“Do you cut yourself?” I ask. “No,” she whispers. “I burn myself.” She pulls up her sleeves to show me dark red lines all the way up her arms. “I use a curling iron.”
“I took the whole bottle of pills,” he says. “My wife found me passed out and called 911.”
“I want out,” she says. “I can’t promise you I won’t follow through. Life is too dark for me.”
I work in a mental health practice, and hear these stories over and over. People who often look normal on the outside give a glimpse into their painful inner worlds. The darkness is deep and the stories sad: abuse, trauma, anxiety, depression, addiction, substance abuse, brokenness, and pain.
I’d like to think these stories are anomalies, but they aren’t. Every 16 minutes someone in the United States commits suicide. It’s the tenth leading cause of death in Americans over age 10. At least one in four American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness such as depression or anxiety in any given year.
The voices of my patients join the much louder collective cry of human suffering that Jesus hears each day. “The pain is too much. There’s no reason to hope. Life is too dark for me.”
It’s better to go to a funeral than a party?
All of us experience darkness. Whether or not we’re depressed, we’re all victims of our world’s war between good and evil, a reality that inevitably includes pain. Sooner or later darkness will catch up with each of us. It could be the darkness of failure, rejection, loss, addiction, unmet needs, or disappointed hopes.
What do we do with the darkness?
Option One: Numb the pain. The possibilities are endless: substances, overwork, entertainment, avoidance, and countless other methods of self-medicating. The problem is, the pain will come back to haunt you, the darkness blacker than before.
Option Two: Try to suppress or outsmart the pain. Just think your way out of it. “I know I’m not supposed to feel this way. It’s not really that bad. I just need to suck it up!” Reframing your thoughts can be helpful, especially if you’re reframing them towards Jesus, but option two is impossible (and discouraging) if you don’t have option three first.
Option Three: Bring your pain to Jesus. Jesus won’t tell you to suck it up, because He knows what it’s like to feel pain. Reflecting on Gethsemane, Ellen White wrote: “The human heart longs for sympathy in suffering. This longing Christ felt to the very depths of His being” (The Desire of Ages, p. 687).
The same Jesus who craved comfort in His suffering reaches out to comfort you in yours. He isn’t scared of your sorrow. In fact, He’s given your pain a purpose.
King Solomon wrote:
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, NIV).
It’s better to go to a funeral than a party?
I didn’t say it. Solomon did. But it does makes sense to me. Something about darkness and death make the reality of the gospel come to life. I held my Grandpa’s hand while he died. I listened and watched as his breathing slowed and finally stopped. In that moment, I knew that Jesus would give him another breath soon. I realized that Jesus bought the right to do that when His own breathing stopped. It was a beautiful thought. It made Jesus seem more real, and my appreciation for Him stronger.
I’m learning that pain makes me value Jesus more.
My own story has included seasons in which life seemed too dark for me. I hate these times, but in hindsight, I’m grateful for them. Why? Because I’m slowly discovering the blessing of option three. I’m learning that pain makes me value Jesus more.
Sometimes we’re too quick to slap a diagnosis on sadness. I don’t think Jesus wants us to be sad, but when those seasons come, He can use them in a profound way. In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis puts it this way:
“Every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt… Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Of course, God is not the source of the bad things that hurt us, but He is big enough, wise enough, and loving enough to “rob” evil of its power to destroy us. Instead, He “hijacks” it for our beautification. If you’re struggling with sadness or pain, maybe Jesus is whispering or shouting behind the madness—not by causing the pain, but by speaking through it. The Man of Sorrow wants you to bring your sorrows to Him. In His wounds, you’ll find healing for yours.
The Man of Sorrow wants you to bring your sorrows to Him.
I wouldn’t wish sadness on anyone. But I think the feeling that the world is too dark for us is actually a really good thing, especially when we think about it like this:
“This world is too dark for me. Jesus said He would go away and prepare mansions for us, that where He is we may be also. Praise God for this. My heart leaps with joy at the cheering prospect” (Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, p. 21).
Jesus, help me endure as much darkness as it takes to realize this world is not my home. Teach me to bring my pain to You. Thank You for being the Light of the world, the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort.