Dear Depressed Christian

Everyone else seems to have it together.  Why can’t you just get yourself together?  It doesn’t even make sense to feel this way.  You have no real reasons for feeling down but no amount of praying takes it away.  That induces guilt.  Because isn’t prayer supposed to take it all away?  Sometimes you even question if your faith is real.  Because if it was, then you wouldn’t be struggling so much.

The truth is that you’re not alone.  There are others silently suffering as well.  Not sure it will make you feel any better but know that depression strikes people from all walks of life…yes, even those who have faith in God.  I bet it’s an even bigger problem than you think because the enemy has people right where he wants them—feeling alone.

Church almost makes it worse.  You know you should go, even those days you don’t feel like it, but then you have to pretend that everything is fine.  You paste on the smile and respond with “Great!” when asked how you’re doing.  What would be the worst thing to happen if you finally got honest?  There’s that fear of rejection and of judgment, I get that.  Yet what if by sharing your struggles, it opened up the opportunity for someone to pray with you?  To show they care?  To be that person who stands by your side?

Then there’s the whole shame thing.  How can you even call yourself a believer?  Where is the joy of the Lord?  Yet our faith isn’t based on our strength.  In fact, it’s in our weakness that God makes us strong.  Shame is a lie.  The truth is that you are an imperfect person who is being sanctified day-by-day.  Becoming holy isn’t an event…it’s a process.  Don’t let shame become bigger than God’s grace.

Remember that while your struggle might be depression, others have their own vices.   We’re all sinners.  We all face challenges.  We all live in a fallen world.  Your issue isn’t worse than someone else’s.  You’re not any less a Christian than the person sitting next to you in the pew.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  You might feel depressed but God hasn’t counted you out.

Depression doesn’t have to be a life sentence.  You can gain freedom.  Jesus is the key that unlocks the prison door.

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No Sympathy for the Depressed

I’ve lived most of my life in denial when it comes to the issue of mental illness in my family.  Not that I’ve denied its existence, but I’ve definitely kept it swept under the rug.  Not exactly a conversation piece around the dinner table or at a party.

 

sympathy, depressedBesides, you don’t really get the same type of sympathy as those who have cancer or other serious health issues that run in their family.  Bring up the family members who have dealt with heart-related problems and you’re sure to get a sympathetic ear, perhaps even some great advice or encouraging words.  But talk about your grandma who was institutionalized because of schizophrenia or the several family members taking medication for some form of mental illness and there’s likely to be an uncomfortable silence or a quick changing of the subject.

Why is the level of comfort so different?  Not only is there is a stigma in the church when it comes to this delicate subject matter, but there seems to be no sympathy for those who suffer.  While others rally around you when facing a physical illness, it gets pretty lonely when you suffer with depression or anxiety.

I believe one of the reasons for the lack of sympathy is that some people see depression as nothing more than being sad.  When we turn it into an emotion, there’s a belief that we can do something about it.  That we have some degree of control over our emotions.  Depression is not sadness.  Yes, circumstances can contribute to depression but most people suffering from it, recognize there’s no real reason to feel the way they do.  They can’t choose to not be depressed.  Just like someone can’t choose to not vomit when hit by the stomach flu.

Another reason for the lack of sympathy, which is particular to the church, is that we should all be walking around with a smile plastered on our face and a worship song coming from our lips.  If you have the joy of the Lord, then surely you shouldn’t be suffering from depression.  The reality is that believers aren’t excluded from struggles.  Just because one person’s thorn is different from someone else’s doesn’t make it any less valid.

Perhaps a little more understanding (and sympathy) would eliminate that lonely feeling.  Those suffering from depression might be more willing to admit it’s a struggle and ask for help.  What better place to get it than the church?  Yet so often it’s the last place a believer goes to for help when it comes to depression.  Instead, they paste on their smiles and give a holy high-five to others in passing, while inside they’re hurting.

No one should suffer alone…especially someone who belongs to the body of Christ.

When You Just Can’t Snap Out of It

Last week’s post, “The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church” definitely struck a chord in others.  If you could only visualize the internal anguish I felt about writing on this topic.  The feedback I’ve received was worth it.  It’s clearly a subject that needs more attention.

Our moods can be impacted by stressful life events, genetics, hormones, medical conditions, substances (alcohol, drugs, medication) and more.  Pinpointing the cause of depression is sometimes easy and sometimes not.  The one thing I can say for sure is that when it does strike, the person suffering can’t control how he feels.

I’ve been that person who essentially says, “Why can’t you just snap out of it?”  But I’ve also been on the other end, when it’s been asked of me.  If only it were that easy.  Just think happy thoughts—unicorns and rainbows.  Or in the circle of believers, just pray and then you’ll snap out of it.

The reality is that depression can have a vice-like grip on your emotions and thoughts.  Its hold can be so powerful that it seems like an unbreakable barrier between you and God.  No amount of prayer, Bible reading or worship music will make it go away.  In other words, you can’t just snap out of it.

No one wants to feel this way.  The individual isn’t choosing to be depressed.  And yet so often, the “just snap out of it” mantra comes across as the solution.  But if that’s not the answer…then what is?

When you just can’t snap out of it, know that it’s hold over you can be broken.  Psalm 42:11, “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Putting your hope in God takes the responsibility off your shoulders to just “snap out of it.”  You can’t manufacture a content spirit and you certainly can’t will yourself to feel joy.  But when we put our hope in God, we are essentially giving it all to Him.  We know that we’re unable but He is more than able.

Hope that you are loved by God.  Hope that just as He has come through for you in past difficulties, so will He now.  Hope that He is working out the perfect ending to this temporary twist in your story.

You discipline yourself to hope by praying…even when it feels like you’re talking to a wall.  You read the Word…even when it makes no impact.  You listen to uplifting music…even when it stirs nothing inside.  These are disciplines that over time will most definitely make a positive difference and help break the chain of depression.

But there are other ways we can find hope—for some, it may mean medication (short or long term).  It may require seeking professional counseling.  Or asking your closest friends to help pray you through.

There’s usually not a quick, easy fix for depression.  Even telling someone to have hope in God sounds so trite.  King David is a prime example of someone who experienced many stressful events in his life.  Yet he verbalized his hope in God.  He spoke it out loud.  He reminded himself of God’s faithfulness.  He declared that his faith was in a trustworthy God.  His circumstances didn’t always change.  But it was hope that enabled him to break free from the chains of depression.

Hope is not a magical key to happiness.  But it is the source in finding strength to get through the battle.  Hope is what carries us out of the valley of despair.  Hope is what brings us peace.  Hope is what breaks the bonds of depression and fills us with joy.

 

The Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church

Mental health—it’s a touchy subject, one that has started to garner a lot of attention through the media but is mostly neglected through the church.  Yet even the media’s focus tends to center on the tragic events that involve someone who finally “loses it” in a violent act.  We don’t hear much about the ordinary, everyday people who are dealing with mental illness.

There is a stigma attached to issues of mental health in the church.  I have heard a wide range of questionable thoughts and opinions.  For instance, some say that depression is a lack of faith.  I’ve also heard there is no such thing as a generational curse of mental illness because Christ set us free.

I’m not diminishing the necessity for strong faith or living in the freedom of Christ.  Yet it doesn’t negate the very real struggle that some believers go through.  And it is no different than someone suffering from physical health issues.

In all honesty, it’s a topic that makes me uncomfortable, so writing this post isn’t exactly “my thing.”  But this is an issue that I strongly believe needs a voice—and not just because it affects me on a personal level—I know there are others out there who have felt the stigma.  Those who have felt shame or embarrassment or even outright denial of the struggle.

It’s not possible to cover everything in one post.  So, it’s probably safe to say that this won’t be my last.  But I wanted to at least open up the conversation.  I would guess that almost every reader knows someone who struggles with mental health or has fought their own demons with it.

Know that first, mental illness is not a sign of weak faith.   Depression was something that King David struggled with—if you don’t believe me, read the Psalms.  Or remember Elijah, who at one point was so depressed he was ready to give up…even asking God to take his life.  I believe that our greatest faith comes from the lowest points in life, the moments of desperation and when we feel the most unable.  Because it’s then we see the power of God move on our behalf…whether that means healing or strength to face the battle.

Second, mental illness can be a generational curse.  Just as diabetes or breast cancer might run in a family, so can schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  My family has a long history of mental illness.  My acceptance of Jesus doesn’t erase this truth.  But it does empower me to break the hold it’s had over us.

It’s an important topic…especially among believers.  Not just to draw attention to it but to point the way to the One who has the answers.

Psalm 42:5 “Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”