I keep hearing about believers who are suffering from depression, and we all know it gets worse this time of year. So I’m going to repost an article that ran in a LifeWay publication awhile back, and about which I received emails from numerous Christians thanking me for speaking about the taboo subject of depression. One email from the pastor of a successful mega-church not too far from here, read, “You’re one of the first Christian writers I’ve found who includes a common-sense endorsement of medication, which I resisted until my own breaking point…. Like you, I had friends who further injured me by suspicion of sin on my part. It feels good to read how someone else walked through what I’m in.” We (i.e. Christians in general but especially ministers/pastors) are not talking about this, but we should be! It’s real, and there’s hope for those who suffer, but if we clam up about it, we’re exacerbating the problem. So here’s the article exactly as it ran:
In the winter of 2006–7, during an especially sorrowful and stressful period, I plummeted into a mental state unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. This was not simply a case of the blues. I lost all interest in the activities that constituted life: people, writing, recreation, my career, and daily rituals like grocery shopping. The moment I woke, I longed for bedtime—for escape—and yet I couldn’t sleep. Nausea, confusion, and exhaustion plagued me. Smiling was impossible in the face of intolerable sadness. Pulling myself out of bed each morning was torment. The thought of continuing in such blackness for one more hour, let alone one more week, was unbearable as I struggled to “keep it together.” I dreaded social situations. The sound of conversation and laughter between my coworkers became foreign to me, until I couldn’t recall what either one felt like. I knew I’d laughed and conversed thousands of times, but now it seemed ludicrous and utterly impossible.
Worst of all, although God hadn’t left me, the awareness of His presence that I’d always enjoyed had vanished.
One evening, I mentioned my struggle to someone who was spiritually sound and whose opinion I valued. “I can’t feel God,” I said. “This sadness is devouring me, and I can’t find Him no matter what I do.” My friend answered, “There’s got to be some kind of sin in your life if you feel separated from God. Examine your life and try to figure out where you’ve gone wrong.”
My friend meant well, but he had inadvertently kicked me when I was at my lowest. His words didn’t make sense: even though I couldn’t feel God, I knew I hadn’t turned my back on Him. And somehow I knew that He hadn’t deserted me. My friend simply didn’t realize that believers aren’t immune to the horrors of clinical depression. Like many Christians, he mistakenly assumed that being a Christ-follower insulates a person against depression. This notion is so prevalent that many Christians feel too guilty and embarrassed to discuss their struggles. They forget that not even the “spiritual giants” of Scripture were immune to this type of suffering. Think of Elijah, who swung from great victory into deep depression, or David, who expressed his pain in Psalm 6, among others: “I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night” (v. 6).
One Friday afternoon, my despair became so suffocating that I asked a girlfriend (whose husband had suffered mental illness) what was required to check oneself into a hospital—just in case. All hope, joy, pleasure, and light had ceased to exist for me. I begged God to give me a moment’s assurance, some sign, but the nothingness continued. It was sheer grace that allowed me to hang on until Monday, when I finally called my doctor and dragged myself to his office. I remember feeling bewildered as I watched the woman across from me in the waiting area peruse a magazine and smile pleasantly at a nurse. How could she be so carefree? How was she untouched by the desolation that had swallowed me?
The next hour changed my life. After I described my symptoms to my doctor, he asked about my circumstances and then ran some tests. His conclusion: my depression was the result of years’ worth of nearly continual stress, compounded by recent occurrences. Quite simply, I had drained my body of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone. He prescribed a medication that would give me a bit of relief and allow me the time to “refill my tank.” Within four months, I was off the medication. Finally, I was laughing and living again.
Can depression be a sign of disobedience? Yes, it certainly can. But it can also be caused by medical or chemical issues, mental or physical exhaustion, and so on. Can God heal us in an instant? Yes, He can and often does. But if you’re in the “waiting stage,” don’t assume that God is displeased with you. Feeling separated from His presence does not equal being separated from His presence. Feelings can be very unreliable. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself while trusting that you completely belong to the Father. Recognize that seeking professional help and trusting God can go hand in hand.
Above all, remember that if you are a believer, your standing with God has not changed. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. For “not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom. 8:38–39).