One of the most well-known stories in the Bible is the story of Joseph - the favored son of Jacob who was thrown into a pit by his brothers, then retrieved and sold into slavery where he became the second-most powerful man in the Egyptian society. As I listened to my pastor talk through this story recently, I was struck by how often Joseph's story is our story.
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I talk with persons on nearly a daily basis who are struggling with depression. Deep depression. Now, depression has become sort of a buzz word in our culture. Anyone who's feeling mildly blue about anything or justifiably sad or grieving is said to be depressed. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about real depression, that feeling that you're stuck in a pit somewhere and no matter what you do, that pit just keeps getting deeper and darker.
The more you try to climb your way out, the bigger the hole until whatever small light existed in the hopes of above is now gone and there is just darkness.
Depression isn't easy. Not everyone gets to work their way out of it. For those that do emerge, there's this other aching reality - the sense that they have sold themselves out for something less.
It never happens that someone just springs out of depression into the life they want to be living. You don't just climb out of the pit and into glory. You don't come out of the darkness and get everything you want. You never seem to go from loser to champion in one fail swoop. For some reason, when we're working our way out of depression, we do it by...settling into something less.
We do it by deciding, among all the things we want, what one thing we want and trying to be happy with that. I just want to go to the store by myself, we think. Or I just want to have a part-time job. Or I just want to get outside and go for a walk. Or I just want to...whatever it is that you've deemed is that one thing that's going to pull you out of the pit. And then life, no matter how bad, no matter how dull, no matter how empty it is, suddenly feels so much fuller because you have this one thing. You could almost forget all the things you don't have.
If only this didn't look so much like Egypt.
That's what makes depression so hard. Even when you think you've found a way out, at some point, you realize you've just found a way away. You've stepped away from the pit, maybe, and that's one thing, but you're so far from home. You're so far from the place that has meaning for you. You're so far from everything you used to know and love.
And you start to feel lonely. And you start to feel distant. And you start to feel the weight of Egypt bearing down on you. It's not long before your freedom from the pit feels like a prison (also true in the story of Joseph), before you start to wonder if you hadn't been better off in the pit after all.
It sucks. I know. And I'm sorry.
But even in a place such as this, Joseph was able to start touching some distant place in himself. He was able to recover something about his divine make-up that reconnected him with who he used to be.
His brothers always mocked him, called him "the Dreamer." He was always having these prophetic dreams. It was kind of what made him, well...him. Joseph knew how to dream. And then he finds himself in an Egyptian prison, far removed from the pit but even further away from home, and he's confronted with the dreams of the prisoners.
I don't think it was an accident.
I don't think it was just a coincidence that in this far away place, God connected Joseph to something that had been with him so strongly in his younger days, something that reminded him of a place called home. There are probably a thousand ways, at least, that Joseph could have gained favor in prison. A thousand ways he could have built his reputation. A thousand ways he could have worked his way up and out of that place. But as the story goes, he did it through dreams. The Dreamer himself.
I say all that to say this: depression is hard. From the pit of darkness, from the depths of despair, we often feel like we're selling ourselves out to something less just to have a glimpse of the light again. And so often, we are. And we wake up far from home, far away from anywhere that has any real meaning for us. And we start to feel lonely. And we start to feel distant. And we start to feel the weight of Egypt bearing down on us.
But hold on.
Because echoes of home are coming. In the smallest of ways, in the most unexpected places, in the hardest of times, God is sending whispers of a time gone by. He will remind you who you are at the very core of yourself. He will put you back in touch with one thing, just one thing, that is so wholly, beautifully, uniquely you. And it's going to be okay.