15 March 2011

Battling depression

by Dan Phillips

Many folks never know a moment's real depression. The very notion is a strange one to them. If someone spoke of being depressed for years, their response might be an honestly incredulous "—years?" I knew a pastor of this temperament once, a really good guy, who simply was unable to tell a depressing story in the first-person. Every time he tried, his stories wound up with happy endings.

This post is not addressed to such happy souls. You have my envy and good wishes. You may just want to sit out the meta to this post, though it's possible that reading it could be instructive.

I speak to folks who hear about years-long depression, wince in empathy, and find nothing whatever hard to believe in the thought. In fact, you could add your own story. Perhaps your episodes aren't so protracted or free-floating. A disappointment (small or massive) can send you into a depression.

It won't be a pretty post, nor as literary as some have tried to be. But if experience is a requirement, I have the cred to say a word to you. My temperament lists in that direction. I'm about eight (+/-) years into a steady recovery — glory to God — from a deep, serious, years-long period of depression, preceded by patches of varying length, all going back years and years. I'll not natter on about it further; picture bad, and you'll not be far off.

You don't need me to describe depression to you. You don't need me to go into what you'd say are the causes and reasons. What I have to say may not "reach" you at this moment, but I hope it sticks with you, and that by God's grace you soon can connect with it in a helpful, encouraging, redemptive way. This could be a series of posts, but I'll be relatively brief and pointed.

Disclaimer one: you should possibly see a good doctor. I do not mean for happy-pills, and I do not mean for psychological treatment (my focus is neither). I mean to eliminate the possibility of physical causes. I met a lady once who, after years of serious depression, had a doctor identify a physical hormonal deficiency. When that was addressed, everything instantly changed for her. Anyone exploring sin problems, psychological problems, or anything else would have been barking up the wrong tree and making things worse. Depression can be caused (or worsened) by lack of rest and nutrition (1 Kings 19:4-8).

Disclaimer two: you should definitely talk to your pastor — and I'm not him. I'm just a guy in a blog; a pastor, perhaps, but not your pastor, responsible for the watch-care of your soul (Hebrews 13:7, 17). It will contain a number of links for side-reading. But if you email me for counseling, I'll refer you to your pastor. It isn't that I'm uncaring, it's just that I'm not him. Just so we're clear up-front.

HSAT, let's go.

First and above all: you must see depression as your enemy, to be killed and buried and replaced. It is not your friend. It has come to feel comfortable and comforting, even friendly. Your real friends may not understand this, but I do. They see you wrapping a sopping-wet blanket around yourself, and think you're nuts. But I do understand, more's the pity. The sodden blanket is comforting because it's familiar. It has assumed your body-temperature. It has sapped you of strength in the process, too, so that the thought of doing anything different simply seems like too much to ask.

Now, I'm assuming you're a Christian. If you're not, you should be depressed. You should be depressed, despairing, haunted, and filled with terror. I have not one bit of ultimate good or encouraging news for you  — except to tell you that you being alive right now means that God graciously is giving you yet one more chance to learn how you can know God, and actually to come to know Him. If you reject Christ and His Gospel, I feel pity and sorrow for you, but I have no comfort or encouraging to offer. This really is your best life now, and that's not good. He who disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).

But if you're a Christian, you need to understand that Christ's bequest to you is joy (John 15:11), and that God's will for you is that you rejoice (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). You need to see, understand, and embrace — hear me, now — that right now, you have the very best reasons to be the very happiest that you could ever be.

"Well," you say, "that's not me. I believe in Christ, but I still don't have that joy. I don't seem to be meant to know that. I have deep and insurmountable reasons why I can't have joy. I can explain to you at great length and in exhaustive, heartbreaking detail why I am not fated to have joy, with pictures and footnotes and poems."

Ah, now this is who I'm addressing. Glad you're here. Hope you hear, because I do have a word for you.

First, I would ask you to read this article, and think hard about it.

Second, take the time to think through this series of hard-won truths, from me to you:
  1. You say you believe Jesus, and I believe you.
  2. Jesus says you should have joy (cf. John 15:11). His apostles agree (cf. 1 Peter 1:5-9).
  3. If you say you don't or can't, are you still believing Jesus?
  4. If you realize that this betrays a lack of faith, what should you do about it? (HINT)
  5. If your response is that you are waiting on God to change that for you or in you, or to change your circumstances so that you can have reason for joy, what is that called? In other words, what is demanding that God do something before you will believe called? (HINT)
  6. Have you realized and "owned" just how depressing unbelief is, all by itself?
  7. Here's a hard one: have you realized and "owned" how much laziness there is in the unbelief that fuels depression, how much pride and stubbornness too? Remember: everything we do, we do because we think (perversely, sometimes) that it will make us happy. Have you come to take pleasure in being seen as a noble sufferer, a tragic victim — has that become an important element of your self-image? Have you seen these vices in the insistence that things really are exactly how they seem to you and your feelings right now, and the refusal to bring in God's Word and re-think them all Biblically? 
  8. If so, have you identified that as sin to be repented of and mortified, rather than a quirk to be embraced, coddled, excused, explained, leaned on and enabled?
I think facing up to those last two was the single most pivotal element in my turnaround. I knew that temptations to lust, to lying, to laziness in other areas were enemies to be targeted and destroyed. I had not seen these familiar, friendly, customary ways of depressive thinking in the same light.

A big help to me at the time was John Piper's Future Grace — not that it's inspired Scripture, but Piper helped me see my need to learn, memorize, believe, embrace, and live on God's happy and joyous promises for His child. I'll always be grateful to him for that.

So what I'm calling you to see is that you need to battle depression, as surely as you would battle temptation to immorality or violence or theft. It is equally your enemy; it is not your friend.

You can't do it by trying you talk yourself out of it alone. You can't do it by telling yourself not to be depressed. In fact, you can't do it by yourself at all. You need God and His grace. Above all, you need living, vital faith in His promises. You need to be ruthless about your lazy, stubborn, habitual unbelief. Challenge it, confront it, lay Scripture to it. Challenge yourself — as I had to do. Ask yourself, "Are you going to be a Christian, or not?" Face the fact that going about as if Romans 8:28 weren't a golden promise that should give you hope and joy right now is every bit as faithless as being a PoMo or an Emergent or any other waffler you despise. You don't dare sneer at Rob Bell or Brian Maclaren, while refusing to believe the burstingly happy nature of God's good news for each and every last one of His children.

Briefer: God says something that clashes with the Emerg*s love-affair with the world; the Emerg* retorts, "Not for me." God says something that clashes with our (dare I say it? sometimes?) love-affair with our depression, and we retort, "Not for me."

What is the difference?

The defector says (for instance) that the command to preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2) isn't for him, and you curl your lip at him. But what of you, when you say that the command to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4) isn't for you, that the prospect of being filled with all joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13)  doesn't reach to you? How are you different, except in particulars?

As I close inelegantly, let me point you to the post that moved me finally to write this: 25 ways to pursue joy in Christ. If you're going to get off the mat and start fighting this battle, that's a good place to start.

I am not holding out one spoonful of spinach that I haven't had to swallow first, myself.

May "the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope" (Romans 15:13).

Dan Phillips's signature

81 comments:

Kitch said...

Dan, you've nailed it. Awesome through and through.

I both loved this one and winced at it at the same time: "Have you come to take pleasure in being seen as a noble sufferer, a tragic victim — has that become an important element of your self-image? Have you seen these vices in the insistence that things really are exactly how they seem to you and your feelings right now, and the refusal to bring in God's Word and re-think them all Biblically?"

Thanks, my friend, for your honestly, transparency and tenacious commitment to deal with these things Biblically!

DJP said...

My family will point out, btw, that I like spinach. But you get my point.

DJP said...

Thanks, brother.

Michael W. Brewer Jr. said...

Mr. Phillips,

I'm one of those guys you are addressing in your post...well up until recently anyway. The despression described as comforting is dead on. It is all too easy to become accustomed to her face.

Only recently -approximately three/four weeks ago- by the grace of God, I broke through my years long depression. For me, it started with deep repentant prayer followed by asking for the grace to forgive as I have been forgiven. I've been moving strongly forward ever since.

This article is extremely encouraging, and obviously written by someone who has been there. The only part where I cringed was when I read: "Are you going to be a Christian, or not?" In my reading, it came across as if to say that a Christian that knows anything but joy should question the promise of Christ; for am I not a Christian by grace through faith in Christ?

I know that this isn't what you meant, but it did cause me to wonder -in that context- how you defined "Christian." The extra thought I placed into that phrase is obviously my issue to wrestle with and not yours.

Verbosely, what I am trying to say is thank you. This was an encouraging article that hits very close to home.

Blessings,

Michael

donsands said...

Excellent lesson. Romans 15:13 is such a great verse: a great benediction.

When I'm downcast at times, the best prayer I can get out is, "Help me Lord. Please."

He is such a faithful Father, to allow our hearts to become heavy, and to deliver us, and show us how He is conforming us into the image of His Son.

DJP said...

Michael, thanks; I've gone back and hyper-emphasized the word "be," hoping to be clearer. Those are the very words with which I've challenged myself, time and again. I'm not challenging the reality of conversion (see #1 in my list); I'm asking, challenging - are you going to BE one? Are you going to THINK LIKE one? Are you going to DEAL WITH THIS ISSUE like one?

Clearer?

Thanks again.

Michael W. Brewer Jr. said...

Mr. Phillips,

That is clearer, thank you. Like I said, I understood that my reaction to what I perceived being said was not what you were actually saying. I do appreciate you clearing that up.

Again, a great article. I needed to hear/read it.

Blessings,

Michael

DJP said...

Please, "Dan."

(c:

Daryl said...

As someone who hasn't had to battle depression (no more than a day or two kind of thing), but who grew up with a mother who was virtually incapacitated for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 10 years, with depression, I'd like to echo your call for those with this particular struggle, to fight this enemy.

As I said, I don't understand it, but I've lived through the wake of it, and it proved damaging to the rest of us.

Thomas Louw said...

Dan.

I think you nailed it for me when you’re referred to your post “Does Jesus ask dumb questions?”
Do we really want to leave our self preoccupation?
Do we really want to leave our self absorption?

Oh but, my blanky is so soft and cuddly.

Preaching with a “pastors” heart today.

Loved it, the sword has penetrated in a good way.

stratagem said...

Very helpful - thank you.

Thomas Louw said...

I’m wounded is there a doctor in the house!!!!

Scott said...

I normally read these posts and profit in silence. Today it needs to be said ... you have touched at the core of human condition. Praise God that He gives courage and wisdom. You have challenged my day.

Mark Waggoner said...

Thank you for this post. I have battled depression on and off for many years. From time to time I have had to lean on medicine to help me get out of the worst of my depressions. Never for any extended period, just long enough to get me out of the pit. I'm glad to see that you recommend visiting a doctor as there can be many physical or chemical causes. One thing I have been reminded of is that joy and happiness are not necessarily the same thing. We can still have joy in the Lord in tough times because it is not related to our surroundings or condition, where happiness is.

RomansOne said...

Thanks Dan! It's encouraging to hear about others who struggle with it. Great article and insights (and I'm joyful for my computer and coffee this morning -- per that link ;-) The Lord used you to kick me out of a bad mood this morning.

DJP said...

Spurgeon was (and is) such a one for me. THAT man knew depression, deeply; but he also deeply knew the grace of God. I think the one carved out greater depths for the other.

And Bunyan, in Pilgrim's Progress, hearing David's voice in Psalm 23 and concluding that others had walked the same path and made it through.

Father of Eleven said...

Dan,

Wonderful words. I have struggled with depression for most of my life. Let me reiterate your up front suggestion of seeing a doctor.

After becoming a Christian and being taught in this area I had a great deal of relief from that ever present darkness. However, I have also learned that a good portion of mine are physical. The spells are most common during high allergy seasons and gloomy times of the year.

Treating the allergies, getting more rest, taking some extra vitamins and drinking more water often clear up the spells. At the same time I have learned to do a spiritual check up and make sure that there is not a spiritual dimension adding to the physical. Sometimes it is not an either/or but a both/and.

Often during the worst times it seems that if it were not for Christ I would simply fall and never get up. But he always leads me through to the other side.

DJP said...

Yes, Fo11, such things remind us that we're not spirits floating over bodies, but embodied spirits. What affects the one can affect the other.

michellemabell said...

Thank you so much for your post. As someone also who has battled through depression I was greatly encouraged by your post.
Simple verses like Psalm 37:24 helped me so much...That was my comfort and belief that no matter what I was feeling God was never going to let go. Praise God for His mercy and compassion.

@ THOMAS LOUW'S comment though, I just want to say that there is nothing 'soft and cuddly' about the blanket of depression. Nothing.

Ken said...

That was good spiritual food for today and many days ahead to meditate on.

Thanks Dan!

Ken T.

Kay said...

Very helpful reminders, Dan. Although I have medicinal help, it's extremely challenging, in the best way, to be reminded that I have to fight and can't just sit down in defeat.

donsands said...

"I think the one carved out greater depths for the other." -Dan

Good thought for sure.

We were studying a little about William Cowper the hymn writer, and friend of John Newton, and saw that this man really had a dark and deep depression throughout his life. He even tried to kill himself.

yet he wrote these words:

"E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave."

SAB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris said...

I’m a pastor and depression has been an ongoing issue. I was depressed for almost all of 2009. I’m not completely out of the woods, but I’ve identified several things that I’ve found effective in keeping it at bay. This far I’ve only had small episodes that last for a day or two. This is an improvement from months long bouts of it. I don’t have it all figured out, but here are some things that have been helpful for me personally.

1. Avoid certain people. I’ve learned that there are certain people who are such “Debbie downers” that they poison my spirit/disposition and I have a hard time recovering. I believe encouragement is a spiritual gift (Barnabas), but there are people who are the direct opposite.

2. Sleep well. Being tired makes one more prone to depression.

3. Obey God. Disobedience triggers bouts of depression. There have been times when I saw that my sin was (not always) the root of the problem.

Terry said...

I knew I was depressed and I was fighting against it, without success for a very long time, and I found immense comfort in knowing that God had never left me even thought I felt completely alone. What I am trying to say is that when I do offer advice to others who are depressed I like to point out the difference between knowledge and emotion. Two very different things

Robert said...

Amen and amen.
Thanks for the very convicting post Dan.

Kelly said...

Thank you for sharing your perspective, but after battling my own depression for years, and after counseling with my pastor and with a Christian counselor, and having come OUT of depression - well, I just can't agree with you.

Fighting the good fight against depression did NOT change my depression. Crying out to God in my honest fear and anger and anguish DID. Asking myself "Why am I depressed?" helped too.

Telling myself that it was me sinning didn't help: how long can you repent before you realize that your sorrow is leading to death and not to true repentance? Perhaps more is going on other than that depressed people are lazy and stubborn?

I think most depression is anger, and anger comes from disappointment and hurt. People don't see that God is out for their good, and that's exactly what God is showing them, by causing us to suffer: there is no one and no thing that can bring you what you want except Christ.

You can only learn that lesson by honestly pleading, yelling, begging, crying and talking with God.

SandMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scooter said...

Dan, this post is going in my "to-pass along" collection. Most excellent.

As one who struggles with on and off depression, and is probably dealing with it now, thanks for a great kick in the butt to get back in the fight. It's like putting on your favorite old coat; it feels natural. You just forget it's made of asbestos and you need to destroy it.

Have you ever read "Spiritual Depression" by Martin Lloyd-Jones?

I'll quote one piece of your article, otherwise I'll just do the entire thing.
You don't dare sneer at Rob Bell or Brian Maclaren, while refusing to believe the burstingly happy nature of God's good news for each and every last one of His children.

This one just grates against my flesh. If I can refuse to believe at anything that Brian or Rob says; yet in the same breathe can't believe what God says in Romans 8:28 or Ephesians 1, then I become a very nasty hypocrit and liar.

DJP said...

Scooter, that's one of the big ones I had to face myself.

Yes; the time I read it, many years ago, a lot of Lloyd-Jones sailed past me as a bit stiff-upper-lip, except that his whole bit on preaching to yourself is solid gold. I may not have been ready to hear.

He also discusses the physical aspect. I must re-read it someday.

JG said...

This a breath of fresh air to me. Depression is a struggle, not just for me, but for my whole family. And a family of real believers. So often, in trying to describe the struggle, I have encountered the whole "real Christians don't suffer from depression" accusation. And it IS an accusation. To echo above commenters, it's not the presence in my life it once was, and it is a constant struggle like any other recovering sin, but through the Word and learning how to rejoice with those who rejoice, to count my blessings instead of my disappointments, and to trust in the sovereignty of God when I don't understand what's happening, He is leading me on brighter paths. Sorry if the language got a little mystical there, that's just the best way I know to express it. Yes, depression is a battlefield. Thanks for the reminder that we can have victory here.

The Blainemonster said...

Thanks, Dan. I'm totally resonating with what you said about how we tend to get comfortable with our malaise...I've been to the place where I've actually enjoyed my depression. It's also a stark fact that wallowing in depression is a form of unbelief. I have found great comfort, relief and victory in simply putting my foot down (on myself) and boldly believing the promises of God.

Also helpful through the years has been my study of the lives of men such as William Cowper and Spurgeon, who also suffered greatly with depression and anxiety. It just helps to know that one is not alone.

DJP said...

JG, absolutely right. It is an ongoing struggle. That's why I picked the title. But depression is so unmanning, so dispiriting, that the easiest, most comfortable thing is to succumb. But the Christian life's a battle. Pity we ever thought otherwise.

northWord said...

Wow..full-on! Not a stone of stumbling left unturned, addressed and pulverized. Excellent.

I also will be passing this along!

Thank you, Dan, for letting God use you this way.
-Suzanne

CR said...

Dan,

I would recommend listening to MLJ's sermons on spiritual depression rather than just re-reading his book. He doesn't sound stiff upper-lip and definitely is passionate.

Cathy said...

The turning point came for me after doing a study of the Israelites ongoing, habitual discontentment in the desert. In particular- their refusal to go into the Promised land because of fear. (Fear has always been closely tied with my own bouts of depression.) They clearly see themselves as victims- and so they feel entitled to flat out disobey God. However, God does not feel sorry for them and pat them on the head and say He understands- No- he says that they are treating Him with contempt and are responding in unbelief. (Numbers 14:11) I think depression more than anything I know of- makes us think we are victims rather than rebels. Now I know I must slay it- and not give in to it. Just like you said- I must battle against it. Great, great article- thanks!

Jim Pemberton said...

Dan, great article.There is so much more that could be said about depression, but these are some very important points you make here.

I have suffered seasonal depression from early childhood. It spiraled to a head a few years ago. My doctor, a deacon at my church, put me on medication temporarily to help recondition my emotional responses. I went off the medication a year and a half ago. Now I only have mild depression for a few days at a time. I’ll only add two points to what you have written here:

First, we need other people. A few years ago a man in our church committed suicide. As such, several people in the church have become sensitive to issues of depression. Not suffering themselves it’s easy to conclude that they don’t understand depression and can’t minister effectively. It’s a matter of pride not to accept a kind word from someone who cares enough to offer it simply because they don’t understand.

Therefore, my admonition to those who don’t understand depression is to offer a kind word or moral support anyway. My admonition to those who do suffer depression is to lay aside your pride and accept ministry given to you even if the one ministering doesn’t fully understand your depression.

Second, we need to truly accept the depth of our worthlessness. Depression gives one a keen sense of worthlessness. It’s power, however, is in the fact that we don’t truly believe that we are worthless. Col 1:10 would seem to indicate that God has made us valuable by giving us gifts and expects us to use all of them. But God doesn’t always provide for the use of the gifts that He has given. Therefore, I was frustrated when God didn’t use the gifts He gave to me and depressed because God might love me enough to save me, but didn’t particularly want me to do anything for Him. He gave me gifts and a desire to use them, but didn’t provide the way to do so. That God would save me to reject me seemed cruel.
Nevertheless, I can’t deny the gospel in all this. So my worthlessness didn’t comport with my sense that I should be worth something to God since He bothered to save me. No one I have asked could solve this conundrum. Only by realizing that I am truly worthless and the only gifts are the ones God decides to use are truly worthy has been the position that has best allowed me to realize the joy in Christ.

Therefore, my admonition for all is to not deem ministers worthy outside of the work of God. We should encourage people to seek ways to use their gifts, but not to the point where using gifts is the goal of the Christian life such that many will go away with the realization that there is no hope for their gifts to be used. I suggest that many people who sit idly at the fringes of a congregation do so because they know that have no place in the ministry of the church. So I encourage church leaders, as those called to enable these gifts in a fellowship, to actively do so.

But I also admonish people who suffer from depression to get a right understanding of worthlessness. We aren’t worth anything outside of God. If no church leader uses you or no one wants the ministry of the gifts that you have been given, then God has not provided for your gifts to be used. Don’t sweat it. You’re worthless already. Find your joy in God, not in the use of His gifts to you.

DJP said...

Thanks, Cathy. As I said, this could be a series of posts; and as i suggested, it may have a variety of causes. Guilt over unrepented sin, fear of judgment, fear of loss, tantrum over not getting my way, anxiety... many.

Rebekah said...

Thank you for this post. As one whose personality leans toward the melancholy from time to time, and as one who at times finds myself standing on the edge of the pit and fighting for joy, thank you for the encouragement of this post.

donsands said...

"We aren’t worth anything outside of God."-Jim

I'd say yes and no to this.

Our truest value comes from being justified in Christ. But even before, and we were lost, Jesus sought us as the Good Shepherd.

We are all sons of wrath, yes, but even then, we are the one lost sheep, and not the ninety nine.

I talked with a dear friend of mine, who is a sister in Christ, who has the clinical kind of depression. She can begin to cry any time. She simply becomes very sad. Our Lord gave her the perfect husband, I must say.
She told me one time, "I need to learn to love myself."
Gentley I helped her understand the real truth about loving yourself, and where true confidence comes from.

I think it may have been Josh McDowell, or someone in that culture of "before you can learn to love God and your neighbor, you have to love yourself."

Wendy said...

My bouts of depression are 99% physical: working nights and most afternoons, being a mother, caring for aging grandparents, etc. Occasionally, my brain and body just quit on me for a while.

(But then that can lead to a discontented depression, which is most definitely sin.)

One thing I've learned (and only with my most recent bout) was that even if I can't make a decent breakfast, get dressed or really do much of anything, I need to read as much Scripture as I can take. Even if it is just one or two verses, I need to. I may not be of mind to understand it or believe it, but God's word never returns void. Eventually, my mind and my heart will be reached.

I'm reminded of what Peter Bohler (?) told John Wesley: "Preach faith till you have it and then because you have it, you will preach faith".

With depression that is physical & emotional, you have to wait for the body to catch up with the heart's repentance :) The last thing I want to do is stop going to the Word at one of the times I need it the most.

beachbirdie said...

Good post. Great, actually. Biggest point, you cannot fight it off alone if it's true depression. Been there. To the point of suicidal. Won't say too much because so much has been said already.

Kelly, you make a good point, one that has NOT been much added here. For me, a major step (not the ONLY step) in winning the battle was discovering a deep root of anger. I had a lot that I had to forgive.

MST said...

Thanks for this timely post. I needed to hear this. To hear this from someone who has been there.

Julie said...

I think that, while everyone's reasons for depression are different, the answer is not... it's Jesus!

Knowing that he should be enough, and figuring out HOW he was enough were 2 very different processes in my life. While I don't see anything wrong in what you've written, I felt there was something missing... grabbing hold of your TRUE identity in Christ (Christianese, I know, but I'll try to explain it as best as I understand it). I tried for years to "just buck up" and get over it. I still have never been to a counselor or pastor or doctor concerning my depression (thankfully, God preserved me and kept me from ever taking action on my thoughts).

I grew up in a Christian home, accepted Christ at about 8 (don't remember the date, DEFINITELY remember the day). I heard my whole life "God loves you" and accepted it as "God loves me because I'm part of the human race. Thank you, God, that I'm not going to hell".

As someone who is now a parent, I understand (pieces of) His love better than I ever have before. God DOES love me because I'm part of His creation, just as I love all of my kids. But, He also loves me because I'm me. Just as I find ways to connect and take part and find joy in being with each of my children. But, HIS love goes even further, you see... He planned for your creation BEFORE He ever started work on making this place for us. And when He planned for you, He planned to always be a part of you, because His creation would be perfect. And, you know the rest of the story. We chose not to always have God with us, but He made a way through Jesus for us to be reconnected to God.

He loves you, and He wants you to love Him, which means giving us a choice... and opening Himself up to the pain of rejection and loss.

He aches for you when you're hurting, what parent hasn't felt the anguish rise up in themselves when your child comes to you, hurt? The cries of "They told me to go away!" or "They didn't want me!" can stop your heart in your chest as you recall all the times in your life you've cried out "I'm not wanted! I'm not loved! Life's not worth living!" And, your parent's heart says "But I LOVE YOU! Isn't that enough?!"

But, the good news is that God IS the perfect parent, and He CAN do something about it. He will set you up on His lap, wipe away your tears, and tell you "Child, you are precious. I want you to listen to who I say your are. You're beloved, bought at a costly price. I will never 'get over' loving you, and I will forever pursue you. I am so sorry you live in a world that injures you, but I promise you that in the world I will bring, there will be no more sorrows, and no more pain. I need you to hold on, I have SUCH IMPORTANT jobs that I planned for you. You are in this time, in this place, for a reason and a purpose. I don't make mistakes. In the meantime, lean on me, come cry in my lap. I will always listen, always love you. I will encourage you to become ever closer to who I made you to be. I will challenge you to believe me, and I will give you my joy to replace the 'happiness' this world would offer you."

And the great news is that because our God is so awesome, we don't have to get off His lap to go on living. We can do what we need to do even while resting in His presence.

Julie said...

There ARE physical reasons that can cause depression, and get the help you need for them, because God has revealed the knowledge of how awesomely He made us for a purpose. But, if you're like me, and you let the lies of Satan drown out the truth, teach yourself to confess the TRUTH (not fact, not reality, but Kingdom Truth) about who you really are. Because the things that come out of your mouth have to come out of your brain, and if you tell yourself the TRUTH long enough, you'll believe it (Unfortunately, it's the same way with lies). But SAY IT, because that's the way God made it to work.

The purpose of the cross was to make us perfect so that we could handle the indwelling of God and be reunited with Him and live together eternally, but the message Jesus spoke FROM the cross was this: "Father, forgive them, because they don't understand what they're doing." You forgive others, and you forgive yourself, and even if you don't FEEL it, confess it, you must "speak things that are not as though they are" because that is how the things God has loosed in heaven are loosed here on earth. So much of my hurt is simply this, I am angry at all the people in my life that hurt me, over and over and over. But, God has taken care of their sin, my sin, and He wants us to forgive over and over and over, because that's what is best FOR US!

You, as God made you to be, CAN do it, because you are now complete, you have LOVE living inside of you and helping you. But, not because you choose to "buck up" or "decide" to be different... because HE makes you different, a "new creation".

Maybe the question you need to ask yourself is this... am I idolizing someone? Do I think that the boss who ridicules me or the husband who belittles me are more important than what the Lord of my life says about me? Do I think I am MORE IMPORTANT than God, that my opinion of me matters more than His, because I WANT TO BE THE LORD OF MY OWN LIFE? If HE is living on the throne of your heart, if HE is your king, He will decorate His throne room, your heart, with love and joy and peace that no man and no situation can take away from you or even try to explain. He is the perfect king, the perfect parent, the perfect lover, the faithful friend, and you can trust Him.

And, when I lose sight of that, and let those lies come back and drown me in sorrow and self-pity, He doesn't turn away from me in disgust, He sends people to gather around me that have "skin on" to love on me and remind me of the TRUTH. But, He didn't do it when I tried to "buck up" and "fix myself," He did it when I cried out to Him, sobbing so hard that no words could come out, telling Him that I couldn't fix myself and that I needed Him, and I needed Him NOW.

And, He will come to your rescue, too, because He loves you, and He doesn't "get tired" of dealing with you. He WILL NOT FAIL YOU!

Stefan said...

Dan:

Excellent, excellent post.

Have gone through the years through periods of something between melancholy and depression. Oftentimes even the simplest things have seemed daunting.

It is the Sovereign Lord God who has been leading me on the upward path...through valleys and plains, but ever so gradually upward.

For me, there are a few things that have been important:

* Recounting the ways in which God has blessed and shown His love to me: not because I deserve it, but solely because of His amazing grace.

* Through short, simple prayers. If I can't muster up the strength to pray an ornate, Valley of Vision type prayer (not my style anyhow, despite my verbosity), I can still pray simple prayers of thanks and pleas for God's grace and mercy, through the blood of Jesus Christ.

* Staking my hope on God's promises and covenants. He has saved us by an unconditional covenant through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Just as we deserve only Hell and could do nothing to earn our salvation, so too we can't lose our salvation.

We're not closer to God (nor does He love us more) on the days when the sky is blue and we feel great; likewise, we any further away from Him (nor does He love us less) on the days when the skies are grey and overcast and everything looks bleak.

Specifically, for me, Isaiah 43:1-2 (and continuing on to 44:8) have been greatly helpful in deepening my walk with God since I first "rediscovered" those verses a year ago. In the context, God is talking about how He will never forsake His people, Israel (cf. Jer. 31); but the God who keeps His covenant promises to Israel is also the selfsame God who keeps His covenant promises to believers, both Jew and Gentile.

donsands said...

"We're not closer to God (nor does He love us more) on the days when the sky is blue and we feel great; likewise, we any further away from Him (nor does He love us less) on the days when the skies are grey and overcast and everything looks bleak."

Our Father loves us as He loves His Son, Jesus the Messiah, doesn't He.
And yet, as our Father, and we His sons, I would think His love may swell when we trust in Him, and obey. And His love may be mixed with grief as we don't trust Him, actually we would grieve the Holy Spirit.

I was thinking how I was encouraged by a pastor, who said, "There will be moments when the genuine born again believer will condemn himself. When this takes place remember that God is greater than your heart."

Stefan said...

Don:

Yes, I certainly didn't mean that God is aloof or indifferent, and He is clearly invested in conforming us to the likeness of His Son—through trials, and discipline, and lessons in obedience and trust!

But it's helpful to remember that the state of our relationship to God does not depend on our mood on any given day...it ultimately depends on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and God's grace to us through Him.

donsands said...

Amen Stefan. And amen again.
have a blessed evening brother.

Chris Poe said...

Dan,

Thanks for this post.

Out of curiosity, was there any correlation between your beginning to battle depression and your getting over your case of sarkicophobia?

DJP said...

No; though, were I still in the grips of it, deliverance would have been impossible.

Matt Hauck said...

Nailed it. Thanks for the encouraging tough words that need to be said.

rwt said...

When Elijah fled from Jezebel, he became depressed. God did three things to help him. 1. Told him the truth that he was not alone. 2. Gave him something to do (i.e., anoint several leaders). 3. Provided Elisha as a helper in ministry.

From this we learn valuable lessons. 1. Truth overcomes the faulty thinking that leads to depression. 2. Focusing on the work God called us to do will help. 3. We all need help from other believers and we should seek it rather than suffer alone.

mittelstadt said...

Thanks.

Jeri Tanner said...

First I had to scroll up and give it a "loved it" rating. Then come back and say that you did indeed nail it. I know that battle, and battled it like never before this past winter. (I suspect that it might have been aggravated by the holidays and winter. If so, next winter I need some good strategies.) On the laziness: this is what I came across this winter and recognized in myself: it was time to get moving. "Seriously consider that there is a great danger, yes, many times most danger, in the smallest sins...because we are apt to make light of them, and to neglect the timely means for removing them, until they are grown so strong that they prove mortal to us...we are apt to take no notice of them, and to neglect those heavenly helps whereby they should be weakened and destroyed, until they are grown to that strength that we are ready to cry out, 'The medicine is too weak for the disease!' This may be of frailty, that argues obstinacy" (Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices). In my case, I had come to believe I was frail; but came to see I was in fact obstinate. Those were good days of realizing my sin. Thank you Dan, for a very well written description and exhortation to think and do better.

theoldadam said...

There's a lot to be depressed about.

And there's a lot to be joyful about.

For me, it's a battle, and I try my best to act happy, even when I'm not.

"Come Lord Jesus, come."

Grigs said...

there has not been a day in the last decade of my life (and i'm 23 years old) that suicide has not been considered. It has been worse these past 5. I fight it. Now a days its worse, but I have seen progress. and its a day by day fight.

Rachael Starke said...

Thanks, Dan. I'm another battler, although sometimes
I "feel" too tired to battle. That's been the big epiphany - realizing that what I "feel" at times has absolutely zero to do with what is true. In my case, the root of many of my feelings is actually pride and wretched self-centeredness - believing that I deserve or am owed far more than what I currently have. Which is laughable, considering what is really true about what I deserve, and what I have in Christ.

Thomas Louw said...

@ michellemabell

About “ THOMAS LOUW'S comment though, I just want to say that there is nothing 'soft and cuddly' about the blanket of depression. Nothing.”

For you maybe but, for me it has become so constant and familiar, I feel uneasy when I’m without it. It starts to become your “cop-out” your “excuse”.

Without it you feel strange after a while. Me enjoying feeling sorry for myself.

Susan said...

Ah. Depression. Some people will never understand.

One thing that depresses me is that whenever I see something that other people don't see, they tend to tell me that I think too much (or perhaps they think I'm just plain crazy, except they're polite enough not to say it to my face). Trusting their judgment rather than my own, I listen to them--and then it turns out that I'm right. THAT TOTALLY depresses me, because I--not they--end up suffering the consequences. (Can you tell that I've gone through this just once too many times??)

And I wouldn't be surprised if I do have some sort of physical condition that perhaps feeds upon the depressing thoughts. (In fact, I've suspected it for a long time.) It really goes in circles: Depressing thoughts aggravate physical ailments, and physical ailments lead to more depressing thoughts Perhaps one of these days when I muster up the courage, I will go see the doctor, and hopefully he won't think I'm a hypochondriac!

Thanks for the good post, Dan. I think I needed it, even though I didn't expect to see it and haven't read through the links yet.

(BTW, please don't put up any more tarantula pictures. They scare the life out of me!) :P

Susan said...

I think I need to clarify something. When I said sometimes I see things other people don't, I don't just mean it simply in terms of observation; I mean it in terms of decision-making. That's why it hurts so much. (These are kind people, mind you--friends who care, but who just don't seem to see what I see sometimes.)

DJP said...

Grigsthere has not been a day in the last decade of my life (and i'm 23 years old) that suicide has not been considered

Grigs, please tell me you're sharing this with your pastor, and giving him the opportunity to shepherd you, encourage you, exhort you, care for you.

If you aren't, please tell me you will share this with him, today, or this week.

Shannon said...

Depression was a constant companion of mine from the age of 13 on. I'm 28. The only thing that kept me alive for many years was my faith in Christ. That said, while I know that some points in this post are helpful to some, these same points were the ones that kept me trapped for so many years. (Do you know how many of my brothers and sisters kept telling me that I must have had some unconfessed sin? I was a model Bible reader and avid church-goer and I prayed in tears every night).

I think it's true that many people don't examine their hearts but...

First - how dare you dismiss medication as "happy pills"? Anyone that has spent five minutes researching will know that they aren't some kind of narcotic that induce a state of happiness. The best description of depression I was ever given (and that I used) was that it was the inability to experience the full range of emotion. It wasn't just that I couldn't feel happy but I couldn't feel anything. I didn't get excited. I cried but I was just numb. All a pill does is get the cogs in the brain to run like they're supposed to. It can't make you happy. It makes you not-depressed. This is why they don't know how to select the right one because there's nothing in your bloodwork that shows what neurotransmitters are shorted out. Science has shown that a brain under extreme stress for long periods of time end up with chemical (physical) imbalances that need to be corrected.

Second - I went through over a dozen of these anti-depressants and while it's great to suggest that person who has suffered for 15 years should have hope, sometimes we have thorns in our sides that the Lord doesn't remove. Case in fact - I'm now on an unconventional medication for my condition (related to fibromyalgia as we discovered). Twice I've tried to go off just to see and within a few days (which is the half life for this med) I can't even get out of bed. I can't smile. I hate my husband. I want to self-injure (and issue before hand and one that "magically" goes away while on the med). I can't stand my son...then I go back on and suddenly I ache when my son gets hurt and I adore my husband and I have no desire to harm myself. So without the medication I am incapable of feeling "happy" or "normal" - which I don't think you outright negated but in my case the doctor tried something that didn't go with traditional med prescription and it worked...but I had resigned myself to my fate because over a dozen meds later, I wasn't better and hadn't been for years.

I know you briefly acknowledge this idea in your post, but if I had read this post while still depressed I would have found it incredibly unhelpful. Suffering in it had nothing to do with being a martyr. I had pain in my body and in my soul and had suffered disappointment after disappointment in trying to treat it over the course of fifteen years. It was destroying me to believe it could get better and I learned to trust that if I didn't feel joy in this life, I would feel it in the next and that I needed to learn how to suffer well.

There was no joy. Only suffocating black. Only the desire to die young so that I didn't suck the life out of all around me. It was a pastor's wife (at Bethlehem Baptist, Piper's church) that helped me see that antidepressants and therapists were all good things, provided by God for our use.

Either way, this post may help some, but it wouldn't have helped me. It was the same stuff I got from people as I tearfully asked someone to walk with me for a while. The people who helped were the ones who knew I had words to the wind (Piper's description) and who knew that sometimes it's not about faith and it's not about personal sin. Sometimes it's just about being fallen.

2OFUS said...

Such a helpful post, thank you Dan. So many comments of commonality that have once again strengthened my love for the Christen body. One common thread, that I see, is a natural gift from our Lord, that being aging. One of my many daily mantras is "deal with the way things are, not the way they're suppose to be". Lowering my expectations of others has been a GREAT relief to me. Taking myself off the throne has unburdened me to know others can give me only what they are able to at that moment.

Andi said...

Shannon, I am right there with you! If it wasn't for meds I know for a fact I wouldn't be here now. How often can you repent for real or imagined sins before you realize that God is a God of grace?

When were in the deepest and darkest of places it can be impossible to even think rationally about these things. Sometimes we just need to accept the fact we live in fallen bodies and be thankful that God has provided physical help as well as redemption through His Son.

The Lord bless you Sister!

Beth Stone said...

Wow, this was a great post... (As was the one linked about "Do you want to be healed?") Thank you. The last couple of years for my husband and me have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and lately I had been letting myself slip into some self-pity. I'm glad I read this - I needed to hear it before I went any further down that road. Thank you for sharing. God bless.

ANiMaL said...

Can you make a print friendly version of this? Honestly, I'm trying to keep a stack of useful tidbits as I find myself ministering to people and this needs to be in my folder.

Connie Reagan said...

You have failed to address the fact that for some people depression is biochemical.

I have faced the black dog myself and in obedience to God and my husband took medication when needed. Praise God it has not been needed for years. But I think of one of my mentors-a lady who for years believed that depression was a moral failure and could always be fought on that front. I wish you could see her now as she has suffered for over three years now with an intractable depression. This lady knows the Bible better than most pastors, is MARRIED to a former pastor and is the mother in law to our senior pastor. If anyone is qualified to think biblically on depression it is her.

What you have posted is true but only true to a point. If you go to Psalms you will see that many Psalms are written from the anguish of a depressed soul.

I will also say that the joy of the Lord is just that, His joy. His joy carried me through times when I literally could not imagine Heaven as a happy place. That is how bad it was. One's spirit can have joy even while one's soul is suffering terribly.

What I have personally learned from my own experience is that depression is often a three pronged problem. Not just spiritual, but soul and physical body as well and must be attacked that way.

Finally, please remember that as Christians, we are NOT under condemnation. To bring a depressive Christian under condemnation is not God. Don't pile more burdens on a soul that is at present unable to bear them!

DJP said...

You have failed to address the fact that for some people depression is biochemical.

Actually, I did exactly that, and explicitly so.

kris said...

so, i have a question. How does the joy of the Lord look in everyday life? Say for instance, a mother has a son who is gay and in trouble with the law, how does she act, in public, in private... when her life is crashing down around her? Does she 'fake it til she makes it'? I have had bouts of depression for many years but this time its different, as in, its not my sin but someone else's i have to work around...
thanks, K

holmegm said...

Clinical depression is a physical problem, and antidepressants are not happy pills. I think the distinction is very important to make.

DJP said...

Believe me, I understand, and I deeply sympathize.

God doesn't call us to be idiots, or reality-deniers. We're called to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4), not to rejoice in our children's or friends' apostasy. We're called to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), not to be Mind Science zombies who pretend that all circumstances themselves are good.

My too-brief answer would be, as always in such things, (A) to talk to your pastor for the encouragement and personal help you surely need, (B) and rejoice in the things that are true and truly joyful. As I think I said: for the Christian, the best reasons for the greatest joy are equally true in the worst circumstances.

It's not denial, but it does take a lot of deliberateness, and reliance on grace.

DJP said...

What you just voiced, holmegm, is an opinion, and Scripture is truth. That is an important distinction to make.

holmegm said...

If by "opinion" you mean "experiential truth on the order of 'cars need mechanics' or 'tuberculosis is a disease, rather than a 'bad mood'", then sure :)

I thank God for my wife's psychiatrist. Attempting to address her psychiatric problems with prayer (or right doctrine) alone would make as much sense as attempting to fix a car with prayer alone (neither is impossible, to be sure).

It's more of a category error than about the lack of or presence of faith.

DJP said...

Not at all. You made a false categorical statement: "Clinical depression is a physical problem, and antidepressants are not happy pills." That's your opinion and, if you mean it as categorically as you stated, it is incorrect. "Clinical depression" has many possible causes. Some may be physical.

If that's all you meant to say, you're saying nothing other than what I already said in the post.

And yes, they are happy pills, because I call them happy pills. Most popular Urban dictionary definition is "Psychotropic medication used to treat depression...." It's not Sanskrit.

holmegm said...

Fair enough. A lot depends on what we mean by a "physical" problem.

Thoughts and feelings are embodied in the brain and nervous system. If a schizophrenic takes an antipsychotic medication, and now he doesn't hear voices any more, did he have a "physical", or "non-physical" problem? Was *his* visit to the doctor OK, or should he simply have prayed or repented more?


And if "happy pills" simply means "antidepressant medication", with no pejorative connotation intended whatsoever, well, OK.

So you want people who are feeling depressed to visit their doctor, but *not* for antidepressants, right? Ever, even if they have clinical depression and the antidepressants would mean they can now get out of bed, think clearly, not have constant suicidal thoughts, etc.? Is that really what you meant? Or maybe some clarification is called for?

DJP said...

I appreciate your asking, rather than assuming you know what I meant or (worse) telling me I'm wrong about what I said... which I've actually had happen.

I'm simply not commenting on the topic of psychotropics per se. Haven't expressed my thoughts, don't intend to - in this meta. I simply said that I think the doc should be the first stop in serious or protracted depression, to rule out a physical cause. My "not for happy pills" meant "I am not saying go to the doctor and say 'I'm depressed, give me happy pills,' but rather I am saying go to the doctor and tell him 'I am seriously depressed, and would like you to rule out a physical cause.'"

And I very much agree that the mind is a mysterious, complex critter. I don't know the answers to cause/treatment for all bizarre behaviors; what I'd go on to say is that the "mental health" profession often (usually?) doesn't, either.

Can't talk about everything in one post, so I focused on one basic area which I know to be worth attention and often related. And so, after explicitly noting that some depression can have a physical cause, I launched, and here we are.

DJP said...

Irony:

I just received a spam email titled "Warning - are you taking Paxil?"

holmegm said...

>Can't talk about everything in one
>post, so I focused on one basic
>area which I know to be worth
>attention and often related. And
>so, after explicitly noting that
>some depression can have a physical
>cause, I launched, and here we are.

Gotcha; thanks for clarifying! :)

If you do get a chance, I do look forward to what you might post about psychiatric issues. It is an issue that has loomed very large for my family, so it looms a bit large in my mind, I suppose.

Tim Brown said...

Great post and good point about seeing a Dr.

I've been struggling with depression for years and recently found I have a bone fide adrenal adenoma that causes this. I had been on antidepressants for years with no results. Managing the adenoma made all the difference.

If one has high blood pressure that is hard to manage with multiple meds on top of this, get checked for Conn Syndrome. That's what I have.

Thanks again for the post!

Tim Brown said...

I mentioned Conn Syndrome and reasons to be checked for it (high BP and depression) but if you have a problem with confusion, that's another symptom. Get Checked!