I had breakfast with a good friend this morning, as is my Sunday habit. Pleasant conversation. My friend, as it happens, is a professional counselor, and we sometimes talk about how we live and grow.
This week, we talked about medication for depression, and I expressed my concern that Americans might be medicating ourselves out of some good things. We don't like to be in pain or discomfort, physically or emotionally. As soon as we become depressed or unhappy, we reach for a pill. It's very similar to the too-common practice for unruly children. Medication.
But grief and depression can be tools to draw us deeper into knowing ourselves and deeper into a relationship with God. People who suffer are very often deeper people.
People who seek first to be comfortable and who never struggle with suffering are very often shallow people. I wonder if Americans and especially American Christians are medicating themselves into a drug-induced bliss that is nothing more than a chosen superficiality and mediocrity.
Some years back, I had a very painful neurological condition, and the doctors gave me some major drugs to kill pain. The pills only took the edge off the pain, and they made me both physically ill and deeply depressed. The problem lasted perhaps a couple weeks, but well-meaning Christian friends immediately suggested I ask my doctor for some pills to eliminate the depression.
I never did. I'm afraid of those pills. I'm afraid that I might be short-circuiting a process in me that might have some very good results. I'm afraid that by focusing on remaining comfortable - physically or emotionally - I might miss something very important that God wants to do in me.
When someone aspires to greatness - athletic greatness, academic greatness, or excellence in any other aspect of life - it's impossible to achieve the goal and avoid discomfort. It's a given that those who aspire to rise above the crowds will have to give up some comfort and ease in order to succeed.
This principle is equally true in the realm of spiritual life. (Though we can't really divide our lives into separate physical, mental and spiritual parts. We are an integrated unit.) If we would grow deep, if we would grow into intimacy with God, we cannot avoid discomfort. If we would grow deep, we cannot see trials and problems as the enemy. And we absolutely cannot immediately reach for a pill.
Sometimes it seems that my life has been one long struggle. When I wasn't hurting, I was catching my breath for a moment before the next round. As I consider it, in many ways it has not been fun. And if God were to ask me - which would be a welcome change - I would tell him I don't want any more of these things. And yet, the pain and struggle have brought me something valuable that can come in no other way. The end has been well worth the means.
Suffering can either make us bitter, or it can move us closer to God. It can put us in denial, or it can help us draw on deeper resources within us.
Suffering is never fun. But times of suffering can be among the most valuable times in life, because of the wonderful results that can come in no other way.
Hurting? Discouraged? Don't reach for a pill. Press in to God. Don't waste your sufferings.