As I write this, I’m sitting in the Portland, Oregon airport waiting to board my flight to Boston with a layover in Houston. It’s 10:47 p.m. and I’ll soon (I hope) be on the red eye, trying to get some sleep. I doubt it will be the kind of deep sleep that leads to dreaming.
For the past couple of days a blog post idea has been flitting around in my head that has to do with dreaming. Or more accurately, it has to do with a specific dream. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to write that post.
This is a true story of a dream I had 13 years ago, but it is as vivid in my memory today as it was the moment I awoke from it. But before I get to the dream, a little background (some of which those who have read much of my blog will already know, some of which I’ve only shared one-on-one with people I know).
I had been struggling with major clinical depression for almost 7 years. There had been some good days, weeks, maybe even a month here and there, during that 7 years. But never any lasting relief. Even before that I had dealt with low grade depression for a long as I could remember. Through it all I blamed one person for all my misery. I’d been blaming him for almost 20 years. I was sure what he had done was the reason for my depression and that there was nothing I could do about it. I had become convinced that I would always be miserable. My regular mantra was that he had ruined my life.
So you might be wondering what he did that was so terrible. I’ve thought a lot about whether I would include that piece of information here. I’ve shared it with friends, but I’ve decided not to do so in my blog. I believe that this post will have a greater impact if I don’t because the principles I learned through this story aren’t dependent on the wrong that was done to me. Just as we don’t know what the thorn was in Paul’s side that he asked the Lord to remove (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), so that his story has a universal message that Jesus’ grace is sufficient for any suffering, I think my story will have more universal appeal if the reader can fill in the blanks with whatever wrong has been done to them.
You might also be wondering if my life really was miserable during this time so as to warrant being depressed. I assure you it was not. I was (and still am) married to a wonderful man who loves me and would do anything for me. We lived in a nice house. I had graduated from law school cum laude and had a pretty good job. My sweet, loveable son was also born during this time. I actually had, as George Bailey would say, “a wonderful life.”
Still, I was in utter despair and medication was not helping. I mentioned in My Tuesday Three last week about my friend June who invited me to my first Bible study, which happened towards the end of my 7 years of major depression. It was while I was attending this Bible study on a weekly basis that I had the dream.
Okay, now to the dream. It started out with me standing at the checkout counter at the grocery story. I paid for my groceries and turned to leave. There he was, on his knees, asking me to forgive him. But I walked away. Suddenly I was at the post office mailing some letters. I finished my business with the postal clerk and turned to leave. There he was again, on his knees, asking me to forgive him. But I walked away. This scenario was repeated at the bank, the library, and several other of the regular places one goes in life.
He was everywhere in my life in this dream, but not trying to ruin it. He was always asking for forgiveness. I awoke from the dream and knew immediately what I needed to do. God had been trying to tell me this very thing in various ways for quite some time, but I hadn’t listened. I couldn’t ignore this clear message of forgiveness.
So that is what I did. It wasn’t easy, and I had to pray for God to help me, but I forgave him. Suddenly a flood of names came to my mind. People who had “trespassed against me” in some way or another over the years; people I was holding a grudge against. All the bitterness I had been holding in my heart came pouring out and I began to cry. I asked God for forgiveness for my failure to forgive for so long.
The effect on my depression was not immediate, but it didn’t take very long compared to how long I had been struggling. Within just a few months I was off antidepressants and have not had to take them since. There are still days, sometimes weeks, when the darkness returns (though not as deeply as it had consumed me for those 7 years). For me, I can usually trace the lurking threat of depression to someone I’m angry with, someone I need to forgive. I’m reminded of the lesson of dreaming of forgiveness.
Note: I am not suggesting that unforgiveness or other unrepentant sin is the root of all depression. This is just my story, and I believe I’m not alone in the root of my struggle. I write this for those who, like me, have been hurt and have hung onto the bitterness that such wrongs can cause.