SuperSoul Question #8: “What do you know for sure?” (Part 8, of an eight-part series of posts, based on interview questions Oprah typically asks on her SuperSoul Conversations Podcast.)

Listening to Oprah’s “SuperSoul Conversations,” with leading spiritual teachers, I’ve observed eight recurring questions Oprah asks her guests. As I’ll likely never be a guest on Oprah’s podcast, I thought, “Why not write a series of blogs, based on Oprah’s questions?”  This is what I might tell Oprah, if given the chance.

“What do you know for sure?”

From about 9/11/2001 (unrelated to the terrorist attacks) through Spring 2005, I experienced a deep, painful, clinical depression.  While I tried to function “normally,” depression was a daily battle.  More days than not, I was on the losing side of that battle, sinking deeper, and deeper, and deeper into a dark, seemingly bottomless, pit.

Thankfully, I never totally gave in, or gave up.  My family and my ministry were too important to me to throw in the towel, and, selfishly, I couldn’t bear the pain.  From the start, no matter how bad I felt, or how discouraged I became, I sought help.  I met with physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, pastors, and spiritual directors.  I read books.  I took medicine.  I took time off.  I even changed jobs and relocated.  Nothing helped, and the depression got worse and worse.

When I was at my very worst, I was introduced to a Christian psychologist, who was instrumental in my recovery, leading me through a painfully healing process I’ll share some other time.  Needless to say, I am eternally grateful for his role in my healing.

Part of my healing began with an assignment.  I was instructed to make a list of my “bedrock” beliefs; to make a list of the spiritual “Truths” I knew for sure.  And, I was not allowed to write anything I wasn’t 100% sure of.  I believe he said, “Don’t write it if you can’t bet your life on it.”  With great wisdom, he knew I needed something solid to build my recovery upon.

I took the assignment seriously, and literally.  As I was in such a bad space – emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually – the only thing I wrote, for a long time, was “God exists.”  That’s all.  I hadn’t lost my faith, entirely – which was a good thing, since I was still working as a pastor!  But, I was close.  While there were many things I could say I “believed,” there was a much longer list of “Truths” I questioned.

Over and over, I returned to my list.  All I could do was stare at those words – “God exists.”  I couldn’t say anything more, for sure.  My inner pain cast a shadow of doubt on EVERYTHING else.  It just wasn’t in me.

In fact, I was tempted to write a few negative things about God.  But, I didn’t.  I knew my anger toward God was rooted in my pain.  I was just bitter, and apparently needed something, or someone, to blame.

But, one day, that changed.  I don’t recall how, or why.  I think I’d managed to expand my list with a few innocuous theological statements that were true, but didn’t have much bearing on my depression.  But, then one day, I managed to write…

“God is good.”

At first glance, “God is good,” may not seem like a particularly difficult or theologically meaningful thing to say.  Most of us learned it as children in Sunday School.  But, if “God is good”  – if that’s really true – many other things about God have to be true, as well.  As soon as I wrote, “God is good” the flood gates opened.  All of a sudden, my list went from a few “Truths” I believed half-heartedly, to a growing list of “bedrock” beliefs, “foundational” for my healing.

Before long, my list of “Truths” was many pages long.

I’m not sure when I wrote it, but another particularly meaningful truth for me was/is, “God is for us (me), not against us (me).”  Frankly, I’m not sure many of us really know that for sure.  I get the impression many of us believe in a mean, vindictive, vengeful, punishing God.  When we suffer – and we all suffer, from time to time – we tend to blame God, or at least resent God for not “fixing” the pain more quickly.  But, if God exists, and God is good, and God is for me, then God must love me.  God must care about my depression, and couldn’t want me to suffer any longer.  God must want me to be whole and well. And, maybe God would help me heal.

Then and now, these three “Truths,” I know for sure…

God exists… God is good… God is for us, not against us.

For those of you concerned my three “Truths” lack theological depth or substance, let me assure you I believe in the authority of the Bible and the teachings of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. I believe in the traditional, Christian doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection.  As a Protestant, I believe in “Salvation by grace through faith.”  As a United Methodist, I believe in the Wesleyan doctrines of prevenient grace, justifying grace, spiritual regeneration, sanctifying grace, personal and social holiness, and Christian perfection.  Rest assured, I’ve done my homework, and my theological and spiritual integrity have been thoroughly investigated in seminary and in my ordination process.

Trust me – I’m sure of everything I’m suppose to know and believe as a Christian and a pastor.

But, when push comes to shove, on days I’m struggling, when the dark clouds of depression appear on the horizon, or when I need to offer someone something strong and true, this is what I know for sure…

God exists… God is good… God is for us, not against us.

That’s what I know for sure.  If you ask me, everything else is bonus material!

God exists… God is good… God is for us, not against us.

What do you know for sure?  Are you sure?

(Confession.  It’s taken me a few days to write this final post for the 8-part SuperSoul Question series.  Not because I was uncomfortable sharing about my depression.  I’m totally ok with that.  I’ve found it important and helpful for me to share my story, knowing many others battle depression as well.  But, I had another idea, and I couldn’t decide which way to go with this question.  So……  I’ve decided to write a second, version 8.1, answer to the same question, “What do you know for sure?”  Look for SuperSoul answer 8.1, coming soon to a blog near you!)

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