Lina Pang—Irvine, California, USA
The first twenty-five years of my life were amazingly joyful because of God’s blessings and abidance. In first grade, God saved me from a crazed-dog attack. My secondary school and college years overflowed with His blessings. When I started working life, I experienced God’s fullness during a repentant prayer—He was surrounding me, within me, and flowing out of me.
To help me grow, God allowed me to go through a more challenging stage in my life—the dark period.
Descending Into an Abyss
At the time, my life was going well. Relationships, career, and family were all working out. But darkness unknowingly seeped into my heart.
I do not know why and when this dark depression started afflicting me. All I knew was that I felt a black hole within my heart. It was a very deep, dark void. Soon, this expanding black hole had taken over my whole heart. A blanket of gloominess was my constant companion. I could no longer smile naturally.
Each morning, I woke up only to wish I had not woken up. Death appeared to be a far more attractive prospect compared to being alive. When I walked around, I felt strangely detached from my body; almost as if my spirit was a separate entity watching my physical body go about the day’s activities. I felt like a zombie. I lost interest in what I used to like. There was a vast emptiness in my heart.
It was at that moment that I thought I understood the vanity of life. As Solomon had described it, life was an endless cycle, with one day the same as the next. I felt that life in general had neither meaning nor value. Convinced too that my existence was void of meaning and value, I could only conclude that death was far better than remaining alive. The apostle Paul had expressed the same sentiment (Phil 1:23) but his motivation was completely different. To him, death was welcome, but only because he had finished his mission on earth and was looking forward to seeing God.
I experienced the strangest phenomena. One day I went to watch The Lord of the Rings with my family members and friends. During the part of the movie when the evil character was pursuing the protagonists, I felt the dark spirit actually fly out from the screen. These spirits then flew all around the cinema, surrounded me, and even tried to fly into my heart. So while my family was enjoying the movie, I had to keep muttering “Hallelujah” throughout the entire movie to drive away the demonic spirits around me.
During this period of darkness, I seemed to become very sensitive to the existence of dark spirits. In retrospect, I learned many important lessons. First, I was reminded that spiritual battles are all around us and happen every day even though we may not see them. Second, I realized that when we are spiritually weak, the devil can easily enter our hearts. Sometimes this takes the form of a dark thought, or an erroneous concept. These little spots of darkness keep assailing us. They are not from God because they are neither consistent with God’s divine nature nor with God’s words. These little spots of darkness accumulate and intensify. So, even though we are not demon-possessed,
the devil’s influence can become so great that it controls us. He is indeed like a roaring lion stalking us, looking for someone to devour.
I was too embarrassed to talk to anyone about the darkness I was feeling because, as a Christian and a worker in the church, I was supposed to be joyful. I had the indwelling Holy Spirit, yet I could feel neither joy nor life in me. All I could feel every day was darkness.
Depression was also very frightening for me because I just could not feel God’s presence. I did not want to confide in others because I knew they would just advise me to pray, read the Bible, rely on God, and repent of any sins I had committed. I was already doing all these, but to no avail. I did not understand why this was happening to me because I had no reason to be unhappy. All I knew was the abyss of
darkness was deep in my heart and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I felt utterly helpless.
Clinging to Hope
Even though I could not feel God, I knew God exists. Since young, I had heard innumerable testimonies of His abidance; I myself had deep, personal experience of Him. So, although a spiritual wall seemed to have cut me off from Him, I clung to the memories of these experiences. I told myself that while I might not know why I was going through this, God knew I was suffering. I believed He would take me out of this spiritual suffering in His time.
So I prayed to God every day to help me, believing without any doubt that there would be light at the end of the tunnel if I remained faithful to Him; that was the hope I grasped tightly on to. I continued to pray to God, read the Bible, go to church, serve God, and wait for God to rescue me.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance. (Ps 42:5)
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the LORD
In the land of the living.
Wait on the LORD;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the LORD! (Ps 27:13–14)
I knew no human hand could pull me out of this mire of depression; only God could. So, as in the psalm, I just waited for God to rescue me. I had faith and hope in the goodness of God. This hope sustained me for nine months. When darkness drowned me, and thoughts of death overwhelmed me, I chose to believe in God and His goodness.
If I did not let go of God, God would never let go of me. Buoyed by this hope, I started feeling better each day. Then one day, I noticed that the darkness was no longer overwhelming; I felt normal again. All the abnormal feelings—thoughts of dying, flying evil spirits, emptiness— just disappeared. I was so joyful, I could not stop praising God!
Around that time, I stumbled upon an online article about depression. As I read through the checklist of symptoms, it dawned on me that this was what I had been going through for the past nine months. If I had been clinically diagnosed, I would have been put on medication. But without this knowledge, all I could do was trust in God, and He healed me.
From Being Helpless to Helping Others
Soon after my recovery, I was chatting with my religious education students from J1 and J2 (Junior and Intermediate Youth). I noticed that many of them were depressed. It was more common than I had thought! I then understood why God had allowed me to undergo that bout of depression. It was to enable me to support others who were going (or would go) through a similar trial. What I had gone through allowed me to assure them with the fullest conviction that God could, and would, help.
In general, people who are healthy cannot completely empathize with those suffering from depression. As the symptoms are internal, and there is no discernible external cause for their prolonged sadness, depressed people are often told to “get over it.” However, they are really unable to pull themselves out of the abyss. Such tough love can lead a sufferer to think that no one understands, causing them to become more depressed. Worse, they are afraid to confide in others and request intercession because they fear being despised for not being spiritual enough. From my experience, many sufferers of depression feel a lot better after meeting someone from church who understands them and
listens to them.
A few years later, I met another member who was experiencing depression. She felt so helpless because her medication was not really helping. Thank God, I was able to share my experience, and she felt very relieved. She had the faith and the hope to know that God would help her. Years later, when I met her again, I was pleased to see that she looked happy.
From this experience, I was reminded that God has His beautiful will and purpose for our suffering. Sometimes, it is because He wants to test our faith, to see if we will hold on to Him no matter what. Another reason is because He wants us to help others who go through the same thing in the future.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Cor 1:3–4)
Journey to Humility
A few years after the bout of depression, I went through another dark period in my life. It started with a prayer to God to show me one thing that He would like me to change. During that prayer, I had a very strong feeling that God wanted me to learn humility. I was shocked because I never thought of myself as a particularly proud person. However, searching my heart, I did indeed find pride. Unfortunately, I did not know how to get rid of it. So I prayed and asked God to teach me how to humble myself. And He did so—through sickness and through
About a year later, I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, which causes hyperthyroidism. Although I ate triple the amount that I usually eat, I lost a lot of weight. In fact, I lost so much weight that I looked malnourished. My hair fell out, my nails began to chip, my hands shook, and my eyes bulged. I had a goitre in my neck, and I experienced heart palpitations and anxiety attacks. People with Graves’ disease experience
emotional rollercoasters. I am known as a generally calm person who can control her emotions, but with the disease, my emotions were very volatile and extreme. My muscles were perennially tense and painful, and I could not sleep at night. I would just lie there, listening to my heart thumping as loudly as a drum, with my whole body pulsing to the beat.
At work, I was also facing a major challenge. I was a kindergarten teacher with about thirty kids in my class. Of this, half had behavioral problems—an unusually high number. Unsurprisingly, my work life felt like an endless series of crises. While I was dealing with one student’s behavior, another would do something that required my attention immediately. As I dashed over to the second student, another situation would start—imagine having to deal with this all day!
To compound matters, one child in my class was particularly extreme. He would run about on all fours in the classroom. When I asked him to sit, he would stand up; and when I asked him to come to me, he would run away. He had even tried to strangle one of the other teachers.
I was certainly ill-equipped to handle such a child because another symptom of hyperthyroidism is the inability to think clearly. Decisions which could be made within thirty seconds took me three hours. In addition, I had completely lost my voice. Faced with all these, I felt helpless once more. I had trouble just doing laundry—how was I supposed to face my class of children, half of whom had additional needs?
Once again, I had to grasp onto God for help. Every morning I would pray to God before I went to work. Besides that, I spent half an hour reading the Book of Psalms in order to receive enough strength to get through the day. This was the first time I noticed that when I read the word of God, it gave me strength. Subsequently, I received medical treatment for the hyperthyroidism. In these six months, as I read the Psalms and prayed every day, God worked. He slowly took care of my problems one by one.
From these events, I was reminded that the Lord is God. As the Creator who made us, He is the One who gives us the capability to do everything that we are able to do. We owe our careers and achievements to Him. But while the Lord can give, He can also take away. I may be an eminently capable teacher, but an illness could completely debilitate me and prevent me from teaching.
So God taught me humility and thankfulness. Leading an ordinary life is already God’s blessing. The life in us is the manifestation of His power sustaining us. I thus learned to humble myself by recognizing God’s power and sovereignty in every little aspect of my life.
[F]or in Him we live and move and have our being,
as also some of your own poets have said,
“For we are also His offspring.” (Acts 17:28)
It is God who arms me with strength,
And makes my way perfect. (Ps 18:32)
Give to the LORD the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth. (Ps 96:8–9)
Conclusion — My Lord, My Teacher, My God
During the first twenty-five years of my life, God demonstrated His unfailing abidance through blessings. In the next stage of my life, by leading me through a period of darkness, God taught me that He is there even though I could not feel His presence. From my bout of depression, I learned that God’s arm is not shortened. He can save me—and everyone who is willing to trust Him—from the deepest suffering. From my hyperthyroidism, I learned that God is the One who sustains us and enables us to do everything we are able to do.
My Lord, my Teacher, my God!
May all the glory be unto Him.
(Source: Manna 83: Spring)