“Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?” These were the words Matthew Warren spoke to his father, Pastor Rick Warren, several years ago. These were the words of a young man battling the horrifying reality of depression – a horrifying reality that never went away.
Last Saturday, many of us wept with Pastor Rick Warren and his dear wife, Kay, in hearing the tragic news that their 27 year old son had taken his life. As Christians, not only do we weep with the Warren family, but we are wise to look around us and realize that somebody close to us is likely fighting depression, and we may not even know it.
An encounter with depression is almost inevitable. It’s someone in our family; it’s someone in our small group; it’s someone in our church – and it may even be the person looking at this computer screen.
It happens to good people. It happens to God’s people. It happens to people that seem to have an otherwise perfect life. It happens to mothers who have just brought home a beautiful, healthy child from the hospital. It happens to men who have successful careers and strong families. It happens to pastors (and their families).
In the Scripture, we see one of the greatest men of God ever to live, Elijah, clearly facing some type of depression. In 1 Kings 19:4, speaking of Elijah, we read the words, “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’”
In Psalm 42:5a we see the Psalmist cry out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Just before this in Psalm 42:3 he says, “My tears have been my food day and night.”
Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, wrestled for much of his life with what he called “the dark night of the soul.” Spurgeon spoke of when he was “almost completely crushed in spirit” and experienced “a deep spiritual depression.
Sometimes it’s a clinical depression; sometimes it’s a spiritual depression (sometimes it’s a combination of the two). Regardless, it’s a reality in our churches, and it’s affecting the people that we would least expect.
For the longest time, I was completely naïve as to the horrors and reality of depression. Then, in 2007, God blessed Annie and I with our first child, James. He was perfect in every way, and we were on top of the world. And then it happened. A few days after we left the hospital, our world fell apart. A deep, terrifying form of post-partum depression overtook Annie (my wife). She was helpless. I was helpless. There was nothing anyone could say or do. No words of encouragement seemed to make it better. No sermon could fix it. No book made it better. My wife, a woman who loves God with all of her heart, despaired of life itself. Instead of rocking her baby to sleep with a heart filled with the joy of being a first-time mother, she was lying hidden away in a cold, dark room – soaking her pillow in tears. In the words of Spurgeon, Annie experienced many “dark nights of the soul.”
The purpose of this blog isn’t so much to provide solutions for depression (email me and I am happy to point you to wonderful resources). Rather, the purpose is to simply make aware – to inform the people of God that depression is an inherent part of a fallen, cursed world. That good people – that God’s people – have, and will face it.
I will close with a few words of consideration, first to those who have a friend or loved one facing depression. Secondly, a few words to those who are in the middle of a dark night of the soul.
To those who have a friend or loved one fighting depression
- Don’t judge them and assume there is some deep, hidden sin in their life. It is likely that your loved one’s depression has very little and possibly nothing at all to do with their spiritual maturity. It’s often nothing more than a chemical imbalance.
- Never tell them to “just get over it.” It’s not that simple. If it were, they would “just get over it.” No one wants to face depression. No one asks for it. The fact is, the people that have it would do virtually anything in their power to get rid of it; thus, depression is responsible for 800,000 deaths a year (many of them suicides).
- Don’t try to rationalize with them saying things like “their life is great and they really don’t have anything to be upset about.” I tried that with Annie countless times. It doesn’t work. One of the fundamental elements of depression is that it renders its captive utterly irrational. They are mentally unable to consider and understand the fact that often times the “good” in their life considerably outweighs the “bad.”
- Don’t get upset or be offended when they don’t call or text you back. One of the basic symptoms of depression is a lack of desire to be in the presence of other people. Those facing depression often want nothing more than to be alone. Tragically, it is such isolation that only magnifies the problem.
- Pray for them. Weep with them. Hold them. Sometimes, you need not say a word.
- When they are in a position to listen, point them to Jesus and encourage them with God’s Word (but not in a preachy kind of way).
- Get them help. Certainly, some cases are worse than others and some cases may be very temporary and not need outside help. Others however, require serious help. One of the wisest things that I ever did as a husband (and something that “humanly speaking” saved my wife’s life), was I came home one day and walked back to our bedroom where Annie was lying with the lights out. I physically picked her up out of the bed, carried her out to my car, and drove her to the doctor where we sought professional help.
To those who are currently facing depression
- The satanic hosts have taken notice of you and will invest their full power in speaking lies into your head. Many of the thoughts that are going across your mind right now – assume they are lies. If the words are telling you to end your life, or that you are worthless, or that God doesn’t love you, or that this is all your fault – these are lies straight from the pits of hell.
- You need Christian community. In other words, you need people in your life. I know your tendency during this time is to isolate, but more than anything, you need your friends. You need to be open and transparent with your friends. They can’t help you if they don’t know you’re struggling. You need friends who can pray for you and love you. Even if you don’t feel like it, force yourself to get out of the house. Force yourself to have lunch with friends. Force yourself to go to church, or community group.
- Remember that if you are a child of God, Jesus’ love for you is not dependent upon your emotional or mental stability. There are no thoughts that you can have, or words that you can utter, that will separate you from the love of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31f). He’s not mad at you (Romans 8:1). Although He may feel very distant, He is there. Subjectively, He may feel a million miles away, but objectively, you must remind yourself that you are His child, and that He will never leave you or forsake you. You know this is true not because you feel it (at least not right now), but you know this is true because Jesus said so in His Word.
- If you need to get on anti-depressants, it’s okay. I remember having countless conversations with Annie about this, and one of the lies from the Enemy to her was, “If you get on depression medicine, you just don’t have enough faith. If you really trusted in God, then you wouldn’t need medicine.” If you are a committed follower of Jesus, it’s likely that you’ve heard this lie as well (either from Satan, or possibly a Christian friend or family member – a Christian friend or family member who probably shouldn’t be giving you counsel, and almost certainly a Christian friend or family member who has never faced depression themselves. On that note, if you are in a church that preaches the “prosperity gospel” or the “name and claim it” theology, or a church that teaches that if you are sick it’s only because you don’t have enough faith, then leave that church immediately, and never look back).In many cases, depression is a hormonal issue, or a chemical imbalance. It may not even be remotely “spiritual” in nature. Talk to your doctor. I have many, many Christian brothers and sisters who are on anti-depressants, and that’s okay. If you have diabetes, or arthritis, or high blood pressure, you’re going to get on medication. If you have depression (and it’s a physiological issue), then you have the full freedom to consider medication.
- It may not get entirely better – in this life. Hopefully, it will, and for many of you, it probably will. But for others, it’s possible that this will be a life-long struggle (at least on some level). However, if this is the case, God remains faithful. He can use this depression as the greatest sanctifying tool in your life. You can learn to lean on Him and trust Him in a way that others cannot. And remember, there is coming a day when He will once and for all, wipe all of the tears from your eyes. Although you may weep for the night, joy is coming in the morning. And in the mean time, He may not take the depression from you, but He will hold your hand. . . . until the deep, dark night of the soul is over.