When The Joy of Jesus Is Not Enough: Dealing With Grief, Depression, and All The Feels
In the black church, we are no strangers to quickly moving beyond pain and grief to quickly get to the “joy that comes in the morning.”
From the Trans-Atlantic slave trade to the dehumanizing institution of chattel slavery. From Black laws during Reconstruction post Civil War to Lynching Laws. From “Separate But Equal” during Jim Crow to the “War on Drugs”. From the “Three Strike” rule to Mass Incarceration. From…
- Mike Brown
- Trayvon Martin
- Eric Gardner
- Sandra Bland
- Tamir Rice
- Freddy Gray
- Terence Crutcher
- Alton Sterling
- Jamar Clarke
- Walter Scott
- Philando Castile
- Rekia Boyd
- George Floyd
- Ahmaud Aubrey
- Daunte Wright
…and all the other black bodies lost to police brutality, to continued systemic racism enforced through politicians and policy at every level, we as Black folk have done one thing; SURVIVED.
However, often times, survival has come at the repression of our feelings of fear, grief, anxiety and depression, because truthfully we haven’t had the time to process.
And what I’m about to say is going to get me the serious side eye, but, sometimes the joy of Jesus alone, isn’t enough to move us from sadness, depression, trauma and pain.
I know what I said Mother Myrtle!
Yes, I am aware that Jesus is the:
- Alpha and Omega
- The Beginning and the End
- The Lilly In The Valley
- The Bright and Morning Star
- The Rose of Sharon
- A Bridge Over Troubled Water
- The Wheel In the Middle of the Wheel
- Bread When You’re Hungry
- Water When You’re Thirsty
- A Doctor In The Sick Room
- A Lawyer In The Courtroom
- Shelter In The Time of Storm
- A Rock In A Weary Land
- Mary’s Baby
- The Soon Coming King
And Jesus is still all of these things WITH the acknowledgment that in our humanness, our brain functioning, our minds, and our emotions can be bruised, damaged and in desperate need of repair.
Let Me Be Transparent
Depression and I are old acquaintances.
By the start of the holiday season of 2018, when feelings of depression and despair are often exacerbated, I realized that I had already spiraled into a deep depression.
The Preacher and I suffered a miscarriage, I lost a close college friend, and I was fired from my job in that same year. I watched in hopelessness as the mail (and my weight) piled up. I couldn’t sleep at nights. I cried EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
But, being the good Christian and First Lady that I am, I was present at church on most Sundays, feeling completely lost and empty.
I wasn’t moved by the lighting of the Advent candles, Joy To The World, or any other Christmas hymn. I wasn’t moved by the sermon. In fact, I was barely listening. The only words I could muster up doing prayer were “God, I need you”.
And when people asked about my holiday plans, I couldn’t even fake the funk; I replied “I’m struggling this holiday season”.
Many replied with “I’m praying for you”, which was greatly appreciated. Others awkwardly glossed over my words and moved to discuss their own joy and excitement. And still others, responded with the litany of churchy, one liners:
- God is In Control
- Just Be Strong
- You’re Stronger Than You Think
- Jesus Is The Reason For The Season
- (and my favorite) Weeping Endures For A Night, But JOY Comes In The Morning.
Note: Dear Church, PLEASE stop super-spiritualizing EVERY. SINGLE. THING!
Real talk, joy wasn’t there that next morning. Nor was it there the morning after that. But, even though Joy took it’s sweet “on Colored-People’s time” to arrive, I’m a witness that it did come, BUT…it took work, prayer, AND Jesus.
On Christmas morning 2018, I woke up to an empty bedroom. I was honestly relieved, because I didn’t have to exclaim “Merry Christmas”, at a time that was far from merry. I tearfully choked out these words in what felt like my final plea to God.
God, I know you are with me, but I don’t feel your presence. I don’t know how you’re going to get me out of this, but I desperately need you to do something.
How To Deal With Grief And Depression
On December 26, 2018, I stopped pretending that my professional skills as a social worker would be enough to save me. I stopped pretending that all I needed were “thoughts and prayers” to get me through this. I deconstructed the notion that getting help was a sign of my flaws, failures, weaknesses, or LACK OF FAITH!
I called and scheduled an intake appointment with a licensed mental health professional.
I say the following with every ounce of empathy, with respect to the differences in our stories, I SURVIVED! You can survive too!
Here are a few tips to deal with your grief and depression.
- Regardless of what’s happening around you, PLEASE take the time to process your pain, anxiety, grief, trauma, etc. You do NOT need to have all of the answers all of the time. You do not need to “be strong”. You do not need to have a plan prior to exploring your pain.
- Grief does not only occur when a death occurs. A loss of a friendship/relationship, job/income, pet, property, security, health, and/or independence can cause you to experience grief.
- Trauma often leads to grief. Trauma is a distressing or disturbing experience, which can lead to grief. Your trauma and/or grief is YOURS. You don’t have to justify it’s existence or explain it to anyone.
- Remember “Jesus Wept” (John 11:35). Jesus was distraught when Lazarus died. Being fully God and fully human, Jesus could have called Lazarus back from the dead as soon as He arrived to the tomb. But He didn’t. Not only was Jesus proving His divinity, He was proving His humanity. Jesus, the Son of God, took the time to grieve.
- Jesus AND Therapy! I will forever repeat this. In the same way that you ensure your physical body is fit, you MUST ensure that your mental/emotional health is fit. If grief, depression, trauma, or anything else is causing you significant distress in your everyday functioning, FIND A THERAPIST. This does not make you any less of a Christian.
- Disconnect. I promise your social media “friends” will NOT miss you! Disconnect from the 24 hour news cycle and the replaying of traumatic videos. Also, disconnect from people, places and things that cause you emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual pain.
- If you are currently suicidal or have experienced suicidal ideation, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline IMMEDIATELY!
- Exercise Your Faith! I KNOW how difficult it is to praise God through pain. Force yourself to do it anyway and know that even in tragedy, grief, and loss, God is still with you.
As you move forward in your healing, know that you are not alone! I’ll be praying that in time, your testimony will set others free.