Depression

Some initial thoughts on depression

Some initial thoughts on depression

I read Spurgeon’s observations on depression today. He took portions of Psalm 23 and took the reader through a journey through the psalm. Each portion of the psalm paralleled a phase in the journey from despair to joy. Spurgeon immersed the despondent soul through each step of the Psalmist’s journey. Here is his paraphrased translation, which captures beautifully the sentiment of the author:

Yea, though I walk through the valley shaded by the mysterious wings of death, and though I know nothing of my way, and cannot understand it, yet will I fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thou knowest the way that I take. There are no mysteries with my God. Thou hast the thread of this labyrinth, and Thou wilt surely lead me through. Why should I fear? Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Gloom, danger, mystery, these three all vanish when faith lights up her heavenly lamp trimmed with the golden oil of promise.

He observed that at times men are driven to loneliness where his loyalty to God is tested.

Spurgeon concluded with this short story:

I have read of a little boy who was on board a vessel buffeted by the storm, and everyone was afraid, knowing that the ship was in grave danger. There was not a sailor on board, certainly not a passenger, who was not alarmed. This boy, however, was perfectly happy, and was rather amused than frightened by the tossing of the ship. They asked him why he was so happy at such a time. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘my father is the captain. He knows how to manage.’

The great Baptist preacher noted that there is a supernatural trust between child and father. The child, though tossed to and fro, still maintains an almost supernatural trust in his father’s ability to protect and direct his life. This type of trust needs to be categorized as a divine trust.

Spurgeon himself underwent profound depression in his early life. The story is told that when he was a preacher at the age of 18 someone in the crowd shouted ‘fire’! The congregation exited the building quickly and in the process one young lady was trampled by the crowd. Her death, it is said, led Spurgeon through prolonged periods of depression. He was largely absent from the pulpit ministry of his congregation.

One can hardly imagine that the greatest Londoner in evangelical history struggled with severe bouts of depression. That episode, in fact, was the valley that Spurgeon walked before becoming the evangelical titan as he is known today. Depression is no respecter of persons. Whether it is referred to “hell on earth,” or “the dark night of the soul,” depression happens and when it does we need to be prepared to deal with it wisely and graciously.  Here are some practical and initial steps in dealing with those near you who reveal the outward manifestations of depression:

First, don’t overwhelm them with words. There is no remedy that works with everyone. Pet remedies to cure depression or cliches that we hear so often do nothing more than accentuate the problem and possibly end the possibility of further progress. It’s important to keep in mind that depressed people are not looking for quick tips on getting over depression. For many, to be depressed is the only place they have been for years and to offer quick solutions is to offend the history that has shaped this individual’s life and led him to this situation.

Second, and this seems very simple, but profoundly fruitful: talk less, listen more. Depressed people have unique stories; these stories need to be told and someone will need to be there to hear them. The story of Job’s friends in Job 2:11-12 who stayed with him for seven days in silence is a remarkable testimony to the nature of dealing with pain. The rest of the story changes our view of Job’s friends, but it’s important to affirm that their silence echoed an important truth. The truth is that to listen is more difficult than to offer our supposed quick fixes.

I once knew a man during my theological training who believed he could  fix his mother’s problems. His mother was in profound pain after the death of her husband. This fellow student thought he had the theology to fix the situation. But every time he tried he only made matters worse. He failed to understand that his mother was not interested in solutions, she was interested in grieving her loss. He should have listened to her, cried with her, and taken her pain as his own.

The sooner we learn this lesson the better. We live in an age where depression is increasing at a rapid rate. Technology, relationships, a world where money moves quickly and where bankruptcy can be declared the day after you gained tremendous wealth, all these things make depression a reality in the lives of many people. This is not to say that some people mistake sadness or sorrow for depression, this happens often I would assume. Some rush to attach a title to their woes to validate their emotions. But we must remember that in most cases depression tears down the life of those closest to us and we must be prepared to be the embodiment of the first aid kit with wisdom, love, care, and tenderness.

Someone depressed may have been the protagonist to their own story of depression, or they may have bee recipient to the excruciating pain that seems to never go away. But you don’t have to know why a person is in pain in order to show mercy. God shows mercy, whether our troubles are caused by ourselves or someone else. a

Finally–and so much more can be said about this–be prepared to go through this process of healing for the long haul. Depression does not generally cease in a day or a week, but may take months or years to overcome. Be patient. Stay active in the person’s life. Read to them. Call them. Text them. Pray with them when they cannot pray for themselves. Encourage walks. Do not allow the slowness of the process to discourage you from persevering. When a strong relationship has been established, when the one depressed understands that you are a friend and not a foe, then be prepared to be honest about details that need to be worked on.

David Powlison once told the following story:

A thirty-five-year-old man had struggled with depression for almost a year, and it was beginning to show in his physical appearance. When he came to church he was unwashed and unkempt, and, as a result of his indifference, his clothes where so mismatched that they called attention to him. Everyone at church saw these outward signs, but no one said anything because he was “clinically depressed.” Yet one friend who saw him on a particular Sunday was loving and honest. You look horrible! Your hair is a mess, you are gaining weight, and your clothes look like you are a street person. Tomorrow I am going to pick you up at 9:00 in the morning. I’m going to take you to the barbershop, then we are going to go clothes shopping.

The depressed person later stated that that comment of concern was what marked the turning point in his life.

That comment made  a difference because of an established relationship of trust. Depression is pain. Those who suffer in depression need to see that their situation is not beyond hope. And you are the embodiment of that hope to him. Be that hope. Show that hope. And live that hope to him. In God’s grace he will learn to live his days in the house of the Lord forever.

  1. See David Powlison on depression; Journal of Biblical Counseling  (back)
Worry: Imagination Used in Futility

Worry: Imagination Used in Futility

“Anxiety was a way of life in the ancient pagan world. With so many gods and goddesses, all of them potentially out to get you for some offense you might not even know about, you never knew whether something bad was waiting for you just around the corner.”[1] But Paul makes clear that the God revealed in Jesus Christ will hear you when you call. Anxiety becomes sinful when it is not delivered into the hands of the God who answers us.  The way you stop worrying sinfully is by handing over your concerns to God. When worry is not followed by petition, it becomes chaotic and generally sinful. Paul is bringing these two similar mental activities to mind: worry and prayer. Worry uses the same faculties that prayer uses. In both our thoughts and words are present, as well as our emotions and imaginations. Ungodly worry is imagination used in futility. a Prayer turns our cares and concerns into fruitful reasons to trust in God. Worry without God’s intervention becomes a pagan habit. We become so consumed with anxiety that we lose our appetite or we make our appetite a god; or we become manically depressed; we make ourselves vulnerable to whatever items or false solutions take away our pain. We hide ourselves, whereas Paul says “reveal all your anxieties to God for he will hear you.”

Since worry and anxiety are such daily exercises of the human mind, Christians are then to react to worry as God would have us.

How Shall We Then Live?

We live by transforming and renewing our minds, according to the Holy Scriptures.

It’s all right to be concerned about a loved one’s health, a difficult financial situation, a conflict with your closest friend in the Church, but Paul’s answer to Euodia and Syntyche’s in Philippians 4 is to find a common mind by asking the Lord for one.

A few simple, perhaps obvious, but hopefully helpful applications to deal with our daily worries biblically:

First, we need to address our anxieties to God. Instead of a vague nervousness, name the worry and concern. “Our Father in heaven, I am worried about my son, daughter, and my relationship with this or that person. Name your worry in prayer. Leave the vague generalizations to those who worship false gods. Our God is deeply interested in hearing specifically about your concern.

Second, turn your worry into a specific request. Once you have identified your worry, then make it known to God. “My God, I am concerned for my son’s relationships. His friends are not leading him to godliness. Help me to communicate that gracefully to him, so that he would seek godly friends instead.”

Specific petitions refine us and cause us to think deeply about the things we pray for as we pray daily.

Third, Paul says pray with gratitude, with thankfulness that our God hears us and that unlike the pagan gods of the ancient world, He is not out to get us; rather He is near us to help us.

Celebrate the kingship of Jesus over our affairs in the body.  Let the world know that the way we go about solving conflict in the Church is with grace and gentleness, not with anger and bitterness, and then turn those concerns about relational or other problems into opportunities to ask for intervention from God himself.

Here is the bad news: You may be faithful in all these things, and still the one with who you are in conflict may continue to dislike you and act as if you do not exist. After all the pastoral intervention, that relationship may never be the same again. That’s the bad news! The good news is that by faithfully dealing with conflict as Paul instructs, God will be pleased with you. You will have learned to live through difficult circumstances by honoring God.

Is worry consuming you to the point where you can no longer see the end of the story? If so, refine your prayers, people of God, and make it known to God even now for He hears us.

[1] N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone. Prison Letters.

  1. Some of these thoughts come from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermon notes on Philippians  (back)

Bring Out the Champagne! The Party Has Just Begun!

Easter is gone, right? Actually Easter has just begun! The Easter Season lasts for 50 days. It is glorified in the PENT-ecost season. According to the Christian Calendar, Easter lasts until May 19th (Pentecost Sunday). But didn’t we spend ourselves bodily and spiritually this past Lord’s Day? If that’s the case, stir yourselves unto good works. The party has just begun!

We–who are liturgically minded–tend to carefully attend to the Lenten and Advent Calendar, but yet we forget that apart from the Resurrection Lent and Advent would not make any sense. After all, what are we expecting? A virgin birth to a son who would simply die at the age of 33? What are we expecting? A perpetually closed tomb? A sight for annual pilgrimages to Israel?

I am suggesting we need to stock up in our champagne bottles. Every Sunday meal needs to start with the popping of a champagne bottle. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! POP! “Children, that’s the sound of victory!”

For every day of Easter, set aside a little gift for your little ones or your spouse. We set 100 Easter eggs aside for our two oldest children and let them open them up each day. Other traditions can be added, of course. We indulge in Easter hymnody and Psalmnody.  Easter is no time to get back to business as usual, it’s time to elevate the party spirit.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for these next 46 days:

First, for evening family readings, meditate specifically on the Resurrection account and the post-resurrection accounts. Digest every detail of the gospels, and also allow St. Paul to add his resurrection theology in I Corinthians 15.

Second, teach one another the art of hope. We live in a hopeless culture. We walk around with little enthusiasm for what God is doing in our midst. We also don’t believe that God is changing us and conforming us to the image of His son. We need to–especially in this season–to rejoice more with those who rejoice and encourage more those who weep with the hope granted to us in the Resurrection of our Messiah.

Third, invest in changing your community. Ask your pastor in what ways can you be more fruitful in your service to the congregation. Consider also your neighbors. Do you know them? If you do, how many have been in your homes for a meal or a drink, or simply to talk?

Fourth, play Easter music in your home and in the office. Here are some selections of great CDs or MP3’s.

Finally, avoid the introspective rituals that are so prevalent in our Christian culture. Do not allow doubts to overtake you. Think of your Triune baptism. Trust in Christ fervently. Allow the Covenant of Grace to shape your identity. The resurrection of Jesus was the confirmation that those in Christ are made for glory. Look to Jesus and serve Jesus by serving others. By doing so, you will not grow weary in doing well, and you will learn to party beside the empty tomb.

Christ is Risen!