Whenever I minister to others who are experiencing depression, one of the first questions I ask is, “When did it begin?” Was there a distressing life event when things shifted? If so, who was involved? What was your perception of God after that event? Sometimes the answer to these questions points the way to the path out of depression.
There was a pivotal time in my life when I began to experience depression. My emotions became unstable, fine one minute and experiencing crushing oppression the next. I didn’t understand where the instability was coming from. Unprocessed pain was allowed to keep my heart in a place of anguish. That pain was like burning arrows that were allowed to remain and to do untold damage.
I went to my doctor and told her about the depression I had been experiencing. I appreciated her compassion and sincere desire to help. She told me that I had a chemical imbalance. I wondered at the time how she came to that conclusion, as no tests were done to confirm her diagnosis. But I accepted the diagnosis as truth. I put my hope in medication to take away the depression. For a time, I felt better able to cope. I didn’t feel joy or peace, but at least there were windows of time where the pain felt numbed. Then the despair would return and a new medication was tried. Or a stronger dose. At times I was coping pretty well, only to be slammed with deep depression again. It was like a roller coaster.
I began to agree with defeat. I believed that I had no choice but to remain defeated. I had lost hope. Hope that things would ever change. Despair filled my heart, and I longed for death. Not wanting to hurt my family, I had resolved that I would never take my own life. So I asked God to do it for me. I longed for the pain to stop, and in my mind, I thought heaven was the only place that I would find relief.
I remember driving down the road one day. I felt so desperate. I screamed at God from the deep pit I was in, “Is this all there is?!?!?! Wasn’t this Christian life supposed to be about more than just coping? Yet I didn’t understand how to take hold of joy. Or peace.
For so many years, I’d been able to compartmentalize the depression. I was able to stuff it away and put on a smile when I was around people outside my closest family and friends. But eventually the despair began to leak out.
About this time, our daughter was dating a wonderful young man. He was coming for a visit from California, and on this night our daughter had gone to the airport to pick him up. Something inside of me knew that they were going to get engaged that night. I wanted so badly to be there for them, to celebrate with them at this joyful time in their lives. But my heart felt like it was bleeding. The depression was washing over me like floodwaters. As much as I scolded myself and demanded that I pull myself together, it wasn’t working. I lay in bed that night, sobbing uncontrollably for hours. It was like the depression and despair was pulling me under, and I felt powerless to stop it. I began to wonder if the choice to take my own life was something I could control.
Our daughter and her boyfriend arrived at our house about midnight. Our daughter came into our bedroom with the wonderful news that they had become engaged. I felt humiliated and ashamed when I told her that I couldn’t leave our bedroom. I was a wreck, having cried for hours. I feared that our future son-in-law would misinterpret my absence, but I couldn’t face anyone that night.
As horrible as that night was, it was a turning point in my life. About that same time, our other daughter and her husband asked their community group to pray for me. They prayed that I would be healed from depression. It was shortly after this that I began to look back on my life, on the devastation that depression had caused. God used a book by Wade Brill to give me hope. Hope that there was a way out of the depression and anxiety. Little by little, the Lord taught me how to walk free from depression. The periods between bouts of depression grew further and further apart, until one day I realized, “I don’t think I need to take these anti-depressants and longer. I went off of them about 10 years ago, and have not needed to return to them since.
I want to share with you some of the ways that God delivered me from depression:
First of all, I had to come to the end of myself. All of my self-help strategies had failed. So often my husband had tried to tell me that God could set me free from depression. My response to his suggestion was contemptuous. “Yeah, yeah, let’s talk about a real solution was my response.” Well, I had tried things my way. I had tried positive thinking, medication, exercise and counseling. Yet here I was, worse off than ever. As a last resort, I decided to put my hope in God. To believe that He could actually heal me. Not just put a bandage on my pain, but heal me. What a novel idea! That the One who had created me might possibly know how to fix what was broken inside of me! Imagine that!
In order for God to deliver me from depression, he first had to reawaken the war mode in me. When all my attempts to overcome depression had failed, I had stopped taking responsibility for the condition my heart was in. The “Chemical imbalance” diagnosis had, in my mind, translated to: “You’re off the hook.” “There’s nothing you can or need to do in order to be healthy emotionally, mentally or spiritually.” So I just floated down the river of despair, defeat and depression.
In order to walk free from the grip of depression, I needed to go on the offensive. I needed to give it a good, strong push back. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” The spirit of heaviness is a demonic spirit. One that we must resist strongly if we are to overcome the feelings of depression that it causes.
Notice again that James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.” This was key in my overcoming depression. In my despair, I had begun to make unspoken demands of God. Demands that He perform some miraculous sign that would set me free. Demands that I be the center. That God make everything about me and my pain. Self. Self. Self. Pet me. Comfort me. Let’s talk about me. The thing is, God doesn’t yield His throne to anyone, not even His beloved children. I needed to make Him the center. Look at Him, not me. Adore Him. Choose to believe that He is Who He says He is in spite of my pain. God is more than happy to comfort us and be a safe place to process our pain, but we do this AFTER we turn our gaze onto Him. When we remember that He is the center, He responds. He looks at us and tends to our heart’s needs. This is about two-way relationship, not about making God our magic Jeanie. It can feel like a huge step of faith to take our eyes off of ourselves and our pain. Sometimes we can get caught up in navel gazing just because we’re trying to figure out how to survive. But turning our focus onto God is a vital part of our restoration.
Another way that the Lord taught me to overcome depression was by regularly being involved in a Bible study. Psalm 107:20 says, “He sent his word and healed them…” I noticed that the times when I wasn’t regularly studying the Bible were the same times that I would plunge into a season of depression. I’ve talked to others who have experienced bouts of depression that have noticed this same pattern.
Another way that the Lord taught me to overcome depression was by resisting the temptation to give in to self-pity.
To a person who has never experienced depression, it would probably be easy to say, “Why don’t you just get over it?” But to the one suffering from it, things don’t look that easy.
During the years that I struggled with depression, my husband and friends tried to help, they eventually had to tend to other things, leaving me feeling abandoned in my pain. If I were to paint a picture of what that felt like, it was like I had been in a horrible car accident and was bleeding profusely. My friends and family would come and go, but no one was able to extricate me from the car and get me into an ICU. What others could not see is that I had been in an accident of sorts, but it wasn’t physical. It was emotional and spiritual.
To the person suffering from depression, telling them to “just get over it” sounds just as cruel as telling the person who has just been in a car accident who is bleeding profusely to “just get over it. I say this from the position of one who has been there. I also say it as one who has a difficult message; one that is hard, but points to the path of healing. It can be a LONG and Difficult journey to recover from depression, and it is often tempting to turn back. Change can be hard, especially when you feel like coping with day to day life is overwhelming. It takes fighting for your healing when you feel like you have no strength left to fight. The good news is that you are not in this alone. God wants to be your strength.
Self-Pity is a source of fuel for depression.
To be honest, I had never given self-pity much thought. I remember the first time I read Oswald Chamber’s description of self-pity. I thought he was making too big of a deal out of it when he said,
“No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it obliterates God and puts self-interest upon the throne.”
As I let Mr. Chambers words soak in, I began to remember where self-pity had led me. It had taken me to dark places where I found myself full of despair.
In his book entitled, Wrestling Prayer, Eric Ludy states, “Self-pity has destroyed more men and women than maybe any other vice. Self-pity appears smallish, weak, and almost cute. It appears to be some harmless luxury of the human soul in hard times – but for all its seeming neutrality, self-pity has proven the conqueror of kings, princes, prophets, and mighty men throughout the ages.”
So, what exactly is self-pity? The dictionary defines it this way: Self-pity is: “excessive, self-absorbed unhappiness over one’s own troubles. A self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes.”
Notice that self-pity is a dwelling on the problems in our lives. It doesn’t mean that the problems aren’t real or that they aren’t big. It just means that we’ve become fixated on them. And when we fix our gaze on our problems, we are no longer able to see all the good things in our lives. This is a recipe for discouragement!
There are lies that Self-Pity tells us. One of those lies says,
“My problems are unique. No one else is in as much pain as I am, so others owe it to me to focus on me.” The truth is, everyone has problems.
The story is told of a group of soldiers who had just endured a fierce battle. It was time to retreat. The commanding officer tells one of his men to get in the truck and drive. “But sir,” the soldier argues, “I’m bleeding.” The commanding officer replies, “We’re all bleeding. Get in and drive.” This is the reality of life. We all have troubles. If we sub-consciously believe that we are somehow unique and deserving of everyone’s pity, we believe a lie.
Another lie that Self-Pity tells us is that “If others will just stop abandoning me in my pain, I’ll get better.” Why is this a lie? First of all, because the one who believes this has put their hope in man, not God. Psalm 146 says,
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save…Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God…he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed… The Lord sets prisoners free…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.”
If we believe that other people owe it to us to continually hold us up so we don’t drown, we believe a lie. Sometimes it can be hard to see why it’s unhealthy to put our hope in people rather than God for our healing. Sometimes it takes seeing an extreme example of something to understand why it isn’t true. A woman whom I’ll call Bernice came into my life. She was dealing with debilitating depression and anxiety. In an effort to stand by her no matter what, her family did whatever Bernice felt she needed from them. The whole existence of the family began to revolve around her emotional needs. Unaware of her family’s constant support, I said yes when Bernice asked me to come along with her to an event. She felt she needed moral support to get through it. What I didn’t realize was that I was a small part of an entourage of people who would be coming along as moral support. The question is, was it working? Was Bernice getting better because everyone around her was making her needs the center? Actually, no. Her perceived need for help was actually growing. Here’s the deal. God will often use others to help us rebuild our emotional lives. But if our expectation is in people rather than God for healing, it can lead to feelings of abandonment when they can’t be there for us 24/7. When we’re suffering with depression, we do need 24/7 care, but God is the Only One Who can provide that in a healthy way. We need to release others from the expectation of doing for us what only God can do.
Here’s the deal. We don’t have to deny the existence of the problems in our lives. It’s healthy to let those closest to us know the struggles we are going through. We don’t need self-pity to have ANY voice in order to experience connection and comfort from others. The key is to lay down any entitlement attitudes that we may have. Lay down the notion that others owe me pity. That others owe it to me to make me happy.
Self pity loses its’ grip on us when we look for things to be grateful for and when we choose to focus outside of self.
If you are experiencing depression, I want to encourage you by reminding you that God is with you. He is for you. Nothing is bigger than God. Not depression. Not despair. Not hopelessness. He will help you when you ask.
May the joy of the Lord be your strength,