He confided to His best friends: “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38)
And cried out to his Father in despair from the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
Like we would, he cried when his friend Lazarus died: “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
And his own Father, the God of the universe, knew he would get depressed hundreds of years before he was even born, as prophesied in Isaiah 53: “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
So, just for starters, we can quit thinkin’ we are the only ones it happens to or that it makes us bad people, or unworthy somehow.
Jesus was fully human, like us, and knew what He had to do. Die for us! Pay the price for all the sin in the world. For all of us.
Even the mean, judgmental, holier-than-thou masses who wanted Him dead! Ouch.
And His poor mother. Whew. Imagine what she had to watch. Bible doesn’t say, but it doesn’t have to. How would WE feel? She was very human and his mom. And she had to hold his bloody dead body on her lap.
And Napoleon. Shakespeare. Churchill. Freud. Van Gogh. All with documented bouts of depression.
What did they do, I wonder? When it seemed better to give it all up? Not much help back then at all.
They’ve had antidepressants out long enough now that they’ve quit talking about OTHER help for the “Black Dog” (Churchill’s word for it). Depression. And yet, there’s lots of us still dealing with it. Whether we take medicine or not. Because there just isn’t a medicine that can make you happy. Nope. Keep you from jumpin’ maybe. But happy?
“Just levels the playing field,” the best doctors say. Lets your brain hang on to the one chemical they know helps—serotonin.
But there aren’t any without side effects. Ever take a pill for panic attacks that makes you nervous? Yeah. Or one for anxiety that makes you too tired to go have fun? Uh huh. Which leaves a lot of us in the dark, trying to make it without ‘em, like they have for thousands of years until Prozac came along in the 80’s. And now, even with the many new meds out all the time, and the readiness of the doctors to hand ‘em out, studies are showing they don’t do as much good as they thought. Gee, thanks.
I am not a doctor and no way am I saying whether you should or should not take medicine for depression. Just that you have a Spirit and if you feed that, you will have a wisdom about the decision you would not have had. And that, either way, God can use your “dis-ease” to His glory.
Some people think depression is a bad attitude or lack of imagination. But it is a physical disease, at bottom, just like cancer or diabetes. Good days n bad days, just like people with Fibromyalgia, scoliosis, or recovering from a stroke. Some of us just genetically run a quart low in the magic brain chemical that keeps mood up in the ‘normal” range. And our brains are part of our bodies.
YES, the trifecta of self-help can improve it: eat right, exercise, get some sun. Yes, speaking scripture to ourselves and the demons of negative thinking that beset us can help. Just like it does with the other diseases.
The main DIFFERENCE is this: ain’t nobody gonna feel sorry for you, like they would if you had a brain tumor or heart attack. Nope. I promise. They won’t. Ain’t no church group gonna bring you soup. Most folks will be mystified or belligerent or, if they are saintly and love you, maybe even offer comfort or lunch out. But if it doesn’t pass pretty quick, you ARE gonna be ALONE.
Here’s where it gets tricky. BOTH Christians and atheists get depressed. But who beats themselves UP over it? Mainly Christians. Because we tend to expect–like the odious old hymn says– “Now I am happy all the day…lalala.” Uh…no. Not really. Not always.
Joyful in the Lord? YES. THRILLED to not be held in bondage by the old sins anymore? YES. Joyful, even in the midst of depression, to share the spiritual freedom and love He brought us? YES. Relieved and peaceful to think of our beloveds in Heaven together forever? YES.
But still weepy, enervated, easily overwhelmed, bemoaning what we ain’t got instead of thanking Him for what we do.
Does it matter why we are depressed? How we got that way? Maybe a gene, maybe lifestyle, maybe trauma. Do diabetics wonder why? Stroke patients? Mostly they wonder what to DO about it. Science proves more all the time that people are born with different levels of serotonin in their brains. And science has proven that childhood trauma can reset a brain, make it not quite normal.
But none of their information FIXES it. Labels it, relieves it, gives you a little hope that you aren’t really “like that.” Bit fix it? No, not really. No more than a dose of insulin “fixes” diabetes.
When you are depressed and you read the Bible verses about helping the hungry and poor, somewhere deep inside you wonder if you wouldn’t trade places with them. Think maybe there’s worse things that hungry or poor. Ya know?
To hear some TV evangelists talk, if you suffer you must be doing something wrong. They say God wants you to be healthy, wealthy. And it hurts us when we aren’t. When we ask God to heal us, and end up with surgery and medication and counseling instead, we are disappointed, if not downright angry. And yet, we see all the time, it is the suffering who are most devoted to Him. Why is that?
Well, frankly, because we need Him. And those of us who need Him a little more, love Him a little more. And when we put ourselves in His presence more and more, we come to believe that He loves us. More and more. Suffering or not. Depressed or not. We come to believe that He is shaping our very soul to Himself, preparing it to live with Him forever.
When, truthfully, if we weren’t suffering….depression or something worse…we’d be off playing video games and trolling for parties. Ya know? We would.
The world, the Hindus and the hippies all talk about two parts of man–body and soul. But the Bible describes three—Body, Soul, and Spirit:
May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Thessalonians 5:23
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. Hebrews 4:12
Our Soul relates to the fallen world through our emotions and intellect. Somewhere in our unremembered past maybe our souls were wounded. Like a soldiers whose legs were shot off in the war. We limp on, with varying crutches and degrees of success. But our Spirit is safe, because it is God’s Spirit. Christ Himself was “the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” the Bible says.
And we can always walk in the Spirit.
Each of these areas affects the others, of course. When our bodies are sick or broken, our souls suffer. When our souls are wounded, symptoms plague our bodies. When we neglect our Spirit, body and soul both are poorer for it. And when we surrender to the Spirit, nourish it with faith and scripture, it makes our soul stronger.
And can even get down into the cells of our body sometimes.
But we have to be brave to fight the fight. Because “mental” suffering carries a special stigma. It’s invisible, for one thing. “All in your mind.” But you feel it in every cell of your body. And for Christians, there is the tacit accusation: if you had enough faith, you wouldn’t be like that.
You can have maladies of every organ in your body and get good, regular “medical” care and prayer support. But if the organ that is slightly diseased or broken happens to be your brain, all bets are off. Off you go to the psychologist or psychiatrist. Now you’re not quite right, not normal. Even if they are kind about it, you can see the subtle shift when your difficulties are “mental.”
Is there even any such thing as “mental” illness? What does that mean, anyway? Simply a glitch in the brain. When the Bible promises we have the MIND of CHRIST! (I Corinthians 2:16) And the God-given ability to choose to walk in one and not the other.
The last decade of the 20th century was dubbed the “Decade of the Brain.” Scientists were supposedly making great strides toward understanding “mental” illnesses. But the prevalent ennui of the majority of people, what we call depression and anxiety, remains stagnant. So many wounded souls trying to live in a fallen world. Not down, not out. Just wounded.
Whether you take medication or not.
We know who we are. And we judge ourselves, condemn ourselves, try to find relief. We eat too much, or drink too much, buy too much stuff we don’t need. Crippled by sadness, we look for ways to get rid of it before we get on with our lives, or before we get serious with God. We might have therapy. Or take drugs to numb it. But no. It is still there.
But so are we! We are still here. And we have moments of clarity that tell us we are still whole and human. We receive love from others that speak mercy to the sadness. Do things for others that create an antidote to the sadness for a while. And yet, and yet….
Nothing cures it. It is the scarred damage an axe makes to the heart of a tree without quite killing it. It cannot be healed entirely. Remains shaped a bit different.
But we can still have victory; the Lord is still the answer. Let’s learn once and for all that sadness is, after all, only a feeling. It cannot control your life unless you let it.
And it begs you to let it every day.
The devil and his buddies see to that. Whisper downers and judgment and anger and ingratitude thoughts into your ear 24/7.
But we are so much more than our sadness. In soldiering on around it, we are building eternal muscles that we can only dream of now. Winning a prize better than a wounded soldier’s Purple Heart. Some of the most wonderful, complex people in the world have created amazing, inspirational works around the edges of their sadness. Even Mother Theresa, apparently. Her diaries reveal a “dark night” in her soul in spite of her incredible worldwide works of charity. And Churchill and Lincoln and Van Gogh. A million others.
Thousands of fragile mothers have loved their children around it, turned out strong, healthy souls into the world anyway.
Wounded heart people generate much of the goodness, beauty and truth that sustains us in this world: the art, the music, the casserole when you’re sick, the hug when you’re lost and frightened.
So many jewels in so many crowns. Simply because they know. They choose to give what they never got. They recognize the crimp in other souls. They know what it feels like to be judged instead of loved. They have a gift for giving what other hungry souls need.
Not the gift we would have chosen for ourselves, no doubt. But the gift Someone chose for us. Maybe we are stronger for carrying it.
Maybe God Himself is proud of us.
Maybe we should believe Him instead of the lies the lying liar is churning out all the time.
Maybe our suffering will be turned to an eternal purpose ordained by God Himself.