THE CHRISTIAN AND DEPRESSION

There is a lump in the rug of Christianity. It’s a topic that has been swept under there for too long only to create more damage than good. You can only sweep it under the rug for so long before the lump becomes so big you trip on it: the Christian and depression.

 

Many years ago I dealt with depression. As a young man I had depression and anger issues, even through my college years. I’m not saying I’m completely cured or free from it by any means, but I have learned to deal with it and not let it get the best of me.

I most often hear preachers and Christians try to say that all you have to do is have more faith, read your Bible more, or trust God more to get over your depression.

I can tell you that’s all good and fine in theory, but when you are in the throws of depression the last thought on your mind is to have more faith.

You feel as if God is not even there. The darkness has enveloped your soul. It feels like every brick of the world has crumpled down upon your body, and there is no reason or way to go on.

The Psalmist in Psalm 88 expresses his depression:

O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry! For my soul has had enough troubles, And my life has drawn near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, Forsaken among the dead, Like the slain who lie in the grave, Whom You remember no more, And they are cut off from Your hand. You have put me in the lowest pit, In dark places, in the depths. Your wrath has rested upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah. You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out. My eye has wasted away because of affliction; I have called upon You every day, O Lord; I have spread out my hands to You.

 

He even goes on to ask why the Lord has rejected his soul, and why the Lord has hidden his face from him.

Paul tells us in one of his epistles that he was burdened while in Asia to the point that he despaired even unto death (2 Cor 1).

You get what that means right? That means he just wanted to die. Paul, who wrote the majority of the New Testament, wanted to die because it became too much to bear at one point.

But, how does the faithful follower of Christ get to this point? What is it that causes even the most joyful person to lose all hope, and despair even to the point of death?

I have come to believe that depression is not only a chemical issue in the brain, but a spiritual issue as well. What does the enemy want? He wants to steal, kill, and destroy. When we are depressed he is accomplishing just that.

I am in no way neglecting the chemical issue within a person’s body when depression hits. I believe we are a fallen, broken, and fractured creation who is less than what we were intended to be from the beginning. In that fracturedness, darkness and chemical imbalances are able to seep in.

 

Some deal with depression while others don’t. Some deal with money issues while others don’t. Some deal with drugs, or alcohol, or pride, where others don’t.

All of these foibles are the result of the fall. Depression is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, tall or short, obese or skinny, black, white, or purple, depression can hit the best or the worst of us.

So I guess you can say that depression is a “natural thing” for any person to face. Natural as in fractured and fallen is our natural state for the time being, until the resurrection when we are made fully new in Christ.

This flesh is corruptible. And until we put on the incorruptible, we may face depression, or addiction, or any other struggle.

 

How I Got A Handle On My Depression

One day while I was in college I finally had enough. It was a “good day” and I took advantage of it. I went to my dorm and began to pray against the depression. I commanded my soul to be joyful in the Lord. I spoke life to my own spirit just like David had to encourage himself in the Lord (1 Sam 30).

I’m not talking about just praying out loud or speaking words to the Lord. I’m talking all out shouting match between me and my spirit! I spoke against the depression. I started thanking God for every blessing, every answered prayer, anything I could think of that was positive in my life.

I more or less verbally and prayerfully assaulted the darkness that overwhelmed me.

I immediately had a change in demeanor and outlook. Yes, I have still had bouts of depression on occasion to this day, but I have not fallen back into that deep dark abyss of despairing even unto death.

 

I would offer you two thoughts to think on.

First, you have a powerful indwelling Lord who gives you strength.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:11

So when you do have that one “good day,” or even if it’s one “good moment” you have to capitalize on it. Use that moment to encourage yourself in the Lord. Speak scripture to your spirit, the life that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you. Call upon it [Him], because honestly when you’re in depression, who knows when you will get another moment or day of feeling better.

Secondly I would add this. Not everyone will be instantly healed of depression; just like some are instantly healed of cancer and some are not. Some are instantly healed of disease or addiction and some are not.

We see through a mirror darkly. We only obtain glimpses of heaven’s reality. You can read more on that in my previous article on why does God answer some prayers and not others?

 

What can you do for someone with depression? 

If you know someone dealing with depression don’t ever say to them, “just have more faith” or “just get over it” or “it’s not that bad.” You might as well smack them with a cast iron skillet, because essentially that is what you are doing to them. It’s like telling a stabbing victim to just stop bleeding.

Depression is not like a light switch you flip on and off when you walk in and out of your living room. It’s a dark cloud that surrounds you blocking out every bit of light.

It’s like swimming under the ocean with no oxygen tank and never being able to reach the surface. You might get close and have a “good day” but then the current will pull you back under.

I messed up when my wife dealt with a bout of depression. For some reason I couldn’t remember my own situation, and I admit my mistake. I tried to play it off like it wasn’t that bad. Don’t make my mistake.

Although it may not seem bad to person on the outside looking in, to the person stuck under the dark waves that overwhelm the soul it is difficult to breathe.

If you know someone who has dealt with depression just be there. Be a support for them to lean on. Just as Moses needed Aaron and Hur to hold his arms up so they could win the battle, commit to being there to “hold their arms up” when they can’t go on.

Even if they withdraw or attempt to withdraw do not withdraw from them. Commit to being a greater friend and confidant. Continue to pray for and speak life to them.

 

To Those On The Outside Of Depression & To Those Under The Waves

As the community of Christ followers we cannot keep sweeping the issue of depression (or any mental/emotional illness) under the rug. We must face it head on and realize that even some of our greatest examples in the Bible dealt with depression. It is a “natural” result of our fallen and fractured state.

Whether it is chemical imbalance, spiritual attack, or combination of the two, depression is a real and powerful enemy to the Spirit.

We must stop telling people to just get over it, or have more faith. We need to be compassionate to those who are hurting. We must undergird them when they can no longer hold themselves up.

If you are dealing with depression, when you find one of those “good days” encourage yourself in the Lord, and find someone to lean on for help. Depression will suck you in to isolation and desperation.

 

Yes Christians can be depressed, and while it’s not optimal it’s okay. The rest of us need to be their joy when they have none. We must be their strength when they have none. The thing that kept the Psalmist, Job, Paul, and others afloat was they never lost what faith they had, even in the darkest hours.

Just after Psalm 88 the psalmist writes of God’s greatness, Job refuses to give up his faith in God, and Paul later writes “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Finally, if you are above the waves reach out a hand to pull out a drowning brother or sister. Show genuine concern for them, not just a “how are you? (ok bye)”

If you are under the waves, don’t lose hope friend, and don’t lose the little faith you may have. Don’t allow yourself to become isolated. I believe some of the best medicine is helping others. Set your mind on Christ, and I pray you are able to rise above the weight of those dark waves as my wife and I have been able to.

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2 thoughts on “THE CHRISTIAN AND DEPRESSION

  1. It has been my experience that mental illness remains one of the most stigmatized struggles within the modern Christian church. I’ve known several people very closely who have had long and intense struggles with depression. And I’ve also seen all of those people experience rejection, judgement, or even simple lack of understanding in their various dealings with the church. Sometimes these bad experiences even came from well-meaning Christians who weren’t malicious, but just lacked a working knowledge of depression and dealing with people with past psychological trauma.

    I guess if I were to give just one piece of personal advice to Christians who want to understand better how to communicate with people suffering from depression or PTSD (other than what you’ve mentioned, which is great), it would be this: There’s nothing wrong with seeking out *professional* help from someone with a *degree* and a license to practice psychological counseling. In fact, with severe depression, that can be a medical necessity, just like going to the ER when you have severe chest and shoulder pain and shortness of breath. I don’t want to knock something like getting mentored by a peer in the church or talking with a pastor or an elder, etc. Some really good things can come from that. But that is mentorship and community, not professional counseling. Your pastor and elders and small group members are rarely true mental health professionals, wonderful people though they may be. Given my experience with the people I’ve known, that is a difference that is not stressed often enough.

    I would liken it to exercise in that, if you just need some motivation and encouragement to work out and be healthy, then taking Group X classes or getting your friend to be a workout partner and source of eating accountability may be enough for you to get in shape. But if you need serious direction and education, if you have injuries to work around, or real postural problems that require corrective exercise, then you need a personal trainer or other such one-on-one expertise. If you’re just going through a “rough patch”, then it’s very possible talking with your small group, or a church elder can be enough. But if you think you might have true clinical depression, you can and should seek out professional help. There are even licensed Christian counselors out there. And pastors and church leaders ought to encourage you to do that.

  2. Thank you Dan. I forgot to mention that! Yes, if it is serious depression, no one should feel ashamed for getting professional help. We don’t feel ashamed when we can’t fix our own LED TV, why then do many people feel ashamed about getting professional help for something so much more complex as their brain. Professional help is very important to help a person dealing with depression.

    Thanks you again for pointing that out.