Yesterday, I quoted from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress concerning the Slough of Despond (otherwise known as the Swamp of Despair). This swamp of despair is the place that many who set out to follow Christ and remove the burden of the Law end up falling into. Some liken it to depression. Others liken it to what happens whenever you have a deep conviction of sin without a vision of Christ. Both are probably somewhat in view.
As I was thinking through Bunyan’s Slough of Despond and my own battle with depression (that often feels like despair) my eyes were opened to an error in my thinking. Sometimes when I fall into this pit I spend a good amount of time trying to familiarize myself with the descent into the abyss.
While in the pit of depression and despair I spend a good portion of my time trying to figure out how I got in the pit. I look around and try to familiarize myself with my unwelcome surroundings. I replay in my mind everything leading up to my descent. I long to have my feet on the land just inches before my plummet. In my mind I study everything prior to the pit and everything that now encompasses me.
Why do I do this? Why do I spend time studying my gloom?
In my mind I do this so that it can help me battle. If I know what the ground looks like just inches before an abysmal plunge then I can keep my eyes open and prevent this from happening again. If I study my surroundings I can perhaps acclimate myself to life in the pit, keep myself alive, and somehow figure a way out of this pit.
Sounds good. One problem, though. It forgets about Jesus.
While there may be benefit in thinking through what caused my descent and trying not to follow that path again, it may not really help me in getting out of the pit—or even preventing other descents. My above strategy would work if I were the one responsible for getting out of the pit. But it’s not me.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
(Psalm 40:2 ESV)
My time would probably be better spent focusing on the strong hand that gets me out of the pit than studying my descent. After all He knows the pit better than I do. He directs my steps. He makes my feet secure.
What does this look like practically, you ask? It means that rather than spending my energies trying to figure out why I fell I expend my energies on grabbing the holy hand that pulls me out of the pit. If I can only read Scripture for 2 minutes before the darkness takes over then I read passionately for two minutes. It means that I throw all of my energies into meditating on the objective truth of the gospel and not the subjectivity of the pit of despair. It means that when the Lord does reveal to me sin that led to my fall that I engage in faith-fueled repentance.
If you find yourself in a pit today don’t try to acclimate yourself with your surroundings. Instead open your eyes and look for the strong hand that’s reaching down to pull you out of this pit. Trust him.