This last weekend, I shared with my past struggle with depression that lasted for nearly a year. It was during that season I learned some valuable lessons. For one, that valley has given me a greater empathy for those who deal with anxiety and depression. I have walked through seasons of depression since my first bout 15 years ago, but I have discovered how to navigate those dark valleys that come into my life.
When David wrote Psalm 23, he made the powerful statement, "Even though I walk through the darkest valley..." What he declares is that he doesn't camp in the valley but keeps on walking. He doesn't say how long that valley lasts or even how dark the Darkness is. He just declares that he keeps walking and he knows that he is not alone.
In the valleys that I have journeyed through, I have discovered one key principle: to keep walking no matter how dark it is or how long the valley might be. It may be a day, a month, a year, or even years, but we have to keep walking. It is here that lies the way we overcome. It takes discipline and conquering the mind in order to gain a victory over the darkness. Discipline in our spiritual lives, as well as, discipline of the mind.
I gained ground on my depression and anxiety by continuing what I knew to do, even when I didn't feel like doing it. I prayed even though I couldn't tell if God was listening. I read the Word of God, even though it seemed silent and couldn't always feel it working. I continued to worship even though I didn't always sense His presence. I kept going to church, not because I was the pastor, but because I needed it.
We get into this trap of thinking that we only do the spiritual disciplines when we are on the mountaintop, but the truth is, we need them most in the valley. These are the things that see us through. The more I prayed, the more I began to believe that He was indeed listening. The more I read of the word of God, the more I realized that his Word was bringing life. The more I worshipped, the more I could sense His presence. The more I attended church, the more I gained life from those relationships. In all of these things, I discovered that I was never alone. As Terry Wardle says, "it's a problem with awareness, not nearness." God is always there.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For You are with me.
God is with us and we need to always remember this. When the Psalmist said, "Darkness is my closest friend." (Psalm 88:18), his eyes were focused on the darkness. We have to change what we look at and what we dwell on. Focus is the number one key. We become what we feed ourselves and we certainly will never get through the dark valleys until we set our eyes on the Light. The circumstances that we find ourselves in and dwelling on the things that cause us anxiety will only lead us deeper into the valley.
In my seasons of depression, I have learned that the valleys have become shorter when I have chosen not to focus on the depression and keep my eyes on the Light. It's amazing! When you recognize the ever present Help, you become more aware of His presence and His nearness.
15 years ago, after my 8th month of dark depression, I came across a simple book, God's Psychiatry, by Charles Allen. The whole treatise is about how we can get through all of life's problems by focusing on the God of the Bible. Allen gave 4 Scriptures to pray through daily that will help the reader get through their depression.
The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17)
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)
The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15)
I printed these on cards and read through them multiple times a day. Now, I keep them in a note on my phone and read through them almost daily. Doing these things wasn't an overnight fix, but as I focused on God's Word and embraced His nearness, I began to walk out of that long valley. Two months later, I was beginning to climb the mountain again.
Friend, I have discovered in life that there will always be valleys. Some short, some long, but keep doing the fundamentals and exercise the disciplines. These are the things that will help get you through. Keep your eyes on the Light and don't dwell on the dark. If you find yourself in a dark valley, just keep walking.
Danny and his wife, Sonya, have been lead pastors at Rogers First Assembly in Rogers, Arkansas since 2008.