Two years ago, I lost two students to suicide within weeks of each other. One by shooting himself, another by hanging. The news was heart-wrenching. Coping with the suicide of a loved one is a unique pain of sorts, leaving unanswered questions and seemingly unending resentment for not being a source of help.
When tragedy occurs, we never expect the news to hit so close to home. Thoughts of not my student, or my parent, or my sibling, or my child often invade our mind.
For many, the pain is on the inside. Silent cries of depression seep deeply into the hearts of adults and children, alike. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is America’s most common mental disorder. With this knowledge, it is more than likely that someone you love is battling depression. But there is hope.
How Did I Get Here
Simply put, depression and its myriad of forms is a result of The Fall.
The Fall is the single most life-changing event in human history. When Adam disobeyed God, separation from God fell to all mankind. Since the beginning of time, men have abandoned God’s law and adopted their own law as rule. We may experience depression when a change in life circumstances occurs (loss of job, loss of loved one, loneliness, health problems etc.) whether caused by blatant sin in our lives, or the misfortunes of living in a sin-soaked world.
And disobeying the good, perfect insight of the Lord brings disappointment. I’ve lost count of the number of times that my disregard for God’s decrees has caused sin to wreak havoc in my life. Because disobedience leads to destruction (Prov. 14:12); we can expect a temporary manifestation of destruction in our very mind, body, and spirit—and a greater eternal destruction if we allow depression to be our god and fail to trust God’s sure promises.
This is not to say that all depression stems from disobedience. Not entirely. But I’m convinced since sin has affected every aspect of human life, no one is exempt for experiencing the effects of a darkened culture—depression included.
Light in the Darkness
My first natural inclination when depressed is self-pity—I don’t want to hear who I am in Christ, I want to be comforted! But we must fight against this.
The pity Jesus felt was for the depraved condition of humanity, not for himself. Jesus, the Deliverer, took our pain upon Himself. He made our afflictions His own, and took our woes as if they were His. The pitiful state of humanity became his mission. Living the Christian life is the glorious opportunity to share in His suffering, while radically commanding others to join us.
In the midst of depression, let us be a people who confidently cry out, “Yes, we believe the report of the Lord! This [Jesus] man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, surely he has born my grief, surely he has carried my sorrows, and surely He is with me, making intercession for me.” (Isa. 53)
I once heard a pastor make a play-on-words from 2 Cor. 8:9 concerning the generous, grace of Christ. He notes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was fully quenched, yet for your sake he became thirsty, so that you who are thirsty might have living waters filled to the brim.” Though not inspired, this reminder still remains as good news. Christ became brokenness when he took on the sins of His children at Calvary and He understands the feelings of loneliness, destitution, and abandonment.
Gratefulness fills our hearts when the simple, sufficient Gospel redirects our hearts towards Jesus. Even in the light, momentary affliction of depression (2 Cor, 4:17), Jesus is with us, his Word comforts us, and the Body walks with us. Cling to the promises of God in depression. This alone will comfort and deliver.
Loving the Depressed
From my experience, depression is rarely discussed in the Church – not for lack of empathy, but rather a lack of knowledge on how to address the epidemic. Yes, I said epidemic. This widespread illness is more common amongst Christians than expected. From the homemaker to the widow, elder to the single parent, no one is exempt from the darkness reaching our doorsteps.
When one of us is battling depression, we the church are struggling with depression. This is a body issue. As we are called to share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 4:13), all the more let us share in the sufferings of the Church. Whether it be listening to a brother or sister, serving them, asking questions to understand, offering prayer, texting Scripture reminders, or creating spaces to laugh, Christians fighting through depression need to know they are loved, valuable, and are not walking alone.
Most of my childhood was spent caring for my mentally ill grandmother. I watched wondering if she’d ever be delivered from the constant state of loneliness. But she knew the Word of God. I’m convinced even in her physical and often skewed mental state, she knew Jesus as Deliverer—not only a present help, but more so an eternal help. She knew that one day, she’d no longer battle with the inconsistencies of her emotional and medical condition. One day, the Lord will make all things new.
One day, but also today. The Lord has made all things new for those in Him. We don’t have to wait for our “Maranatha moment.” The bride of Christ is being made new, daily. He has perfected us, but is also sanctifying us (Heb. 10:14). When the darkness closes in, Jesus is still Deliverer. He alone allows circumstances to invade our lives to conform us to Christ.
Counseling Makes a Difference
God has given The Church many gifts for building up others (1 Cor. 12, Eph 4:11-12). In particular, God has given specific people the gift of compassion and empathy in a way that glories Himself to help others heal. My story, and many others, would be incomplete if I neglected the realistic aid that “talk therapy” provides. Finding a Christian counselor, that is–one who is uncompromising on Biblical truths, while well-researched in mental health practices, is a life-giving experience to the hurting soul. Receiving counseling, especially within the Black community, is often seen as weakness. But in fact, there is strength in vulnerability. True strength is found in relying on Christ alone, while walking with others through the process.
God has the power to work through some of the most stony places in our hearts when a trained counselor asks the right questions, calls us to repentance and self-awareness, all while reminding us of our identity.
The balm is indeed Christ. His people remind us of that when life circumstances leave us broken.
I’m Depressed. Will This Ever End?
Remember when the Apostle Paul fled Ephesus after confronting the blasphemous worship of the pagan goddess, Artemis? Mobsters rushed the disciples, recognizing the new Christian movement as not only a threat to their financial livelihood, but a call to turn from idols to worship the one true God.
Paul, in light of these events, reminds the Corinthian church that afflictions are intended to dispel self-reliance.
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely, not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:8-10).
Battling depression is one that we must wholly be dependent on the work of Christ for deliverance. Fighting depression is a daily battle of despairing of life itself, and we often fail to see how our character is developed through suffering.
Paul’s recollection of the horrifying events at Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41) serve as a satisfying, and sufficient reminder to endure through trial. I believe there are seasons when God brings us to the end of our own resources, whether emotional, spiritual, or physical to make us rely only upon the Lord.
Healing is a continuous process. I will never “get over” the loss of my students, but their partings have taught me one invaluable lesson: to live every day trusting God’s sovereign plan. While it is unfortunate that depression may lead people to presume upon God’ authority to end life, we know that He allows misfortunes to lead His people into deeper dependence and communion. Indeed, Christ does all things well.
If you are battling with depression, remember the darkness is not dark to our God (Micah 7:8). See the Light in the tunnel. With joy, wait on the Lord and let His Word be your food. Cling to the Body of Christ and Live richly in Him. Know that God’s goodness and mercy is still following you; may you delight in this promise.
I’m convinced living takes much bravery. Be brave.