David Murray has some very helpful things to say about depression and ministering to the depressed.
HT: Justin Taylor
David Murray has some very helpful things to say about depression and ministering to the depressed.
HT: Justin Taylor
Here’s a book I’m looking forward to reading. It’s called Christians Get Depressed Too by David Murray. I’m hoping it expresses some of what is needed in the conversation about Christians and depression.
Dr. Wes Bredenhof reviews the book saying this:
“There is a perception out there that depression is, at its roots, a spiritual problem. According to this perception, people become depressed because they have done something sinful. A true and faithful Christian would never get depressed. Part of Murray’s burden in this book is to dismantle that perception. He does that with an open Bible, explaining how godly believers in both Testament struggled with this problem.
The author goes on to outline how complex depression is – there are no trite and easy answers. He describes the problem in a way that will be helpful for those trying to understand it. He also gives hope, comfort, and help for those who are suffering. Again, all of this is grounded in the Word of God. Yes, Murray believes that Christians can learn from medical science and he attempts to incorporate some of those insights into this book. He is also firmly convinced that medication can not only alleviate symptoms, but also address the causes of depression in many cases.”
When God provides means through common grace (via counseling or medicine) to help us in our human state for something like depression, we should accept with thanks. That is God’s grace and healing.
One thing that I’ve often heard suggested from fellow believers as a means to improve depression is a change of diet or to begin taking a particular natural supplement. Sometimes these same people are leery of what modern medicine might suggest for depressed people, like an anti-depressant. There is an irony in this. They believe it valid to change the biology of your body through a new diet or “natural” pill (with no provable tests results showing success), but consider it less valid (less holy?) to change the biology of your body through a drug, that has been tested, peer-reviewed and proven effective for severe depression.
My hope is that this book affords depressed Christians the same love the Lord affords them. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Poor in spirit. Mourning. Meek. They are blessed. Let’s learn from depressed people instead of relegating them to “struggling” Christian and taking pot shots at prozac from the pulpit.
There is much to learn about God and ourselves from those who have walked in the dark valleys.
Bredenhoff goes on to say:
“I’ve read and reviewed several books on this subject over the years. I’ve learned that depression is a dark and ugly consequence of the fall into sin. It is no less a part of this world of dysfunction than is cancer. At the same, I’ve learned (and Murray’s book has reinforced this) that depression reminds us of how little we know about the workings of the human brain and how it relates to our non-material aspect (our soul). Finally, I’ve become convinced that God brings trials (including depression) our way so as to shape, teach, and lead us. This little book brings us back to the Word through which that all happens.”
I can’t endorse a book I haven’t read, but the review sure sounds good.
I have a love and burden for God’s people who are depressed and sorrowing.
God has also worked in me to give me a love and burden for His people who don’t seem to “get” sorrow. Christians should be the most tender-hearted, loving, encouraging people toward one another the world has ever seen. And I long to see His people (and myself) do this.
But, sometimes instead of helping the sorrowing to make their calling and election sure; to encourage them as long as it is called today; to continually pray for all the saints; we say things with arrogance that wound Christ’s own body.
Here’s a few hurtful generalizations/assumptions I’ve heard said to people belonging to Christ. And also, my responses to them:
1) Depression is made-up. Nobody had depression 2,ooo years ago.
A: To that I say, look to the Psalms or Lamentations or Ecclesiastes or the Minor Prophets or Jesus plight in the Garden or Job. No, the parallels aren’t perfect, but the Bible is rich with examples of God’s people in great sorrow. The lesson from Scripture is to comfort. They will know we are Christians by our love for one another.
2) Depression is a generational sin. You may call it genetic, but I think it’s the sins of the father’s being passed down.
A: I don’t think it’s any more generational sin than high blood pressure is. But certainly the blind man that the disciples asked about comes to mind when assuming generational sin. Is our view of God big enough to believe that he may cause depression for His glory, the way He caused blindness for His glory? And, if you belong to Christ, you are no longer a slave to the law of sin and death, but to Christ.
[Add-on: Providentially, my pastor just posted on this very topic!]
3) Depression itself isn’t a sin, but taking anti-depressants is a crutch that takes you away from reliance on God.
A: I think that anti-depressants are part of God’s common grace to mankind. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who takes them and, as a result, has been pulled away from God or reliance on God. When they are viewed as a means of grace, the depressed person’s affections and thankfulness to the Lord is increased and they are humbled. And from this humility reliance on Him may grow.
4) The Bible is all-sufficient for life and Godliness, not the Bible and anti-depressants.
A: We don’t tell women suffering with low thyroid that their tiredness is really just idle laziness and that the Bible is sufficient for them to live a more godly life. We are compassionate with them as fellow sisters and laborers for the Lord.
We tell them to take thyroid medication to change the balance of the hormone. We don’t admonish them as idle, though they seem totally healthy. And the Bible is completely and utterly sufficient to help guide them (or the depressed person taking medication) through that part of their life and reveal true Godliness to them.
5) Depression means you don’t believe God and His Word. If you did, you wouldn’t be depressed… it’s Good News, after all! You just aren’t reading the Bible enough.
A: Reading the Bible is sometimes the only thing a sorrowing person can do, along with whispering desperate prayers and hoping that others whisper them on their behalf. The depth of Biblical wisdom and love of Scripture I have found in depressed Christians is great. And often their depression does not push them from God, but opens their eyes to the reality that God holds them, apart from works or will.
I may be preaching to the choir with all these posts about sorrow. But here’s the point: smug remarks about depression and prozac are one sure way to drive a fellow brother or sister in Christ to silence, or worse yet, drive them right out the door.
And so I will continue to plead for the lowly: take care with them! It’s what Christians do!
Depression is personal.
We (myself included) talk about “depression” like it’s one singular obtuse thing. It isn’t. It could mean something minor or major* or clinical*. It is an array of many particular feelings to particular people with particular circumstances.
I am trying to refer to it in more terms than just “depression.” Something more specific. For me the phrase “sorrow without a cause,” seems to fit. I also identify strongly with the word “lowly.” Lowly is an almost perfect descriptor for how I feel when “depressed.”
I’m realizing that sorrow and lowliness will probably be a battle for me my whole life. So I write about it because I’m learning and processing for myself and also to encourage others to deal in a Christ-like, loving way with sorrowing people.
Here’s a glimpse from the cheap seats of me while low:
1) I feel like someone is squeezing my heart. As though someone very dear to me has died or is in peril. It is an overwhelming sense of grief and mourning, but seemingly unfounded.
2) I feel on the verge. On the verge of crying all the time (which I often do), on the verge of collapsing, on the verge of being totally out of control, on the verge of going to bed and never getting up.
3) I feel alone.
4) I feel like people don’t care. Like I’m a freak and nobody in the Christian world wants to deal with someone like me. Who’s got time for someone with a made-up problem like depression, when there are people really suffering out there. Quit sinning and be happy in Christ you downer.
5) I feel like holing up somewhere. My instincts are avoid avoid avoid. Avoid people, conversations, eye contact. This gets a little tricky with three dependent little ones at home.
6) I feel like my life is in black and white and everyone else is living in color.
7) I feel like someone set me to s l o w-m o t i o n. My limbs are slow, my words are slow, my thoughts are slow. Everything sticks and needs some grease.
8) I feel very aware of my sin. I say with David, “My sin is ever before me..” This may be one benefit of my sorrow. It puts me in my proper place before the gracious and holy God. In the midst of sorrow I have no self-righteousness, no independence. It becomes crystal clear that Christ holds me, apart from works. Each breath is grace upon grace.
I want to be clear about why I write about this. It’s not for personal sympathy, although sympathy is a good thing and I do long for it at times.
I share my sorrow because maybe depression has seemed diffuse and distant to you–like you can’t relate to it– and this can be the beginning of a real person’s experience for you to understand.
Mostly I share it so that we will take care of the lowly person in our lives. And so that we will be reminded of 1 Thess. 5: 14 ”..encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (a recent fighter verse). And to “..weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15)
The Bible doesn’t say, weep with those who (in our estimation) have a good reason to be weeping. Just weep with them, even if we deem their sorrow to have no legitimate cause, or even if we think their sorrow is self-indulgent drivel. We can’t know all the factors at play. God does; He is the Judge.
Our job is to see our brother or sister in Christ who’s hurting and know that, even in their depression, we have a lot more commonalities than we do differences.
I Cor. 12:22-26 “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor.. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
*Major or clinical depression has a specific diagnosis. If you meet the criteria (for time required, etc), I would urge you to seek outside help.
Sometimes I think depression in Christian women doesn’t exist, until I start to talk about my own experience with it, then, it seems, women come out of the woodwork, finally freed to tell their story.
Every single depressed person has a different story, different circumstances, different reasons. But we all share an acquaintance with sorrow and a neediness for Christ that is so intense it binds us together.
I thought I’d share some ways that friends have helped me as I have dealt with sorrow.
1) They make no assumptions. Sometimes we assume we understand the cause of the sorrow. If your friend is deeply depressed the causes may be many and varied. Drawing the reasons out is a slow process and may never fully happen. Don’t assume it’s sin. Don’t assume it’s poor Bible-reading habits. It may be one of those.. but it may not.
2) They refrain from trying to fix it. It may not be fixable. If you feel tempted to suggest a dietary change or supplement or a regimen of behavior modification, work at holding your tongue. This can be hurtful for the depressed person who’s already tried everything. It also makes light of their suffering (unintentionally).
3) They are never scared off by the depth of the sorrow. They will hear the thoughts that are scary and dark-then gently, slowly speak truth to them. They aren’t afraid of ugly crying.
4) They aren’t easily offended. When I cease to answer the phone or can’t keep an engagement (for no good reason) they don’t take it personally. If I don’t send thank-you cards or can’t return an email, they forbear with love.
5) They read the Word to me. Depressed people may be unable to read it on their own. Reading it may seem to have no effect, but it could be providing a ray of light to them that is like air. Help them to breath.
6) They aren’t going anywhere. Depressed people are downers. Good friends commit to them for the long-haul. Let them know that you aren’t going anywhere. Be willing to give to them and receive nothing in return.
7) They let me borrow their faith and joy for a season, since it seems I have none of my own.
8) They’re willing to rat me out to family or doctors if things get out of hand.
One of the hardest things for me, when depressed, is that I have no justification for it. No death in the family to point to, no infertility, no catastrophic event. I should be happy, shouldn’t I?? Sometimes I think of depression as sorrow without a cause.
I am glad that Christ was a man of many sorrows and well-acquainted with grief. He sympathizes in my sorrow without a cause.
And He knows the cause. He caused it. I rest in this fact. The best thing to come from my depression is knowing that He causes it and He holds me firmly in His hand. He will not let me fall. No sorrow can snatch me out of His hand.