(Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or a counselor. If you are suffering from depression, I urge you to get professional help. This is my own story and may be very different from yours.)
Is it true that if you have depression, you must not be a Christian?
Psalm 13 – A Song of David
How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? 2How long must I wrestle in my soul, with sorrow in my heart each day? How long will my enemy dominate me? 3See me and respond, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death, 4lest my enemy says, “I have overcome him,” and my foes rejoice when I fall. 5But I have trusted in Your loving devotion; my heart will rejoice in Your salvation. 6I will sing to the LORD, for He has been good to me. (emphasis added)
Many people believe that if you are a Christian, you should never have depression. But that’s not Biblical. Jesus Himself pondered depressive thoughts in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal. Who wouldn’t have? One of His closest friends, one of The Twelve, was going to betray Him. He knew He would suffer (physically) in a matter of hours and that all who loved Him would run away. But worst of all, He knew that the close fellowship He had always had with His Father would be broken. The next day, His Father would turn His face away.
It was almost too much to bear.
I’ve been in the dark many times in the past. I suffer from a disorder called Major Depressive Disorder (aka clinical depression). It requires medication to keep me from turning inward and turning off the lights. When depression strikes me, I find myself emotionally in a deep, black, hole where light doesn’t exist and everything is dead. My feelings become numb and my heart refuses to consider what is causing the depression. All I see is pain.
I get very, very still and kind of draw into myself. Any light or sound from outside this black hole will initiate a reaction of tears and an immense heaviness of heart. The pain becomes unbearable. I’ve never wanted to kill myself, but I have often asked alongside Job, “Why did I not perish at birth; why did not I die as I came from the womb? ” (Job 3:11). I don’t want to die. That’s an action, and in this state, even if I wanted to I could not act. I simply don’t want to have ever existed.
Can you relate?
In my experience, all my depression has had a component of unbelief. But that’s not the whole story.
I’ve been told to identify where I have put my hope that has failed me. But I can’t tear my attention away from my pain to do that. Blackness envelops me, and it is all I can do to hold on. I can’t even describe what I’m feeling. I can’t talk. I’m totally and (in my mind) irrevocably lost. I desperately need help but cannot utter the cry I need.
Have you been there?
In 2015, nearly 16.1 million adults in American had suffered at least one major depressive event in the previous year. I was one of them. Perhaps you were, too.
Believe me when I say I definitely know Jesus!
Maybe you, do, too, and you’re looking for a resource to help you understand this latest episode and find your way back out of your own black hole. I would like to share my story with you so that perhaps you may be helped. I pray you are.
When you’re suffering a depressive event, you may actually be in a good place.
Okay, I know that’s not what you were expecting to hear. But when you look around and all you see is pain, hopelessness, and evil on every side, you are actually pretty much describing accurately the world we live in.
Depression and other negative emotions can be the expression of a soul who sees the world accurately and groans along with Creation to see the world and all her people restored to the way it is supposed to be. Christians with depression shouldn’t feel—or be made to feel—guilty, because it is in some ways an accurate response to a broken world.
Negative emotions are necessary for the Christian experience. Negative emotions mean that we’re negatively (and accurately) evaluating what’s around us. When Jesus wept in the Garden, His powerful, negative emotions were due to His evaluation of the situation: physical pain and suffering, but worst of all, separation between Him and His Father. The Christian experience does not protect us from the negativity of a fallen world (Romans 8). The whole of Creation is groaning, expressing pain, longing for Christ’s return.
But those negative emotions can completely become hardened and lifeless if your hope lies in this devastating world. It begins to characterize your whole experience, and that’s not reality.
Recognize that the part of the world in which you live is not the larger picture. The larger picture shows that God will defeat all negativity in the end, and a new Heaven and a new Earth will replace the old one. It allows joy to streak through your negative thoughts and emotions and bring you out of depression.
You need God’s light to shine into the darkest recesses of your soul.
Maybe you don’t feel like you’re in a dark hole.
Maybe you feel like you’re drowning. Or can’t breathe. Or can’t move. I’ve been there, too.
God sent His Light into the world for you.
There are a lot of representative characters in the Bible who suffered depression. I’m thinking not only of poor old Job, but of Elijah hiding in a cave from Jezebel. And of King David when his son lay dying from David’s own sin. And of course, Mary and Martha when all hope of saving their brother’s life seemed to have ended.
In each case, God came to their aid. He shined His perfect Light into their not-perfect situations, and not on one single occasion did He berate them for their negative thoughts. He patiently taught them to set their hopes on the world to come, not on the corrupt place that is decaying beyond any hope of redemption.
Without suffering depression I may not have seen, desired, and hoped for the world that is to come.
David said in Psalm 27:1
And I’ll praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For you are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise you in this storm
(From Casting Crowns Praise You In This Storm
When I have a depressive episode, not only do I quit communicating with the world, but I quit receiving communication from it, too. I close my eyes. I escape into the dark, black hole of my misery and shut out the light, too. But the Light of the World comes to you spiritually, where you can see His light, and He shines that illumination on every lie that has taken up residence in your mind. This last time, I went to church and huddled down in my seat. Where normally I can’t wait to corporately worship the God I so love, I didn’t stand up or lift my hands. I kept my eyes closed and my shoulders hunched. If ever there was a picture of despondency, it was I. And then the worship team began to sing Build My Life. If you’re not familiar with it, the refrain goes:
Holy, there is no one like You
There is none beside You
Open up my eyes in wonder
Show me who You are
And fill me with Your heart
And lead me in Your love to those around me
(Build My Life by Passion)
Note the third line. “Open up my eyes in wonder”! Slowly, I breathed that song into my soul. I heard my own cry in the song and I looked to Jesus. And something amazing happened.
Jesus showed up there in my dark place.
I saw His hand extended. I saw His light shining. And He pulled me from that dark despondency to stand on my feet beside my husband and feel the beginning of joy. The next day I was so filled with joy that if I didn’t know where it came from, I would think I was manic depressive (bi-polar). I went from one extreme to the other in a matter of hours, all based on six words that encouraged me to look to my Savior, my Lord, my Friend.
I never want to walk that path again.
But if I do, I know Jesus is right beside me. I will cling to His presence and submit every thought to His light, so that lies can be shown to be what they are and I can replace them with the truth. Now my (open) eyes are focused not on this world that is passing away, but on a new Heaven and a new Earth. I so very much want you to see that world, too.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.b
I called on Your name, O LORD,
out of the depths of the Pit.
56You heard my plea:
“Do not ignore my cry for relief.”
57You drew near when I called on You;
You said, “Do not be afraid.”
Please, if you are suffering from depression or anxiety, get professional help right away. You DON’T have to suffer like this!