I can’t think of a good way to start this post out, other than to say that I feel compelled to share an experience I had recently because of how good God is. So I’m just going to dive right in with the storytelling.
A couple weeks ago I was having a mildly difficult day at work. Nothing too crazy, just a lot going on, plus chronic migraine, plus slight stress. But I want to emphasize that this was not the worst day of my life or anything even remotely close to it. But as I was walking across the kitchen I was struck out of nowhere by the thought that I should cut myself.
Now, it’s not the first time that I’ve had thoughts like that, but since I am currently healthy and stable, my first thought was that my medication was out of whack and I needed to see my doctor. Then the Holy Spirit chimed in and said, “Nope, it’s the enemy pretending to be your depression.”
Side note: I never really know how to refer to…you know. I mean, calling him Satan seems too intimate to me. Like, we are not on a first-name basis, thank you very much. I can’t go with the standard “the devil,” because it invariably makes me think of Nick Mulligan saying, “It’s…the devil! Mwahahaha.” You Adventures in Odyssey fans know what I’m talking about. And “the enemy”? Who does he think he is, Morgoth Bauglir? I mean, I guess that’s pretty close, actually. It’s just one of those things my brain makes awkward. Anyway…
So my immediate response to the Holy Spirit’s revelation was to pray, “None of that, in the name of Jesus!” All the pretense dropped away and I suddenly understood exactly what Tolkien was trying to convey with the phrase “sleepless malice.” I felt really cold out of nowhere, and I heard the enemy say, “Do you think Jesus cares whether you cut yourself or not?”
I suppose at this point I should mention that I went to a school and also a summer camp that were theologically shaky on the topic of the enemy. My camp counselors told me that if I wasn’t praying in a secret prayer language, Satan could stop my prayers from getting to God, which even at the age of ten I knew was utter nonsense because it meant that Satan had more power than God. And every school day from the ages of seven to eleven I saw a poster in the hallway that said “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for who he can devour!” with a little clip art picture of a lion under it. Which is definitely true and biblical, but also troubling when taken in isolation, not to mention a weird choice of verse to put up in an elementary school hallway. Because the Bible also says, “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world,” (I realize that would be hard to illustrate with clip art, but someone should have given it a shot, if you ask me), and lots of other things about how God is more powerful than Satan and has already defeated him. Anyway, I grew up with the enemy more in the foreground than he deserves to be. Yes, the enemy is real and we should be cautious. But also, God is more real and we don’t have to be afraid.
In my experience, people always seem to say, “the enemy attacks you where you’re weakest!” and generally talk about Satan as if he really can somehow thwart God’s will. And Satan definitely has attacked me in areas where I am weak, areas where I am depending on my own strength. But this was not one of those times.
Because if there is anything I am sure of, it’s the goodness of God, His love and faithfulness and unfailing mercy. Even at the nadir of my depression, I was sure that Jesus cared whether I cut myself or not. Even when I believed the lie that cutting myself might ease the really overwhelming pain I was in or atone in some pitiful way for my utter worthlessness, I knew that Jesus cared, that He was 100% adamant that I not do it. And by His grace I didn’t.
But I still listened to the lie (let me tell you, it is a lot harder for me to identify and banish the lies of the enemy when my depression is uncontrolled, so an additional thank you, Jesus! for the miracle of antidepressants), and I dwelt on it, and I let it live in my head for a long time. Because the truth is that I am so broken and sinful and weak all over that apart from Christ I am literally nothing. That realization knocked me off my feet early on my freshman year in college, and I nearly drowned in it. I didn’t tell anyone or ask for help because I figured (uncontrolled depression logic again!) that Jesus knew how messed up and broken I was, but I could still keep it a secret from other people.
So after three years of despair and self-imposed isolation and crying out to the Lord to give me one good reason for why He bothered with me at all, I went to a choral evensong service at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. And I knelt down for the confession and read the unfamiliar words from a green laminated sheet of paper.
“We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.”
And the Holy Spirit said, “There’s your reason; it doesn’t have anything to do with you,” and by the grace of God, I finally had ears to hear it.
And so I stood in the kitchen at work, and I felt a heavy weight of malicious intent, and I heard it: “Do you think Jesus cares whether you cut yourself or not?”
I was surprised for a second. Then I laughed out loud, and by the power of the name of Jesus, the coldness and the malice and the lie departed.
Because I do think that Jesus cares. I know it. No matter how broken or sinful or weak or empty I am. Jesus loves me and covered me with His blood, even though I never can and never will do a single thing that even approaches the possibility of deserving it.
God is so faithful, and He loves us so much, past comprehension. His grace is deep and wonderful and I am perpetually awed by all that He has done for us. And I can’t wait for the day when we all know as we are known, when we’re knocked off our feet by the understanding of how much He has done, when we finally fathom the extent of His love.
He cares for us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. -Ephesians 2:4-7