The Bitter Cup: God's Grace in Depression

How do you tell people who look to you as a "strong Christian woman" that only weeks before you lay curled on your bathroom floor, barely able to breathe, except to utter the words to God or whoever might be listening, "Why don't you love me?"

Two years ago, I was introduced to depression for the first time in my life.

It was bewildering. I was a strong believer, newly engaged, serving at my local church, living with some of my best friends... yet a deep weariness seemed to cling to me to day after day. A dark cloud—one that wouldn’t lift—hung over me for days that stretched into months.

I shouldn't be feeling this way, should I? I thought. I should be happy, right?

WHEN THE DARKNESS DOESN’T LIFT

I discovered that my depression was caused by a medication I was on, and praise God, the dark cloud lifted when I changed medication. But then my fiancé (now my husband) had his first panic attack. One attack turned into two, which turned into three.

The frequency of the attacks continued to increase, and what followed was months and months of unexplainable depression and anxiety. I found myself just a few weeks into marriage, holding my husband as he shook with yet another panic attack.

Day after day panic attacks and depression racked through our little family of two. I would try to remember a time before the darkness, try to make myself believe that the darkness would lift.

But what if it didn't?

“HOW COULD A GOOD GOD ALLOW THIS?”

I felt helpless and alone. I would be fine one day, but the next day my husband would have a depressive spell, and I would find myself spiraling down with him. I was hopeless.

I couldn’t see God through the darkness.

I couldn't see God through the darkness.

I had walked with God for years. I had gone to seminary to develop a theological foundation. I had done studies on the character of God. And yet I found myself wondering, "How could a good God walk his children through something so desperately painful and difficult?

They say that hindsight is 20/20. That it's easier to see the meaning of a season when you have a bigger perspective. But even though we've had more light days than dark in the last few months, I know our battle with this darkness is not over.

QUESTIONING MY SUFFERING

Sometimes I feel like I'm gaining perspective. On the lighter days, it's often easier for me to choose joy and feel hopeful and trust God. But sometimes—even on a good day—I look back at those dark days (or look forward to the inevitable dark days to come) and wonder . . .

Does all this suffering even mean anything?

I know I'm not the only one who asks this question. I've heard the question from friends wrestling with the repercussions of childhood trauma, from family members questioning why innocent children die, from women suffering daily from chronic illness, from couples struggling with infertility.

Does all this suffering even mean anything?

You've probably heard the question echo around your own mind as you wade through the brokenness of the world. It's a haunting and heavy question: Does all this suffering even mean anything?

Over the last year, in this combination of dark and light days, days of hopelessness contrasted with hopefulness, seasons of fear and seasons of deep trust, God has been gracious to give me some perspective. Maybe not 20/20, but at least some growth in understanding. I pray what I’m learning meets you in the midst of your darkness.

SUFFERING IS TO BE EXPECTED

I'm not sure where we got the notion that as Christians our lives should be comfortable. Nowhere in Scripture does God promise a life of ease and happiness on this side of heaven; and if he did, that promise of ease would not be a kindness to us.

God promises—even amidst inevitable suffering—that we will experience a deep, abiding peace and joy in Christ.

No, we’re not promised comfort. But, as Peter writes, we are promised suffering: "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Pet. 4:12).

Suffering is not all we’re promised, however. Peter goes on to write, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13). God promises—even amidst inevitable suffering—that we will experience a deep, abiding peace and joy in Christ.

Suffering, then, is not a mark of failure or weakness. It's not a sign of God's disappointment in you. Suffering is a means of grace. Here are three reasons why.

SUFFERING SHOWS US THAT GOD LOVES US

When you love someone, you often try to show them your love through acts of kindness, through words of encouragement, through gifts that make them feel loved and cared for, through hugs and kisses and sweet gestures. But God's love is sometimes very unlike man's love.

Sometimes I feel that the way God is acting towards me—to put me through some hard thing, to walk me through a dark and difficult season—sometimes I feel it reflects a lack of love towards me. I feel like God doesn’t love me in those times . . .

But I must remember: God's love is steadfast and sure (Ps. 36:7; Isa. 54:10; Heb. 6:19-20). It is continual and comprehensive (Ps. 107; Isa. 54:8; Rom. 8:39). God's love is unchanging, no matter what darkness he walks me through.

In fact—and this might sound crazy, but bear with me—oftentimes, God's love for me is magnified when he walks me through darkness. Charles Spurgeon writes,

"So far as personal sorrows are concerned, it would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by His hand, that my trials were never measured out by Him, nor sent to me by His arrangement of their weight and quantity.

Oh, that would be bitterness indeed! But, on the contrary . . .

May we see that our heavenly Father fills the cup with loving tenderness, and holds it out, and says, ‘Drink, my child; bitter as it is, it is a love-potion which is meant to do thee permanent good.’"

God is good even when he gives me a bitter cup to drink. 

SUFFERING POINTS US TO SOMETHING BETTER

Sometimes the depth of suffering is indescribable. People ask how you are, but how do you describe the deep and continual loneliness you feel? How do you explain the spiral of utter hopelessness and darkness you're trapped in? How do you tell someone about the weight that you constantly feel in your gut?

Suffering is deep and painful.

But it is expressly in these moments of suffering that we must remember the outcome of enduring it:

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God. . . . Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” —Rom. 5:1, 3-4

Suffering—if we let it—points us to hope. And that hope is rooted in Jesus.

No matter what you’re going through, look to Jesus.

God is good even when he gives me a bitter cup to drink.

When things are good, look to Jesus.

When you’re shuddering from a panic attack, look to Jesus.

When you can't get up from your puddle of tears on the bathroom floor, look to Jesus.

SUFFERING PRODUCES IN US SOMETHING THAT’S WORTH EVERYTHING

Oftentimes the growth produced in suffering isn't seen quickly. Sometimes you can’t see the growth for weeks, months, or even years.

It’s in these seasons though that, unbeknownst to us, God is growing in us long-suffering, patience, and deep trust.

God draws us near in the discomfort and the dissatisfaction.

It's uncomfortable. It's frustrating. It's scary. But somehow, suffering serves to sanctify us. Suffering exposes our sin, grows our trust, and deepens our love of God.

When we're comfortable, we can easily become blind to the sanctifying work the Lord needs to do in our hearts. We think we're okay, that we've got a hold on our faith, that we’re fully trusting the Lord in every area.

But it seems that God grows our faith and trust in him more when we are uncomfortable and dissatisfied with our circumstances. It seems that he draws us near in the discomfort and the dissatisfaction.

It’s in those seasons of suffering that—if we look to Jesus—we experience an intimacy with the Lord unlike anything else.

PRAISE GOD FOR SUFFERING

Therefore we can praise God for suffering. We can confidently face yet another trial, whether it's depression, conflict, illness, infertility, poverty, loneliness, darkness, or death. We can even thank God for such trials, because we know that there is no greater growth than that which comes from the depths of darkness. There is no prayer more genuine than the prayer that flows before the tears have dried.

The “better thing” is not our earthly comforts, but nearness to God.

The "better thing" is not our earthly comforts, but nearness to God, which he has been gracious to offer us in the depths of our despair and brokenness.

Because isn't Christ's graciously-extended hand made more glorious by the fact that it’s extended to wretched, dead, and wayward sinners? Isn't his love magnified by the fact that we are so utterly unlovable?

It's all grace.

Salvation. Suffering. Sanctification.

All of it is grace.

GOD’S GRACE IN YOUR SUFFERING

In whatever painful season you're currently walking through, praise God for this hard path, because it is precisely this difficult thing that is growing you more into God's likeness.

Remind yourself of the unchanging goodness of God.

Remind yourself of his kindness to you, even in giving you—especially in giving you—this difficult thing.

It’s grace.

It's all grace.


Lauren Bowerman lives just outside of Denver, CO but has been privileged to call many cities, states, countries, and continents home. Her transient life has cultivated in her a deep love for diverse cultures and people. As a writer and a pastor’s wife, she is passionate about encouraging God’s people through writing on her blog and through discipleship.