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.
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:
- You say you believe Jesus, and I believe you.
- Jesus says you should have joy (cf. John 15:11). His apostles agree (cf. 1 Peter 1:5-9).
- If you say you don't or can't, are you still believing Jesus?
- If you realize that this betrays a lack of faith, what should you do about it? (HINT)
- 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)
- Have you realized and "owned" just how depressing unbelief is, all by itself?
- 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?
- 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?
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.
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).