed it took more faith to do that. I also believed the pervasive heaviness was something God was allowing, sending, or whatever you want to call it—and that by trying to numb it, I’d (a) miss out on what he was trying to teach me, (b) lose the “edge” of being an angsty Christian who was able to grieve over my sin, or (c) just be plain disobedient.
Fast-forward four years, and a perfect storm began to brew again. We started walking with a couple whose marriage was falling apart, then my dad was diagnosed with stage-four prostate cancer, then COVID-19, then Dad came to the end of treatment options and was given a prognosis of a month or two, then hospice, family conflict, Dad’s death, a crisis for one of our daughters, more conflict with dear friends . . .
Crash. And. Burn.
One evening I remember burying my face in the carpet, wailing and screaming, cussing and praying. I felt trapped. Scared. Abandoned. I was very aware that I was not OK.
My therapist referred me to a specialist in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I began weekly (and sometimes twice-weekly) therapy. I began seeing a psychiatrist to find the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) that was right for me. It was small comfort at the time to have answers for things that had eluded me as long as I could remember.
The predominant feeling was, Wow, I am really messed up. This is embarrassing. And a good degree of How much of my life has been tainted by this? How can I be a Christian who’s honest about the questions I have without “going too far”?
I felt incapable of praying or having any semblance of a normal “quiet time,” but I did read Job:
For the arrows of the Almighty are in me;
my spirit drinks their poison;
the terrors of God are arrayed against me. (Job 6:4)
Hmm. Alright. [Gradual, slow hand-raising.]
Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back?
Who will say to him, “What are you doing?” (Job 9:11–12)
I quickly found more pools of gut-wrenching honesty throughout my Bible: Lamentations, Psalms, and the four Gospels, to name a few. I also devoured Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy by Mark Vroegop, A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis, and Providence by John Piper. I listened to Psalm 121 on loop through the Dwell app. When I could absorb a bit more, I returned to beloved, well-worn sermons by Tim Keller like “Praying Our Tears” and “Praying Our Fears.” I also really loved Keller’s “Trusting God in Difficult Times” and “Doubt, Joy, and Power.”
Putting My Questions to Music
And then I started singing. I sat with a guitar or walked the loop at our neighborhood park, and words and melodies spilled out. I laid in bed at night, tossing and turning as sleep eluded me, as words and melodies hung in the air of my thoughts.
I wrote a song called “Tears on Your Face” about Jesus grieving with me, with John 11 as my point of reference. I wrote “You Know” on my front porch, when the words on the tip of my tongue were “Holy Spirit, you are bigger than depression / You raised the Lord Jesus from the grave.” I sat at a friend’s kitchen table one afternoon and began a song about anger called “Who Else” (“Who else am I supposed to be angry at / But the One who calls the shots?”). These songs eventually coalesced into an album, All My Questions, which releases today.
Our Questions Don’t Scare Jesus
It began to dawn on me that asking brutally honest questions wasn’t just for the canonized Job, or David, or Jeremiah, or John the Baptist, or Thomas. It began to dawn on me that my four daughters, at their varied ages and stages, all felt very safe to be unfiltered with me about their desires, disappointments, and questions.
I began to see the gospel applied to my mental health, grief, and grace-sourced faith. The complexities of his saying “yes” to my dad’s profound suffering that led to death, or my severe OCD, weren’t any easier to understand. But what did become clearer was the assurance that these shadowy places don’t scare him away.
Real relationships require more than what is Instagram-ready—so why would my relationship with Jesus be any different?
I began to see how the body of Christ really is an extension of God’s heart toward me. I began to see how in my marriage and friendships, conflict and questions aren’t symptoms of dysfunction, but health. Real relationships require more than what is Instagram-ready—so why would my relationship with Jesus be any different?
The hurdles of traumatic circumstances, doubt, and mental-health struggles no longer feel disqualifying to me as a Christian. They are an irreplaceable grace he gives to reveal his heart to us.