There are many people who do understand depression, so I will just get that out of the way, to begin with. Far too many people, however, do not understand. Some because they think what I’m about to say is wrong. Some because they think it’s something different that’s the matter at hand. Some, would you believe, because they don’t believe in depression.
I will endeavor to put it plainly.
Imagine absolutely not having the capacity to do something. Like not being able to walk, because you’ve got some problem with your hip or knee or ankle or back, or that you may have paraplegia. Or, perhaps you can’t talk because you have a throat infection or an inflamed throat or worse, you’ve got a disease that attacks the vocal cords. Whether it is pain or pure incapacity, you simply cannot do what you would like to do.
Depression is not only overwhelming sorrow and grief amid the crisis of self. It is also the overwhelming and incomprehensible incapacity that renders even simple things undoable. It is a state of being for a determined time. It is the mind all at sea, overwhelmed for countless reasons or for none — both of which are equally perplexing. It is the heart unable to feel or, its opposite, feeling too much, and being unable to analyze why, or perhaps it’s being thrown to the opposite pole of overanalyzing. There is guilt at the very least for not feeling enough. There is pain at the very least for feeling too much. For beautifully sensitive souls, these situations are spiritually untenable.
Depression makes of the lived experience the ultimate in a confusing reality, and whilst we don’t want to downplay the role of spiritual attack — because it can have a role — explanations of spiritual warfare are not enough to explain all instances of depression. Even as I write that depression is the ultimate in a confusing reality, I find voices in my past condemning such an assertion, or saying, “Yes, you’re right [their confusion condemns them].” What I mean by confusion is that it is beyond the person to fix or control and that that is okay. God condemns nobody as lacking faith when they battle doubt, much less depression.
Then there are the more primal reasons mental illness is confounding. Diane Langberg Ph.D. put it like this: “Trauma is perhaps the greatest mission field of the 21st century.” One thing we are quick to disregard when it comes to mental health is the prevalence of PTSD etc. Without going into them a great deal here, because it isn’t the right place to dignify such an important topic, it must be accepted that those who have endured trauma will deal with post-traumatic stress. And a myriad of other disorders, too. They will be triggered, they will face clinical depression, they will have anxiety flare-ups, and it’s up to the church to be the safe harbor. Too often the church has been too legalistic and has expected too much from those with diagnosed health challenges. Surely the church is the place vulnerable people will come to. A place to find a genuine sanctuary.
The main thing many people don’t understand about depression is it’s not within the person’s control to overcome. They can’t just snap out of it. To be helped, an abundance of something must come first. And that ‘something’ assumes the health outcomes remain the domain of God, with medicos helping and pastoral support given with no strings.
First and foremost, the person suffering from depression needs understanding. The next thing they need is understanding. And the third thing they need is understanding. The worst thing we can do is judge them for feeling what is beyond them to address. But if they’re convinced that we understand all that we seek to understand, and they truly feel our integrity, at least we aren’t an impediment, and we may well become of value as an instrument of blessing and possibly healing.
A final note to Christians: it’s not a Christian’s ability to overcome their depression that makes them Christian. It was our capacity to acknowledge our brokenness, to believe that Christ died for our sins, and to endeavor to follow his way. Indeed, to follow Jesus is the Christian journey in sum. This does not mean there won’t be struggles. The Christian journey is far from striving for perfection, even if it is a journey toward completion.
Better than having the answer to overcoming their depression, a Christian follows Christ, whether that means bearing their cross and/or finding the strategies to learn more about one’s mental health, as the impetus for overcoming. More important than conquering depression is following the one who conquered the world.
Consider the encouragement you may be as a mature Christian who may suffer depression. Consider what this says to others when you joyously accept you can’t control every facet of your life. Consider what that actually says about the length and latitude of your faith. There is a far deeper message in our humble acceptance of our frailties, whether they be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual than what can be learned or shown through overcoming. And yet, to overcome is to God’s glory. None of what I say here says we can’t overcome, but what I do want to say is overcoming our depression isn’t the be-all and end-all.
And finally, I just want to say something about thankfulness. It is too easy for a Christian to be guilted into thinking they aren’t thankful enough, and that their depression makes them selfish. It is neither good for anyone to think in these ways, nor other people to suggest it. It is simply better to practice gratitude, but a lack of thankfulness never draws condemnation from God. God dealt with condemnation, once and for all, at the cross.
Time to turn to Romans 8:1.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1 NKJV
Written by Steve Wickham
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on epitemnein-epitomic.blogspot.com.
Featured Image by Andrew Neel