I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1-3
Matthew 5 says, blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Do we really believe that those who are poor in spirit are blessed? Or do we believe that those who are poor in spirit must be cursed?
People with depression are our modern day ‘lepers’. They are often outcast, and judged. They are also blamed; they must have done something to cause it.
Depression is the three headed monster that no one wants to acknowledge. It might as well be the plague. The words depression and anxiety make us squirm. Our society is much more comfortable with people who have cancer, diabetes or heart disease than a mental illness such as depression.
The Christian community is no different. And we may even be worse. There is as stigma with depression that says that we must be doing something wrong. This was the case even in the story of Job. His friends assumed that he must have done something to deserve such calamity.
However, even the most devout Christians can suffer from depression. Often times, it is something that happens to us not something that happens because of us. And, we can’t always reason it away.
Brothers and sisters in Christ with depression need compassion, prayer, and love. Using cliches, or giving unsolicited advice, judgments, or opinions can be cruel. We must not be naive about depression. It can happen to the best of us.
At 33, I was sick all time, 40 lbs overweight, depressed and I had no idea why. I had eaten pretty well all my life (so I thought), so why did I feel so crappy all the time? I had exercised 4 to 5 days a week since high school, so why couldn’t I lose any weight? I had 2 beautiful daughters, an amazing husband, a loving church family and great friends, so why was I so depressed?
I went to numerous doctors, none of which could help me. I tried just about all of the antidepressants at one time or another.
At one point, a doctor told me that I had bipolar (which I did not) and put me on Zyprexa. So, my brain pretty much turned to mush. I might as well have been catatonic.
Another doctor put me on the antidepressant Effexor which is known to increase anxiety, a side effect that she neglected to tell me. This doctor increased my dose each time I told her that I wasn’t feeling any better, and I started having panic attacks.
My body and mind were a wreck and I was spiraling out of control.
A couple of years prior, I had started my own business as a wedding photographer. As much as I loved the work, it was very stressful. During wedding season, the workload was enormous, and the pressure was intense. Between the stress of the job, 2 little kids, severe clinical depression, and the everyday demands of life, I was a ticking time bomb.
My last wedding of the year was in October, so I forced myself to keep it together until then. As my assistant, who was a good friend of mine, and I walked to the car from the reception hall that evening, I started to sob. The very next day I went to the hospital.
Lights out . . . . I was done.
I never thought that I would find myself in such a place as a mental ward at a hospital. It felt like I was in some kind of Sandra Bullock movie. The door to my room was locked, the walls were bare, and everything had been taken from me. My head was spinning. It was the worst night of my life.
That was almost 10 years ago.
I have been reflecting back on that time because several of my friends right now are dealing with depression. My heart breaks for them.
At the same time, I am almost perplexed.
Each one of these depressed friends are deeply in love with Jesus. These are people that are living out their faith. They are the real deal. They are not people who don’t know the Lord or have necessarily strayed off the path. They are not casual Christians.
It just goes to show that faithful followers of Christ will suffer. Jesus told us that we would.
We don’t belong here. The more we become like Christ, the more separate and set apart from this world we will be. And it is lonely. We know where our home is, and it isn’t here.
We are strangers. We are aliens. We are not of this world.
(Not of This World, song by Petra, 1983)
As I wrote in an October, 2015 blog on Anguish called Jesus Wept, many of the faithful people of the bible experienced deep sorrow and anguish. David, Hannah, Nehemiah, Elijah, Paul and even Jesus.
Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Matthew 26:38
Depression is real and it is dark. Depression looks different for everybody. Only the light and hope that Jesus Christ brings can save us from the darkness.
I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. John 12:46
In addition to praying for people suffering with depression, this is what I would say to them as someone who has been there.
Don’t accept shame.
Shame is a tool of Satan. He will dish it to you, but, don’t take it. If you are a follower of Christ, shame has no place with you.
“Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Romans 10:11
“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” Isaiah 54:4
Keep your eyes on truth
The sobering reality for me so many years ago was that medical professionals weren’t going to help me. I had to find my own way to survive the depression.
So, I bought some wall hangings and plaques with scripture on them. I am a visual person and had to get God’s Word in front of my eyes. I knew that I couldn’t trust my feelings and sometimes even my mind, and definitely not the health care professionals. Even in my shattered mental and emotional state I knew that I had to trust God.
I put a wall hanging in my bathroom that pictured Jesus with the lost sheep and the other 99 in the distance (Luke 15:4). It said, Lost no more. I was very much lost, so it was a powerful reminder that Christ would always find me . . . . even in the merky depths of depression.
I also had one that said Be still and know that I am God. The scriptures I chose were ones where God spoke to me and said, just sit there, and I’ll do the rest. I’ve got ya.
The only way that I survived that time was by keeping my eyes on ‘thy rod and thy staff’. It was Psalm 23. I visualized Christ leading me through the valley of the shadow of death. All I had to do was keep my eyes on Him.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of ,the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
The Word of God was no longer just some words on a page. It was life to me. It was my parachute as I plummeted to the depths. I couldn’t have made it without those powerful words, and other scriptures that I placed strategically around my home.
Ask people for help.
There may be a voice inside that will scream ‘no! you can figure this out on your own!’ However, we were never meant to live in isolation. Sometimes we just can’t do it on our own. And the longer we deny this fact, the longer we stay stuck.
When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. Exodus 17:12
Remember also that when you ask somebody for help, it not only blesses you, but it blesses them. It affords them the opportunity to serve God by ‘loving their neighbor’. Don’t deny others the opportunity to store up treasures in heaven through you.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25
Flush the Formula
In life, A + B does not always = C. There is no equation to life. The only thing that we can count on 100% of the time is God. Following the law does not necessarily keep bad things from happening.
This life is not just. If it were, the formula to have a successful, happy and fulfilled life would work every time. However, it doesn’t. Only eternity, through God, is perfectly just. We either get our reward here, in this life, or in heaven, to enjoy for eternity.
Answers, explanations, or reasons may elude you. Sometimes, as in the story of Job, we cannot wrap our minds around what is actually happening. Depression is complex and comes in many forms. Sometimes causes are obvious and sometimes they are not. We must acknowledge that there are things that we cannot know. So, don’t beat your head against the wall trying to figure it out.
The answer is God
During my darkest times, I pictured myself hanging over the deepest, darkest canyon. God was holding on to me and keeping me from falling to my death and destruction. It was just Him and me, hand in hand. He was all I needed. He saved me . . . again.
Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!” Lamentations 3:22-24
Recently, my family and I were talking with my mom about her giving and what her passions were. She kept asking us what we thought she should do with her money, and how she should serve God best. We discussed it with her for a while. But finally I had to answer her this way:
“we don’t have the answer. The only way to get the true answer is to ask the One who holds all things together. Only God has the answer. God is the answer.”
I cannot give my friends the answer to why they are depressed. Or how to get out of it. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know where the answer lies. God is the answer to everything. God knows my next steps and yours. And He is for us, not against us.
If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31
In the wise words of my awesome brother, Greg, “Wherever I am headed, either to better days or worse, I know that My Redeemer lives and that He is all I need.” Amen and Amen!