Rather than sweep it under the rug, the Church must tackle depression head on because it plagues the lives of countless individuals both in and outside the Church.
I was 19 and had the whole world before me. But each day I would cry out, “I’m so tired. I’m just so tired, Mummy.”
And it was true. The level of my own exhaustion appalled even me. Most days, all I wanted to do was lie in bed for hours and days on end. From the outside, my life was good. All was well. I had a beautiful family, and friends who cared. What was wrong with me?
Silently, shamefully and secretly I lived with depression for many years before the Lord healed me.
Depression confounds those who must live alongside the one suffering from it. Friends and family offer well-meaning advice in the hope of lifting their loved one.
“Just have faith,” they say.
“Cheer up. Pray more. Quote scripture. Be thankful. Have you tried counting your blessings, dear? Maybe if you tried thinking more positively you would feel better.”
Depressed in the Church
On hindsight, I think it was more traumatic to suffer depression and belong to a Church. There is a tendency to trivialise emotional suffering in the Church, because, well, if you’re depressed, there must be something wrong with your faith, right?
Depression is a sensitive subject and little understood. People whisper about it. A sufferer is stigmatized. Rather than sweep it under the rug, the Christian community must tackle it head on because it plagues the lives of countless individuals both in and outside the Church. It is time we understand depression for what it is and work together as ‘a city of refuge’ to carry the emotionally broken back into healing.
Nobody was ever healed by being dismissed or scorned at. Acknowledging the depressed person’s suffering and providing a haven for them to come as they are may very well be the first step in helping them heal.
Depression comes from within – a blanket of heaviness that covers you day after day, month after month. Years even. It is the graying of everything and it saps away every last bit of strength you have – physically, emotionally, even spiritually. The heaviness is often accompanied by feelings of anxiety, fear, hopelessness, frustration and even suicidal tendencies.
Pain is pain, and it cannot be compared nor should it ever be minimalized. The pain of a depressed person is as legitimate as the pain of someone journeying through cancer. A person in pain cries out to be embraced.
“Just have faith” does not cut it.
In this long and painful journey… I discovered so many things about God that I never would have grasped otherwise.
It took me several years to understand myself and to heal. I’m no expert, but I draw from my personal experiences and write this in the hope that it will help others and that they will not have to figure it all out on their own.
To first understand depression, I had to realise I was body, soul and spirit.
In his letters to the different churches, Paul warns of the sober reality of spiritual warfare (e.g. Eph. 6:12, 2 Cor. 10:3-4). There are countless scriptures telling us to be on guard (e.g. Eph. 6:13-17, 1 Peter 5:8). The spiritual realm is a greater reality than most people realise. Satan is not a little man with red horns. He is very real, and nobody is safe from him outside of Jesus Christ.
There is a very real possibility (as was true in my case) that the depressed is being tormented by demonic spirits of depression, fear and anxiety. Thankfully, Christ has won us the victory (Col 2:15). God is able to loose every bondage and there is freedom attainable for the spirit man in Christ. We never want to magnify the enemy or exalt him over God, but it is foolish to turn a blind eye to his devices.
There is a tendency to label the depressed as “mentally ill”, but there are valid medical explanations for the physiology of depression. There is also a myriad of wonderful medications available to help those who are suffering from depression. It is absurd and unfair to deprive somebody of medical treatment in the name of “faith”. Faith and medicine are not exclusive of each other. I have seen the Church shame the use of anti-depressants because they do not understand that it is an actual physical problem. If it is acceptable to take diabetic medication, it is acceptable to take antidepressants. After all, both are medications – the only difference is that they target different areas of the body.
It is necessary to heal the body so that the soul can have room to heal.
3. Soul (heart, emotions, mind, thoughts)
When my body was given the chance to heal with proper medication, my soul was finally able to heal too. This journey is unique for everyone and I am unable to dictate what works and what doesn’t. But this I know – a broken heart needs the presence of God more than anything else. It is true that we cannot heal ourselves, only He can. Medication helps, but it can only take you so far. It takes real encounters with a real God to find true healing – and what that looks like is different for everybody.
In this often long and painful journey, there is a treasure to be found. For it is often in the process that He reveals Himself to us. I discovered so many things about His heart that I never would have grasped otherwise. I still do not know why bad things happen when God is good, but that does not negate the fact that He is good. I still do not understand why I had to go through all that pain, but I have given up trying to figure it out.
I know now that He is for me even when my world is falling apart. He cries when I cry, and He is gentle to me in my brokenness. He is faithful to carry me through the darkest of nights and He is faithful to bring healing. Painful though it has been, I can say with all my heart now that my God has been my Healer. He has restored my joy a thousand fold, and today, I see His fingerprints in every area of my life.
God is a good, good Father and it is always His will to heal. If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone. Here’s a promise to hold on to, and He is not One who goes back on His Word:
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
There is hope, even in the darkest of night. There is hope because there is God.