Wasted Depression

Depression should not be wasted. As a teenager I was morose and deeply depressed. I wrote morose things and believed that if the world knew the real me I would be even more lonely than I was. The depressed teen years were followed by the depressed twenties. It went away for quite a while in my thirties, a combination of a great family life and a fresh calling as a pastor.

I have been pastoring for almost thirty four years and one of the chief temptations of the work is the incessant pressure to give the impression that one is always in control. I may preach against sin, but I am not tempted like other men. That of course is not true and I have no idea how many people knew it. More than I think. Some people I have pastored really did grow to hate me, and that increased the depression. Some really loved me and that increased it too. A series of events beginning in 2003 brought the depression back. I have confessed it to some and gotten horrible responses. When the pastor says he gets depressed people all of a sudden notice things about their shoes that they never noticed before.

Depression makes people run away. That is why it is so easily wasted and so cleverly hidden from great minds and friends who can become very stupid when reacting against what they perceive to be character flaws or sins. Not that depression isn’t accompanied by sin. It can be selfish and self righteous. It focusses on oneself and thinks the world owes it something or doesn’t understand the one who needs so desperately to be understood. It thinks it is loveless and then complains when love is perceived to be absent. It treats as insignificant the love that others show and therefore diminishes them. It sends a message that their love is powerless, that it is not what is needed. It blames others for the state of one’s world. It clings to physical darkness, blinds shut, curtains drawn, but this is only a picture of the state of the soul.

But it is still wrong and cruel and ignorant to label all depression as the workings of a mind without Christ. Charles Spurgeon called his depression his best friend and his worst enemy. The enemy put him in the slough of despond and incapacitated him in horrible ways. The friend  caused him to lean hard upon his God and realize that all the accomplishments really were not his doing.

Depression should not be wasted. In far to many Christian circles it should not even be admitted. But people, quality Christian people, do endure dark nights of the soul and manage to continue on in their calling and be used by God to accomplish His purposes for them. Depression is wasted when it is not admitted. It is wasted when those suffering from it think that it is nothing but a liability. It is wasted when  it is considered something to be hidden because of the ways that people react to those silently screaming at them. Depression is wasted when we treat it like the norm and is absent of anything needing to be repented of.  Depression is wasted when we think it is a positive thing and needs to be welcomed into the life of those who know its pain.

But there is a way to ensure that it does not go to waste. Grace. The unlimited, powerful, life changing, eternity guaranteeing, grace of God. The grace of God revealed to us in the Scriptures tells us that God comes to sinners and rescues them from the power and consequences of their sin. The works righteousness that fuels the world and far too many churches, says that grace is needed and bows down at that truth. But quite often it seems that they need their talents and abilities and give the impression that God does too.

But the depressed know grace in the gargantuan effort it takes, not to move the mountains that get in the way of the incredible plan that was hatched, not of knowing how to use the great gifts that God has granted, but of pulling one’s feet out of the bed and onto the floor every morning. They know the power of grace when smiling and saying “thank-you” to a compliment instead of running away in terror. They know the power and love of grace when God allows them to actually see something that matters and know that God used them to be a part of it. They know the power of grace to stay in a social gathering when everything in them screams to run away and be alone – in the dark – on the edge. They know the magnificent power of grace when hours of attempting to figure out why someone was saved or helped or encouraged through them and no reason in them can be found except that God uses the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are. They know unimaginably great joy at knowing that God does not need us to be talented, in control, maintaining an unstoppable vision and waving the magic wand that makes everything that needs to happen – happen. They know that God uses even them – them, in their self hatred and self righteousness and self pity. Them, when they feel like quitting but don’t because God said not to. Them, who couldn’t muster up enough faith to move a pebble, never mind a mountain. Them, because God is more glorified in the triumphs of His cause when the instruments He uses are not envied and gawked at, emulated, imitated, interviewed and marketed.

Depression understands the call of the murderer on the backside of the desert. It is the mighty man of valour threshing wheat in a wine press for fear of the enemy. It is the boy with the sling shot. It is the woman who takes over when the men will not obey their call. It is the cowardly bigot in the belly of a whale. It is the prophet daring to say that God doesn’t seem to be getting it. It is the faith of the little child who gets shooed away by those who know that God has no time for such people until they grow up.

A lot of people suffer from depression. A lot of saved people. If you are one of them allow me to encourage you not to waste it. Go on in a power that is not your own. Remember that God does not call the great and the mighty. He calls the nobodies and failures and weak and unimpressive – and accomplishes a plan hatched before the world began through them. Through you.

The Psalmists knew the suffering of depression. They must have, considering what they wrote in some of the Psalms. We finish this with a listen to what God wrote through one of the Psalm writers on one of his less stellar days. I hope it encourages you.

Psalm 77:1-20 (ESV)
I cry aloud to God,
aloud to God, and he will hear me.
[2] In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
[3] When I remember God, I moan;
when I meditate, my spirit faints.  Selah
[4] You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
[5] I consider the days of old,
the years long ago.
[6] I said,  “Let me remember my song in the night;
let me meditate in my heart.”
Then my spirit made a diligent search:
[7] “Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable?
[8] Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
[9] Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah
[10] Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
[11] I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
[12] I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.
[13] Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is great like our God?
[14] You are the God who works wonders;
you have made known your might among the peoples.
[15] You with your arm redeemed your people,
the children of Jacob and Joseph.  Selah
[16] When the waters saw you, O God,
when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
[17] The clouds poured out water;
the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
[18] The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
[19] Your way was through the sea,
your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
[20] You led your people like a flock
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

40 responses to “Wasted Depression

  1. A very thoughtful essay on a difficult subject. I was taught early that Christians could not be depressed. After all, we have the “joy of the Lord”. Well, not exactly. “The joy of the Lord is our strength”. It is the strength that does give us the courage to get out of bed in the morning. People often do not respond well to those who admit having depression because they do not understand it. (They may even think it’s contagious!) I did some of my best writing when I was in the dark hole of despair.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. A friend sent me this last night. Somewhat appropriate, but even if not, worth sharing. It’s a Pilgrim’s prayer.

    LORD, HIGH AND HOLY, MEEK AND LOWLY,
    Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
    where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
    hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory.

    Let me learn by paradox
    that the way down is the way up,
    that to be low is to be high,
    that the broken heart is the healed heart,
    that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
    that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
    that to have nothing is to possess all,
    that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
    that to give is to receive,
    that the valley is the place of vision.
    Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
    and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine;
    Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
    Thy life in my death,
    Thy joy in my sorrow,
    Thy grace in my sin,
    Thy riches in my poverty,
    Thy glory in my valley.

    • thistletownbaptist

      I wonder if that came from the book “The Valley of Vision”? But even if not, a great prayer. Thanks.

  3. really great post.

  4. It did come from that book. You’re impressive!:-)

  5. Christians who get depressed need to trust the Lord and grasp the big picture. No matter what happens we’re safe and our future is settled. When we’re down we need to buck up and move on instead of languishing. It’s mind over matter. With the mind of Christ depression doesn’t matter!

    • David, you missed the entire point of what the author wrote. Let me know when depression hits your doorstep how well you do with your own instructions.

  6. I can’t tell you how disturbing I find David’s comment. “buck up” “move on” “mind over matter”!!! Is that what you would say to someone who had diabetes or heart disease?? Depression is a mental illness…emphasis on illness…requiring treatment (of many different kinds) and is not something that can be bucked up, moved on or thot away. As a christian believer I do trust the Lord and know that He is in control of my big picture…I stay in the present, moment by moment, surrendering to His will, which includes allowing me to have a mental illness. I am so grateful for His grace that gives me a reprieve from the suffering of my illness…but He has not chosen, to this point in time, to remove it. Davids response sounded ever so familiar to what I have heard so much in the church….we look at mental illness as the individuals “fault”….the individual needs to pray more and think differently and it will all go away. I don’t want it to go away…it keeps me coming to God daily, moment by moment some days. I can finally say that I am grateful for my disease!

  7. I need to weigh in here in support of the statement that depression is an illness. The buck up attitude is one taught by old school legalism, or east coast church goers who look for the imperfections in others as fodder for gossip. Question, the bible states that jesus knew our weaknesses and could relate to our sufferings. In fact that was one reason he became a man. So let me ask, did Jesus have sexual temptation? Did he ever get down over things? We don’t know the specific answers to these except in our own weaknesses and sufferings that he could relate to. But he did not sin!

    History is full of God gearing people who suffered from Depression, and yet left indelible marks on our society.

    Scientifically, it would be best to research the modern definition of clinical depression, because there is a real but less intrusive thing known as “feeling low.” Only afyter such education will one be able to understand at a very small level, that to tell a Christian to buck up is a painful and thoughtless un Christian thing to say.

    Here’s what I know – the grace of God covers me for every weakness, illness, and sin,m whetheer I overcome them or not. Heaven isa full of scoundrels just like me, and I look forward to meeting them and sharing stories about where His grace substituted for my failings.

    Mine, like the author’s, is depression. I’ve been on medication for it for years, and it is because of it that I have come to understand what grace really is.

    I trust that everyone here will find it too.

  8. Thank you for these wonderfully transparent words of encouragement. Ironically sometimes we have to discourage the discouraged to help them out of their discouragement. We discourage them from wrong ways of thinking about their discouragement and they find the courage to be encouraged. Your words rise to the task!

  9. Thank you. Your words remind me that I need to lean on God more when I find myself incapacitated by depression (and its occasional friend doubt). The pills help, but there are times when only His grace can help me get up and get a move on or see that the glass really is not 1/4 full (3/4 empty!).

  10. Thanks, very timely and helpful

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  12. Thank you for posting this, it is very encouraging. There are too many Eliphazs, Bildads and Zophars in the world it seems. I’ve grown so accustomed to blowing them off that I reflexively reject all attempts by others to comfort me. It seems that “any bitter thing has become sweet” (Proverbs 27:7) and I’ve come to enjoy the bitter. Depression is perverse in that way, it’s hard to repent of this sin.

  13. Pingback: Don’t Waste Your Depression | Pastoral Musings

  14. Thank you for this post. Very helpful.

  15. Pingback: Quote: Wasted Depression | JohnnyBGamer

  16. I came across your blog (for the first time) from a link on Tim Challies’ blog. Your insights have blessed me today. My husband has been pastoring churches (US) since 1977. In 2008 we joined a mission organization to unreached people and live on the border of Mexico. I, too, have struggled with depression since childhood. So much of what you have written rings true for me. At 59 years of age, I still face dark valleys, and earnestly pray that the Lord would relieve the excruciating pain of depression accompanied by lies, loneliness, and exhaustion. Yet, I know that depression has been one of the key instruments God has used and continues to use to refine me to the image of His Son. I am thankful for all the lessons I have learned and for the sin I have seen, confessed and repented because of depression. Depression has helped me face my insufficiency and His all-sufficiency and to embrace His sovereignty over this “thorn in the flesh.” And strangely enough, depression enables me to see the grace of God more clearly — just as in the Valley of Vision prayer. Thanks for your blog (which has reached across many miles) and for the encouragement you have given through sharing your experience with depression.

    • thistletownbaptist

      Hi Margie,
      Great photo on your blog page!
      I am wondering if the mission you work for is “To Every Tribe”.. Great bunch. Our associate pastor’s wife worked with them for a couple of short terms. In any case, thanks for your comments. I am glad that the posting was of some use to you. The way you word things tells me that you do indeed have personal experience with depression. Great to hear that you have seen God’s providence at work through it.
      Thank YOU for YOUR comments.

  17. I once used a Psalm to express my own feelings of depression within my church and was more or less ostrasized because of it. These things must never be talked about and how dare you express your own feelings within the congregation.

    I am interested in what are your thoughts on medication for depression. (As for the writer who stated above to it’s mind over matter. Your advise is as good as Job’s friends).

    • thistletownbaptist

      Hi Greg,
      I am certainly no authority regarding medication for depression. I am the only one of four children that has not been prescribed anti-depressants, and I am sure I would have if not for my stubbornness. I think that medications are quite often prescribed too quickly, but I am hesitant to say that they should never be taken. If a true biological cause is present then there should be no hesitation at all. A whole series of questions come up and they need to be handled wisely but I think they should be asked with an honest attempt to discern if medication is appropriate, which means that there are times when they are. The Psalmist didn’t mind taking a little wine to gladden his heart and giving God the credit for it (Psalm 104:14-15). But please, don’t take my word for this. I remember the cartoon of the preacher who said “This is not my opinion. This is the opinion of someone who knows what they are talking about!”

  18. Wow. One of the best articles I’ve read to date on Christian living and depression. Thank you.

  19. Thanks for you piece on depression. My wife Roby and I wrote a book,
    Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It.
    Please see my blog, sbloemreflectionsblogspot.com

  20. Thank you for this. I was very encouraged by your perspective. I agree that to be more open about our weaknesses is necessary especially if we want to deal with them effectively. We can’t effectively deal with our sin if we pretend it doesn’t exist! So how do we overcome our weaknesses if we don’t acknowledge them. I believe God is so much bigger than our sins and our weaknesses and He is able to acknowledge and handle them even if we can’t! It’s not like He lives in ignorance of them! We just have to trust that He has a plan in it all. There are times when all we can do is hang on by our nails to God and trust that He will get us through it. But we remember that our hope is not in what is seen but what is unseen and in an eternal future with our God one day.

  21. Depression is as read as diabetes or high blood pressure. Many Christians, including myself, have suffered from it, and have learned and experienced the presence of God in it, even as David walked through the valley of the shadow of death and in the valley his “He” changed to a “you.” Instead of “He restores my soul” and “He leads me in paths…etc.” in the valley it is “You are with me.” Some things are only learned in this dark valley and I thank God for the time I’ve spent in it.

    Please do ask any medical professional who wishes to prescribe drugs to treat depression for the blood tests, xrays, or other objective measurement showing your need for them.

  22. Can I say thank you????? I must confess to being in the camp of “get over it” until spring of 2008. THEN I was brought to my knees. My sister who does not know our Lord has depression and I definitely saw choices she made as key to why she was miserable. So I was not prepared when I had a bad period of depression – one where I was certain I was going to have a break down. God taught me a lesson in humility. Your article has expressed in ways I never understood what my sister goes through and further strengthens my understanding of the debilitating nature of depression – especially for those who do not know Christ. I am so thankful I know Him because He is the reason I came out of my depression and have never returned.. May more Christians learn the truth of depression and learn how to walk WITH people experiencing it as opposed to judging them mercilessly.

  23. I came face to face with the realities of depression when our 19 year old daughter who loved Jesus Christ and wanted others to know Him too, took her own life. It taught me how NOT in control of life I am as a mom, or as a person. God is sovereign over ALL. She took antidepressants but felt guilty about needing them, and it seems she was not helped by them. She recognized the thoughts being blasted into her mind were from the enemy, but felt overwhelmed by them. She asked God to remove the depression, and when He did not, in a moment of desperation, she shot herself, leaving a devastated family behind. Suicide is NEVER the solution! It leaves survivors with questions unanswered, with guilt unresolved, and with arms empty of the one they loved, but felt helpless to relieve of suffering.
    Thank you for this article on depression. Christians are attacked by it perhaps more than unbelievers because satan wants to defeat and unarm us. I believe it is an emtional, mental, spiritual battle.
    Talk to someone when you are feeling depressed…even though you think they do not want to hear you….and talk to GOD. He loves you and wants you to CHOOSE LIFE and live!

  24. It’s been interesting to read the comments on depression. People who have never been depressed really do not understand why the rest of us cannot “pick up our socks” and get on with it. At least now, in limited ways, the church is much more open to discussion and many who may not understand are more inclined to extend mercy and compassion.

  25. Pingback: Sparks for Monday, March 26, 2012 | The Daily Disciple

  26. Thanks for a very good reminder!

  27. Wow! So many hits and responses. It really should cause the “modern” church to wake up.

    In the context, I wonder how many other taboos or sinful behaviours are seen by us as making the child of God better off in isolation. I don’t mean to steer this away from the topic, and my comment is in context…sort of…but attitudes in the name of self righteousness towards the forgiven fallen, have no place in His kingdom. We miss that truth by a wide berth every Sunday in some places.

    • thistletownbaptist

      Hey John,
      Are you requesting some postings related to some of these other things? I am always looking for good topics to talk about – sometimes even know what I am talking about.

      • Absolutely! And please. In my mind such tabooism is a restriction enforced on church folks that prevents them from true Him-realization. (As opposed to self-realization)

        Tony campolo once made the point by inserting the 4 letter word s–t into his sermon. Granted, Compolo is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I do believe he’s a child of God. Either that or the reason he’s not is the reason he’s not in everyone’s teacup. Which just emphasizes my point. I’ll not forget the story a friend of mine told once at a Bible study, of a coworker who fell off a ladder, and screamed s–t all the way to the ground. The silence was deafening, except for me and my laughter.

        Now lest readers are in shock by what I say, let me clarify that I do understand the command regarding eating meat in front of someone of weaker Christian persuasion, and how the freedom I have should not be used if it causes the weaker brother to stumble. And I understand, in the context of my two examples, that I need to be aware of the language I use.

        But the point is this – we should not get hung up on these things for the purpose of keeping our Christian mask in place. And when we do encounter someone whose language or taste in beverages is “secular,” there’s no room for shock. In fact, if you need a beer to show friendship, then have the beer for goodness sake!

        But I rant. More of yours would be welcomed.

  28. Reblogged this on Grace Dependent and commented:
    I do not know if I could state this any better. This is a post to be read slowly and digested completely.

  29. Thank you, thank you, thank you! While I have been on my journey away from depression for a couple of years now, reading this has further bolstered my courage to keep going. For many years, I thought that I was cursed by God because I was depressed and no one else around me was. I survived and have come to realize that had I not gone through it, I would be sorely lacking in compassion for others (enemies included) who are going through their sin, even if it’s not depression. I am learning that God is not short on His Word and I am learning that what was meant for evil, He meant it for good. Now, I’m moving out of me and into God, learning how to actually please and be pleasing to Him! He is awesome! To God be ALL of the glory, ALL of the honor and ALL of the praise!

  30. As one who has suffered from depression for at least two-thirds of my life, this article is probably the most profound thing on the subject that I’ve ever read.

  31. Pingback: The Power of Grace During Depression « Schizophrenia.Christianity.Hope.

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