As far as topics go that Christians have a hard time discussion, three stand out more than the rest to me: sex, doubt, and mental illness. Of the three, we at least skirt sex by discussing purity, we handle doubts discreetly in closed meetings, but mental illness is closed off in its own box locked with steel reinforced doors.
Depression is a very real issue many Christians face. These very concerned individuals are often told that depression just doesn’t happen to people with real faith. Of all the damaging things Christians say, this might be the worst. Where in the Bible does anyone get the idea that people of faith are never depressed?
Sure, some people will point to Philippians’ “rejoice in the Lord always” as proof that Christians shouldn’t be depressed. “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” is another phrase that pops up in Christian circles when discussing depression.
If I sound angry or frustrated, it’s because I am. I have watched faithful people get thrown under the church bus because dealing the depression is hard, messy, and often a long process. It’s hard to admit that sometimes depression strikes even small group leaders, Sunday School teachers, and -gasp- even ministers. (Check the statistics of depression in pastors and you’ll have a wake up call to what your pastor may be dealing with.)
I’ve dealt with depression myself. I had a rough period in college where I struggled with doubt and depression. I wondered if I were really on the right path and following God, or if I were just kidding myself and not worthy of God’s love. This stuff is real. I was in a ministry training program at a fantastic school. I was serving as an intern at a church in the Children’s Ministry. Despite this, I was depressed, lethargic and wondered daily whether or not to even get out of bed. And, no, it’s not the same thing as wanting five more minutes. This was a debilitating struggle because I seriously considered that what I did meant nothing. So what happened? Did I pray it away? No. Did I have a miraculous healing? No. I talked with a doctor and was given antidepressants. And you know what? It helped.
Here’s what I cannot stand in many church circles. We like to tell people who are struggling, “Just trust God and pray and everything will be all right.” It’s a nice thought, but often times God will speak (if we’re listening) and tell us to get up off our duffs and do something about it. “But Jesus healed people who couldn’t help themselves,” you’ll say. And my response is how many of those people crawled, were carried, or cried out at the top of their voice – who had an active role in seeking out help? Almost every single one.
My favorite story in the Hebrew Bible is the one that has helped me deal with doubts and reminds me to treat others problems with respect. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah has just witnessed God calling down fire from heaven and end a multi-year drought. God has fed him miraculously many times,and yet Elijah runs in fear of his life and crumples into a heap under a small tree and asks to die. Yes, you read that correctly, one of the great prophets felt despair, depression, exhaustion and had suicidal thoughts. God leads him to a cave and meets him there, and whispers in the silence. God addresses Elijah’s fear and worry, and encourages him, giving him a new mission.
So when you have someone in your life, or even yourself who feels depressed, seek professional help. Do not struggle alone. Do not let anyone tell you your problem isn’t real. Don’t hide your doubts and depression. Call a friend, ask for help. If you or anyone has suicidal thoughts, that’s an immediate call to professional help. Do not play, do not wait. Do not keep that a secret – someone’s life is on the line.
Trusting God includes going through depression. Paul experienced it, Peter felt it, Jesus even felt alone and despair. Who are we to say that Christians have to be happy all the time? Life is hard, but the reason faith is practiced together is so we can pick one another up and keep walking, no matter how slowly. No man gets left behind, and whether you’re carrying or being carried, we all have the same race to complete, so don’t give up hope. We have a Lord who is alive, who is King, who has overcome.