Over the course of my life, I have experienced my share of adversity. From being raised in a very broken home to my struggles with self-esteem to the typical problems that accompany marriage, moving and rearing children, I know what it's like to be angry, sad, bitter, resentful, lonely, jaded and discontent.
But in the last year or so, for the first time in my thirty years of existence, I have experienced depression. Not just depression, but depression. And yes, there is a difference. At different points, I have felt despondent and completely lacking in energy, emotion and drive. In the past, when I was sad or 'down,' I still found joy in...writing, spending time with my family, playing basketball, going to church, or going out with my wife. But when I recently fell into these bouts of depression, I found joy in nothing. I remember more than once sitting on my bed and not having the desire or drive to even stand up...and feeling completely empty inside, like a zombie...just a mass of flesh, without a soul.
I'm not saying any of this to earn your pity. This is actually very hard for me to share with you. But I am sharing this with you because I know that there are a lot of people out there who are battling depression right now. Maybe you're even battling depression.
What I would like to do is briefly share with you five things that I have learned and experienced in my own life that may help you get through depression.
- Shore up your faith while you are strong so that if/when you fall on hard times or experience depression in the future, you are more equipped and prepared to get through it. The apostle Paul tells us to "walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15). Do all that you can do now to properly strengthen the foundation of your faith (1 Cor. 3:9-11), so that if/when the storms of life come, you are not caught off guard. Do not take for granted the joy and strength of your faith now!
- When you are depressed, you are despondent and without energy/drive. When Sunday morning or Wednesday night come along, the last thing you're going to want to do is go to church. You may even tell yourself that it would be better for you to stay home. The temptation is to withdraw. And you probably won't want to study your Bible. Prayer may be the only element of your faith to which you desperately cling, but then you might find yourself getting more frustrated because no matter how much you pray, the depression may not get any better; it may even get worse. My suggestion is this: as much as you want to skip out on church and Bible study and even prayer (because it doesn't seem to be doing any good), understand that the worst thing you can do is withdraw from your usual spiritual activities. I can tell you from personal experience that even though I have found myself NOT wanting to go to church, that I have always benefited from going. Going through the motions and being around people and carrying on in our Christian duties will not only distract us and force us to think outside of ourselves, we will glean subtle strength that may just help us through that day. When Elijah was depressed, God told him to get back to work (1 Kings 19:1-4, 10, 13-18). A person who doesn't want to eat still has to eat to survive.
- While you don't need to broadcast your problems to the whole church, I would highly recommend finding at least someone in the church in whom you can confide. Galatians 6:1-2 tells us to bear one another's burdens. The church is described in the Bible not only as a family, but as a "body" where the members are interconnected...so that if "one member suffers, all the members suffer with it" (1 Cor. 12:26). If your church has elders, talk to them (James 5:14). Either way, find someone who can help you. And it's not just about getting advice; there is something special that happens when we know that we're not alone. Yes, we have God, but God has also given us a spiritual family for this very purpose! As hard as it might be to confide in someone, trust me when I say that you will be glad you did.
- Make time to worship! And I'm not just saying on Sunday. King David of the Old Testament was a man who knew what it was like to be depressed, anxious and frustrated (even in his relationship with God). But one thing we know about David is that when he fell on hard times, he prayed to God and he praised God in prayer, in thought, and in SONG. A simple perusal of the psalms makes this abundantly clear. Make time to pray. Thank God for what you have in your life (Phil. 4:6-8). And sing! Turn off the radio and sing your favorite hymns. In the car. At home. At work. The more you turn your mind's eye toward the Lord and the more you think about heaven and hope...the stronger you'll become.
- This may be the most important piece of advice yet: be patient! When you want to give up; when you think that you can't endure another day of the same old, same old; when you think that you've failed miserably and want to feel sorry for yourself - just be patient. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2-3). When you're exercising or lifting weights, you have to experience and endure the burning sensation and pain of tearing your muscles down in order to become truly stronger. If you stop as soon as the pain sets in, you'll never grow. The depression will not last forever. The fog will clear. In the meantime, you have to be patient.
I cannot and will not speak to the medical aspects of depression. But as someone who has recently experienced depression, I can say that these five things helped me tremendously. And I hope they will help you, too. Depression doesn't equate a lack of faith, but it surely is a test of faith no matter how you look at it. If there is anything I can ever do to help you more directly, please let me know.