In the midst of a severe depression, I joined a Bible study. I was looking forward to becoming a part of this group and gleaning the wisdom of fellow sojourners in Christ.
I carried on in the Southern Baptist tradition of smiling big and hiding the fact I was struggling. I knew I’d have to fake it a little bit, as these groups tend to balk at pain, but I wasn’t prepared for sugary outpouring about how wonderful things were.
A lady my age would suddenly stop in the middle of the study. “Y’all,” she’d gush. “Can I just say how awesome God is? I mean, I am so undeserving of His love, and yet, I am so blessed and He is SO wonderful and He has provided everything to me and I couldn’t be more happier than I am in this moment with Him.” Amen, amen, murmurred the group. Everyone else also had these prayers of praise about how everything was so good and how God was this sweet oasis – nothing could take away their happiness.
I let out a heavy sigh. I am a terrible actress and I couldn’t bring myself to be this happy, clappy Christian when things were everything but good for me. I felt suffocated. I felt it all was a performance. I had to fake it to my family. I had to fake it at work. I wanted to find a place for my soul to just be, and I had hoped it would be here among believers that would become friends, confidants. Nope, I’d have to fake it here too, probably more so. I’m sure if I shared my heart, they would steamroll over it with the platitudes of God’s timing, grace – Jesus was bigger than any of my troubles, therefore the pain wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be – and that ever-present line of the bad times were almost over, surely a daughter of the King would never suffer this much for this long.
I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to be there. I never returned.
I’d take a few more missteps and be prescribed medication for depression before I’d get myself on the right track again.
I regret to inform the reader this was all one big huge complete and total missed opportunity.
My shift was almost over when I saw the name. I was processing the new hospital admissions and I knew who this was – the lady my age who was on fire for how good things were in her life from the Bible study. I glanced at her diagnosis: attempted suicide.
Because of medical privacy laws, I couldn’t say anything. I barely knew her outside of an always-smiling face I’d see on Sundays. I had to play dumb when word got around she was in need of prayer.
She was, as it turned out, struggling. Things were not as rosy and wonderful as she claimed with her words. All things considered, she was more than likely in a deeper hole than I was, doing her best to ignore the pain. She was faking it until the pain grew too constant and too high, and somehow thought the best course of action was to end it all.
My heart broke. Here we were, two Christian women, treading water and trying to keep our heads above the relentless waves that kept crashing over us. We could have helped each other through the choppy waters, had we been open and honest about our pain. A tear managed to fall down my cheek when I thought about how our houses were within walking distance. We could have shared a cup of tea – or an illicit glass of wine – in our living rooms as we leaned on each other for support. We could have called each other just to check in – how’s your week going? How do you feel today? What Scriptures are bringing you the greatest comfort right now? Come over, we’ll have dinner and play cards.
But no, there was none of that. We had appearances to keep up.
Even though she had no idea about my pain or this missed opportunity – and still doesn’t know – her story did become a happy one. She got the help she needed and last I heard she is happy as a wife and mother.
Ever since then, I’ve been quite wary of people who come across as perfect, happy Christians whose lives look like something out of a Hallmark movie. With social media, we can curate our timelines to show the world that we are indeed living our best lives. Our cultural Christianity teaches us to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative,” as if God only allows pure joy in our lives and anything else is from the devil.
This is your reminder that hiding your pain will cause missed opportunities to live in community with our fellow believers. The Kingdom is built on relationships, not hot takes or platitudes, as we build each other up until the day of Glory.