Christians and Depression: Another Look

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:

What depression feels like. Except worse.
What depression feels like. Except worse.

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?

Brain impulses. Thinking prosessThe 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).

To those who helped me find my way out of the pit: Mom, Debbie, Carla, Tim... I can't name you all, but I remember, and I'll be forever grateful.
To those who helped me find my way out of the pit: Mom, Debbie, Carla, Tim… I can’t name you all, but I remember, and I’ll be forever grateful.

For Those Who Battle with Winter Depression

Do you dread the winter months because you periodically find yourself in meltdown mode, hiding under the covers and feeling useless and defeated? You’re not alone. (Please forgive the background noise; it was breezy that day!)

We’re All Still Beggars

t13POC1446149027We human beings love to clump ourselves into categories. Depending upon what we feel is important, we long to be part of this group—but exempt from that one. This is why so many of us spent our high school years trying to snag a place with the cool crowd while maintaining distance from the not-so-cool crowd. Too often, we hang on to the “us-versus-them” mentality as adults—but as believers, we have no right to think in these terms. Why not? Because for all the differences between one Christian and the next, we all knocked on the same door to be saved.

Think about it: the unsaved philanthropist is no “less lost” than the unsaved sex offender.

No matter how noble a life he’s living, when a person first knocks, he does so alongside the shoplifter, the gossip, and the prostitute. And even after ten or twenty or sixty years of Christian living, apart from grace we’re all still beggars stumbling around in pitch darkness. This is what makes a joke of our self-importance: we start out side by side, and although we might spend our lives in a way that’s more pleasing to God than the next person, at the end we’re once again side by side—at the door of heaven only because of the blood of Jesus.Walk to the cross

“For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing” (Eph. 2.8-9, Voice).

Following Jesus into the Unknown

Lately, the Lord’s been prompting me to do some video blogs along with written blogs. I suppose the correct word is “vlog,” but I’m not entirely sure because I’m technologically challenged—which explains, I hope, the rather poor quality of this video. In short, I have no idea what I’m doing regarding the technology, but God’s Word “is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jer. 20), so it’s time to stop procrastinating and just do it!

No Place to Hide

Lately, God has been challenging me on almost a daily basis to decide what I believe and then stand up for it, no matter what others might think, no matter if I come across as radical or even foolish. He has allowed me to be pushed into corners where there’s no happy medium, so that I must either defer to unrighteousness or profess and defend the truth—and then live accordingly. He is eradicating the “middle ground” and challenging me to come out of hiding as far as who I am in Him.

Woman pulls pack page and reveals sunset.

For too long, with few exceptions, the typical American Christian has been able to tiptoe and dance around controversial topics; it’s entirely possible to go for years without having to stand up and declare what you believe regarding matters like the sanctity of life or the definition of marriage or the significance of sexual purity. In the process, we’ve bought in to the lie that there are no absolutes, that everything is relative. More and more, we’ve learned to live in the grey areas until we’ve forgotten that there is light and there is darkness.

We’re so desensitized to sin that we’re offended by the word “sin” rather than by the things that dishonor the Lord.

Not so long ago, it was understood that a wise man gave his allegiance to God. Now, it has become second nature to excuse, defend, and even celebrate the things that offend God. We’ve become compromising and spineless.

knightBut not for long. The tide is turning, light and dark are polarizing, and soon we’re going to have to choose, and there will be no grey area in which to hide. Lord, embolden us to defend Your honor, embrace truth, and obey You at all cost.

 

A Word About Fasting

7eWavS1442934673My husband is at a monastery for a few days this week. Those who know him would find this comical: he’s a long-haired, tattooed hippie with a disreputable past who loves his motorcycle and ragged jeans. Even so, when I talked to him last night, he said the monastery felt familiar. The reason for this is that Kenny spent a handful of years as a missionary in Nashville, during which he lived in a windowless room that he dubbed “the cave,” and fasting was commonplace. The monastery, designed to exemplify the virtues of fasting, silence, and poverty, has tiny dorm rooms, a Daniel fast diet (no meat, sweets, or other luxuries), and many no-speaking areas.

That got me thinking: there are elements of the Christian life that were meant to be commonplace for believers that have become completely foreign to most of the Church. But I’m not here to reprimand anyone—rather, I’m here to say that we’re missing out. Granted, I don’t want to live my whole life in a single, windowless room, but living simply, as unattached to the world and possessions as possible, allows for great freedom. I’ve experienced just one speech fast, which was intense and beautiful; I’ve been longing to do it again. As for fasting food, that’s almost never easy. In fact, I cringe at the thought. And yet there’s nothing like that spiritual buzz, which tends to set in after a few days as your perspective shifts. The emphasis we Americans place on food (and it’s far more than you’d think) suddenly seems ludicrous. The spirit wakes up and takes center stage. What’s truly important becomes important once again, and what’s irrelevant finally becomes irrelevant.

Here are a few paragraphs from my journal during a liquids-only fast:

I’ve been kinda living in the supernatural lately, and I don’t want it to stop. It’s Day 19 of a 40-day liquids-only fast. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. A mug of pureed veggie soup feels like a feast. I’ve been spending an hour in my prayer closet every morning, sometimes more, and it feels like ten minutes. I’m eating the book of Romans.

There are plenty of days lately when I’m nearly giddy “for no reason”—even right in the middle of working. Laughter comes easily. Hours go by and I forget to have my soup. I’m forgetting what it’s like to eat. I never want this to end.

Silhouette the girl jumping over the gap at sunsetI have energy, energy, late into the night. Mental alertness and productivity. Patience. Spiritual sensitivity. Contentment. Creativity, hope, and confidence. Affection. Groundedness. The absence of stress and anxiety.

Thank You, Father, thank You. I love You so much. I can’t for a moment wrap my mind around what it would be like to live without You. How would I survive a single day if I didn’t belong to You? To extract myself from Your grip, if that were even possible, would leave me with nothing. There is no me without You.

Why has the Church allowed fasting and other disciplines to go the way of the dinosaurs? Is it simply that they’re difficult for the flesh, or is it more than that? What do you think?

 

The Trouble with Hoarding

One of the things that the Old Testament manna represents is the basic necessities of life, which God provides when we seek Him above and beyond anything else. The Message puts it this way: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met” (Mt 6:33).

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 2.09.58 PMManna constituted the Israelites’ daily food; they would have literally died without it. To say it was a crucial part of their lives is an understatement, yet they disobeyed God’s instructions concerning it. His mouthpiece, Moses, charged them to make sure they didn’t keep the manna from one day to the next, yet they still tried to hoard it. It’s human nature to hoard, to make sure we have our “fair share.” We don’t like it when someone else has more than we do. Or perhaps the Israelites were lazy—hoping to avoid having to gather the manna the next day.

Or maybe they simply didn’t believe God, who promised to provide daily.

We’re a lot like the Israelites: we want our pantries and bank accounts and clothes closets full—and yet they’re quite never full enough to satisfy us, are they? We want our “safety nets,” our safeguards against not having what we want, when we want it. We loathe the thought of God stripping us of those safety nets because then we’ll have no recourse but to trust Him for each day’s provision, and that’s scary. And inconvenient. And uncomfortable.

And so we hoard.

When we fail to trust God for our basic needs, we fret and worry. We amass more than we need. We fail to abide in the heart of God and instead work so many hours that we become strangers to peace and rest. Worst of all, we miss out on the lovely, exhilarating sensation of belonging completely to Him. We forget that He is responsible and that we’re at His mercy. We turn our backs on His offer of sweet, fresh manna: “No thanks, I’m afraid You’ll shortchange me. Besides, I can manage on my own.”

Our culture insists that amassing wealth and possessions is synonymous with being a responsible adult. Are you brave enough to see that this challenges everything Jesus exemplified? Are you bold enough to trust that God will send the manna day by day?

To the Christian Woman with a Secret Sin

Silhouette illustration of a woman hand grabbing an appleI wish that we, as Christian women, were exempt from struggles with sin. But we’re not. I’ve vowed to be transparent with my readers, so I’m here to confess that not that long ago, the Lord spoke to me about a certain behavior I’d been making excuses for for too long—and He didn’t pull any punches. By the end of our conversation, I had truly walked away from my sin, and the result was pure joy and fresh fire. What follows is the gist of what He said. I’m sharing it in the hope that if you’re like me—prone to wander and in need of the extravagant love and forgiveness of Jesus—you’ll realize that this message is for you as well.

**********************************

“I’m sorry,” you say. But you don’t really mean it.

Through your actions, you’ve testified that I’m not worth the sacrifice of laying down your sin. You’ve implied that I don’t understand your life and what you need… that you can’t be happy without your golden calf… that I’m not quite enough… that you might enjoy My presence, but you’re not desperate for it.

You’ve been willing to trade My presence for what you want.

You used to give your absolute allegiance to Me. I want you to be that girl again. You used to err on the side of obedience, but now you err on the side of sin. You used to be quick to say, “Yes, Sir.” But now you scramble for loopholes: “I’ll cut back,” or “I’ll stop for a month,” or “Next Monday I’ll turn over a new leaf.” Even as you pledge to stop, you search for a loophole, an escape route, a light at the end of the tunnel, a promise of reprieve to give you hope.

But
I am your hope.

Are you willing to gamble your friendship with Me?

You’ve convinced yourself again and again that that still small voice isn’t really Me. That you’re just being legalistic. That there’s nothing wrong with bestowing My grace upon yourself as you see fit even though that used to be My job.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Woman pulls pack page and reveals sunset.

In Defense of PDAs

We not only tolerate public displays of affection, we applaud them.
But we don’t stop there.

The filthier the better, we say.
We stop at nothing, we welcome everything,
no matter how deviant.
And yet—
When it comes to the greatest Lover,
the purest and most benevolent Lover—
We clam up.
We are paralyzed.
We even scold those who would dare to express themselves:

Contain yourself!
That’s not appropriate!
It’s okay to lift your hands (just not too high… think “princess wave”),
But retain your composure.
People are watching. 

And heaven forbid someone should be moved to emotion
or moved to laughter
or moved to dance.

You are just getting caught up in your emotions, we scold.

That’s right! says the lover,
I am in love!
I am lovesick!
And I cannot contain it.

I’m coming out of the closet.
I’ve been undone by my Jesus and I don’t care who knows it.
I can’t see my critics because I have eyes
only for Him.

So excuse my public displays of affection, but I have no plans to stop.
Happy Stick Girl RunningIn fact, I shall become even more undignified than this.

There’s No Such Thing as a Christian by Default

Sometimes we assume that if we aren’t actively serving the devil, we are serving God by default.

The most accepted definition of default is “a selection automatically used by a computer program in the absence of a choice made by the user.” We suppose that, since we’d certainly never choose to worship Satan, we are Christians by default—and that making a conscious, deliberate choice to follow the Lord (and then doinga it) isn’t necessary. And this is why we have multitudes of professing Christians who drift from one day to the next, year after year, with no passion or power. If you were ask one of these “Christians by default” why they burn with love for Jesus, they would stare at you like a cow at a new fence because the idea of love and passion in connection with the Lord is foreign to them.

As far as they are concerned, “Christian” is simply the category they fall into because they live a civilized life.

But God says we must choose: “Choose for yourselves today the one you will worship” (Josh. 24:15 HCSB). We do not gain Jesus by default. Christianity isn’t something we stumble into when we’re too lazy or busy to be deliberate about the most important aspect of our lives. To be a Christian is to daily choose, love, serve, and submit to a Person. To leave one’s spiritual identity to chance by failing to choose is to gamble with eternity.

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