Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to welcome Gillian Marchenko as our guest blogger this Spring. Her new book, Still Life; A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression publishes in May and her work has appeared in numerous publications including Chicago Parent, Today’s Christian Woman, Literary Mama, Thriving Family, and MomSense Magazine. Her first book, Sun Shine Down, was published in 2013. She lives near St. Louis with her husband Sergei and their four daughters. Connect with her at her Facebook page.
I have a new book coming out in May called Still Life, a Memoir of Living Fully with Depression. People who know I am a writer sometimes ask me “What are you working on these days?” “A memoir about my major depressive disorder,” I say, and they usually look at me out of the corner of their eyes. Many don’t know what to say. Why would anyone want to write, or for that matter, read a book about mental illness, I decide they are thinking.
But I know why I wrote the book.
I wrote a book about my depression, an illness that in its entirety is usually a part of my life under lock and key, to defuse a bit of the ugliness that so easily entangles me.
But also, I wrote this book because the stigma about mental illness in our Christian circles is alive and well. How can a believer in Jesus have suicidal ideations? How can a Christian often feel no hope? What about fullness in Christ?
With Still Life, I am attempting to give myself a little more freedom in my battle and to let other Christians know that if they struggle with mental illness, they are not alone.
I have depression. So how can I glorify God with it? I think it is by opening up my safe and letting others see in.
Most of us have safes tucked deep within our hearts. It’s where painful parts of our stories hide, stuff we don’t necessarily want others to see: hurts, insecurities, jealousy, fear. For me, it is the illness of depression. A lot of our outward struggles stem from this hidden safe within us, and we end up spending whatever amount of energy we have for life hiding the safe, and trying to show others and ourselves that we are okay. We can do this. We don’t have struggles, or at least we don’t have struggles we want others to see.
One of the biggest problems with the church today is that too many of us show up on Sundays with our safes under lock and key. We hoard the hard parts of our lives because Christians are ‘supposed’ to be joyful and faithful. This is the most dangerous type of hoarding. If we can’t be honest with each other about what is in our safes, we will stunt our communion with one another and with God. Annie Dillard talks about this in regards to writing, but I think it is true for life, too:
“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Anything we do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to us. I firmly believe this includes the dark parts of ourselves we’d rather not share. One day, we may open our safe and find ashes.
Why must we hide? Why must I hide? I am a Christian, a mother, a writer, a friend, a pastor’s wife, and a lot of times I hoard my secrets in a safe. Some days, my illness swallows me whole. I don’t know how to parent my kids. Prayer is hard. I think way more about the bottle of pills in my medicine cabinet than about Christ. I can’t get out of bed.
But let’s not miss the lessons here. The concepts of darkness and light are eternally connected. How can we know one without the other? And how can the light in us shine if we are preoccupied with keeping hidden in the dark? Did you know that Jesus is with you in your darkness? If you are his child, you are never alone, not even if you lock yourself up in a safe. Did you know that your darkness can lose some of its power? It can. It loses power when it is put in the light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
I hope today we all can be brave enough to tell someone about the things under lock and key in our lives, to bow and talk to God about it, and to allow our lives to open up a bit more, for His glory, yes, but also for our sake, and for the sake of our universal church where far too many people show up on Sunday mornings under lock and key.
“I stand on the edge of a cliff in my own bedroom.”
In Still Life, Gillian Marchenko continues her description of depression: “I must keep still. Otherwise I will plunge to my death. ‘Please God, take this away,’ I pray when I can.”
For Gillian, “dealing with depression” means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In these pages she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed?
Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.
Still Life is available here for pre-order from IVP Press.
Thank you for sharing this – will pass it on.
“I hope today we all can be brave enough to tell someone about the things under lock and key in our lives, to bow and talk to God about it, and to allow our lives to open up a bit more, for His glory, yes, but also for our sake, and for the sake of our universal church where far too many people show up on Sunday mornings under lock and key.”
This is the cry of my heart also. I remember my mother telling me as a child that a Christian should never be in a sorority because Christians aren’t supposed to keep secrets from one another – we are to live in the open. However, we do live continually under lock and key holding back things we should have the freedom to share and thus get the support we so desperately need.
I haven’t suffered with depression but I lived with 24/7 panic for more than 20 years. I was afraid to tell anyone because those I did tell had such platitudes and no compassion. Mine turned out to be a physical problem which a Godly psychologist helped me discover by sending me to a Naturopathic doctor.
May you continually feel the presence of the Triune God Gillian. May He surround you with His children who have insight and are a support.
Have you considered deliverance? Jesus bore all our infirmaries, sicknesses and diseases on the cross. There is not one thing that he did not pay for, we only have to receive and believe in Jesus name!
It is good to look at all possibilities. I’m sure Gillian has already.
Have you ever done an in depth study of Romans 8 – it is about the importance of suffering in our walk with God.
“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,PROVIDED we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17 ESV)
Suffering is a key to knowing God more deeply. It is in the midst of suffering that God gives us insight into who He is that we are not capable of seeing in other circumstances.
I would gently and lovingly encourage you to listen to the study I posted below. It is about the importance of suffering in our walk with God. It is when we are in the midst of suffering that we have the greatest opportunity to bring glory to the Triune God. Which is the purpose we are here. Remember that God is sovereign – the enemy cannot touch us unless the Lord has a purpose and a plan in it. Read and ponder the first verses of John 9.
It is important that we know the whole counsel of God and that we don’t just pull out a verse here or there. This sermon by John Piper gives us a good overview of the importance of suffering in our walk with God.
My prayer for you Sally is Ephesians 1;15-23. May God give you deep insight into who He is and how He works. You are loved.
Thank you for your comments! I’m watching Dr. Piper’s video…fabulous teaching!
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One of the privileges I’ve had serving in leadership with Key Ministry is the ability to meet dozens of pastors and prominent church leaders. Depression is a struggle for many of the most faithful…and fruitful Christians I’ve ever met. Jesus bore our SINS on the cross. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where it’s promised that we’ll be free from infirmity, sickness and disease IN THIS LIFE.
Everybody Jesus healed during his earthly ministry eventually died. Paul experienced a depth of despair in 2 Corinthians 1 such that he no longer wished to live.
I’m honored that Gillian has chosen to share this series with us. I don’t know how much you know about Gillian’s background, but I don’t even remotely have the faith to pick up and move Eastern Europe to share the Gospel, adopt a daughter with significant special needs and launch the ministry she and her husband have launched.
Insinuating that Gillian’s depression is caused by a lack of faith is both incredibly presumptive and hurtful and not grounded in any solid theology.
Can we as Christians PLEASE stop shooting our wounded?
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