Permit me share with you something which few people outside of my immediate family know; I deal with fairly severe depression and have done so for more than ten years now. As with anyone else who faces depression, I have my good days and my bad days. There are times I do not even think about depression, and there are times I have a hard time forcing myself to get out of bed. Most people do not know this about me for two reasons: I do not talk about it, and I am good at being “on;” rising to the occasion while in public and being able to power through the hard times. Related to being “on,” I force myself to keep going, even when I feel like I cannot do so any longer. Why am I writing of this tonight? For some reason, I think this curtain needs to be pulled back at this time. Why specifically tonight? I could not tell you for the life of me. With that context put in place, I want to share with you some things I have learned being a Christian with depression.
1) The whole “good heart,” feel good, unthinking emotionalism of our age is dangerous; particularly for people with depression. This is typically meant to encourage people and make them feel better about themselves. In fact, I remember one camp service where the guest speaker had the congregation repeat (several times), “I have a good heart.” While I understand this speaker likely wanted people to realize they are now a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), there are more accurate ways to describe that truth.
The problem with the whole “good heart” movement is it is anti-Scriptural. Jeremiah 17:9 states plainly, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Some have said this heart described is one which should not/does not exist within the Christian (usually citing Jeremiah or Ezekiel’s contrast between the heart of stone and heart of flesh), but it does not answer the reality of the many Christians who still deal with depression; even years and countless times of asking for this “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. Besides that, the context in both Ezekiel and Jeremiah speak of the day when the Exile would end and the people would again love the Law of the Lord and would obey Him; not that they would feel blissfully happy all the time.
If you suffer from depression, remember that your heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted. This sounds jaded to those who have never faced depression, but the truth is a lifeline to those who deal with this sickness. If you follow the concept of “following your heart,” you will be lost whenever your mood changes. There will be days your heart/depression tells you to just give up and that things will never be better; this is a lie. Hold fast to the truth that your heart is deceitful. Ignore the changing of emotions and rely on truth.
2) Many people and even church services are very emotionally focused; this is also dangerous for those who deal with depression. Music is played, lights are manipulated, and in some places, you even see smoke/fog machines. In some places, you’ll hear people tell you to jump, to dance, to repeat, to do all sorts of things which are meant to elicit a specific emotional response. Perhaps the worst though is when someone starts off the day with “How’s everyone doing today?!” This question is inevitably answered with claps and shouts of encouragement/joy; except by those who deal with depression. This tends to make those with depression feel even more alone than normal; after all, they seem to be the only ones who are not feeling waves of joy first thing in the morning. In fact, they have often had to put in considerable work just to get there. Asking how we feel at any given time may not give the same expected result.
As with the first note, if a depressed person follows how they feel at any given time, they will be totally lost. There will be days you feel like you should just run away from all responsibilities, all future plans, and even your faith. There will be days you feel unloved and that you should just leave or end it all. There will be days you feel like this depression is all you will ever feel or know. Unfortunately, there are also days when you will feel like you are not forgiven, and that you are doomed for eternity. Again, do not follow the ever changing, unthinking emotionalism which is so prevalent in the world (and even some churches) today. Instead, stand on the truth. On days you feel you are not forgiven, remember the truth that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Additionally, since there are times you will feel condemned and lost, remember that “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (1 John 3:19–21). Again, hold to the truth rather than to changing feelings. It is not how we may feel that matters so much. What matters is that we stand on the unchanging truth. There is no confidence in changing emotion for the depressed Christian, but we have confidence in truth.
3) In the middle of troubles, trials, and depression, God is still in control. Regardless of how you may feel at any given time, God is faithful. On Sinai, He even identified Himself as “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7).
We serve a faithful God who is steadfast and unchanging even when it feels like we are being tossed about by wave after wave of depression and loss. Even when we feel hopeless, He gives us hope. Furthermore, because God is faithful, He will not permit any outside influence to remove us from relationship with Him; only we could do that. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
I do not have all the answers, and there are still times I feel overwhelmed by depression. There are days it is incredibly difficult to force myself to get up and get moving. There are times I would be totally lost if I were to rely on how I felt. Yet by holding to the truth, I can keep moving. I know that I serve a faithful, just God. I know that He is merciful and understanding. I know that “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Furthermore, I know that the day will come when depression will be no more; when “the tabernacle of God [will be] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3b–4). If you suffer from depression and you are a Christian, you’ve likely felt as though you should be able to move through life without this issue.
Remember that your heart is deceitful and cannot be trusted; stand on the truth. You’ve likely felt a great number of hopeless feelings. Again, remember that God is faithful; stand on the truth. You’ve likely felt lost, tossed about on a turbulent sea of depression and loss. Remember, God is still in control and He promises a future without this terrible depression if we are in Him; stand on the truth. You may have even found yourself doubting your calling or ability to fulfill that which God has placed in your soul to do. Remember that even when we cannot do it, He is faithful and Almighty.
Think of Paul and his “thorn in the flesh” which he identifies as a messenger of Satan. “Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9). You may have been dealing with this depression for a very long time (I know I have), but God is still faithful, and He will enable you to do the task He has set before you.
Do not allow depression or the Enemy to win over you. As depressed Christians, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). I do not know why I thought to share this tonight, but I did. I hope this may have helped someone. What it all comes down to for me is this: feelings and the heart are deceitful and troubling, but the truth is unchanging and God is faithful. Trust and hope in Him and even when depression rages, your faith will be placed in the steadfast Rock. As the old hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Trust in the Lord and He will help you weather this storm.