It’s tough being a person with clinical depression. You have no motivation to get
up out of bed. You’ve lost interest in almost everything you use to enjoy. Attendance at school or work goes down to the point where people notice – and that’s bad. It’s hard to concentrate because all you are thinking about is how bad of a person you are and how meaningless your life is. You just want to die, and sometimes you want to kill yourself.
It’s even tougher being a Christian with clinical depression. You’ve got this whole feeling that your depression is sin – something spiritual. If you get in any trouble at school or work, you think it’s your fault and any negative consquences are what you deserve. I belive God is not going to “bail you out.” You come up for
prayer at church, you ask all your friends to pray for you, you fast, you beg God to do something. You question why you hate yourself if God loves you. You question if God loves you at all. You question your salvation experience. Was it real? Is so why am I not free (John 8:36)? Where is the abundant life I was promised (John 10:10)? You get suicidal thoughts and you wonder if you would go to Hell if you did it. Would I go to Heaven if I died right now if I did not kill myself or would I still go to Hell?
What’s worse is when I talk to my Christian friends and pastors who never had to deal with mental illness about my depression they say the same things over and over again:
1. “Well, are you getting medication and counseling?” YES I AM! I’ve been seeing a Christian counselor for two years and I’ve been on medication for a year. The problem is I keep on needing more medication. When I started I was on 10 mg of Lexapro (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexapro). Now I’m on 20 mg of Lexapro, 200 mg of Welbutrin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welbutrin) and 600 mg of Trileptal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trileptal). It looks like I might be on these meds all my life, and I may even need to take *more* medications.
2. “Are you reading your Bible and praying every day?” YES I AM! I’ve been reading the Bible daily even before I became a Christian. I admit that my prayer life is not great, but it’s there. However, I don’t see how I’ll be healed by praying an hour a day over fifteen minutes a day.
3. “Think about what you are thinking about.” Okay, that’s Biblical (2 Corinthians 10:5) but only marginally helpful for someone with clinical depression. You know you’re thinking depressing thoughts, but sometimes it’s impossible to think of anything else. Depression can quickly snowball and before you know it you’re run over.
4. “Depression is a choice.” GREAT, BLAME ME FOR MY OWN DEPRESSION! Do you think that’s supposed to make me fell BETTER? Depression is a choice I make subconsciously or consciously because I’m convinced that I’m a piece of dog crap. No, actually if dog crap had shoes, I’d be the dog crap on dog crap’s shoes. Maybe I could “choose” happiness, but I need something to be happy about!
5. “Maybe you have some unrepented sin.” GREAT, FIRST MY PEERS REJECT ME, THEN I REJECT ME, AND NOW MY GOD REJECTS ME! Look, I could confess all day about stuff I did and didn’t do and that still doesn’t make me feel better. Actually, that statement brings me under condemnation for all the sin I did instead of conviction, which is counterproductive and perplexing in light of Romans 8:1,2
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (NIV)
6. “Well, try doing this.” Look, if you don’t know how to fix the problem, don’t try to fix the problem. In fact, when I vent to my friends I don’t want them to offer solutions, I want them to pray to God for a solution. Maybe I’m more like a “woman” than a “man” in this but when I talk about my problems I just want them to
recognize how I feel, try to comfort me, and pray about what’s vexing me. If I want you to solve the problem I’ll ask for help, but don’t offer unsolicited solutions or advice.
7. “Worship God.” This is a subset of those unsolicited solutions. Okay, sometimes worshiping God helps, but when I’m in the middle of a depressive bout I’m not going to immediately put on a worship CD and start singing. Yes, I know to worship when I don’t feel like it, a sacrifice of praise, but I can’t make that sacrifice in an individual setting. I’ll go to a corporate worship service and sing even if I don’t feel like it, but I can’t make that sacrifice on my own.
8. “You have a lack of faith.” HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT? Did God give you the gift of omnipotent knowledge of all people, or just me? How dare you take God’s position and judge the quality of my faith.
9. “Well, if you really were a Christian you wouldn’t be depressed.” OKAY, so if I don’t fit your model of what a Christian SHOULD BE I’m obviously NOT A CHRISTIAN. Also, is a statement like that SUSPOSED TO MAKE ME FEEL BETTER? So, if you were God you’d damn me to Hell. In fact, by making that statement it’s like you damned me to Hell when you DON’T have the authority to do it. God didn’t make you the judge of men.
Now that’s not to say that we should ignore people who commit sin in the Church or
not speak out against sin in the world, but the Bible gives us specific instructions on how to do it, including:
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. – Galatians 6:1,2 (NIV)
I would like to point out the word “gently” in that passage.
10. “A depressed Christian is an oxymoron.” WELL, WHAT ABOUT A DIABETIC CHRISTIAN OR A PARAPLEGIC CHRISTIAN? IS THAT AN OXYMORON? So all my chronic problems and strongholds are supposed to disapear at salvation and I should have a problem free life. Well, read Acts — Christians are not free from problems. This
statement is even worse that number nine. It’s a very harsh way of saying, “What the hell is wrong with you?” without making a swear.
11. “Get over it.” That’s like telling a guy with two broken ankles to just “walk it off.” Not helpful at all!
12. “You have no right to hold something against yourself if you’ve already been
forgiven by God.” Again, YOUR BLAMING ME FOR MY OWN DEPRESSION. As a conservative Republican I tend to react to “you don’t have the right to..” with “Yes I do! Don’t take my rights away from me! According to the U.S. Constitution I have the right to…” Yes, sometimes depression is caused by guilt and shame, but a statement worded like that only brings more guilt and shame. Again, counterproductive.
13. “You don’t have the right to take your own life.” Again, same as twelve. Plus, what’s God going to do about it? Send me to Hell? It’s almost like a dare now. “God, I *dare* You to damn me! Am I one of Your childern or not? Show me how much You love me. And don’t say ‘well, look at the Cross.’ That’s great, but that was 2,000 years ago. I want to see something now!” Look, if I’m in my personal hell anyway what difference does it make if I go to the real Hell? When I’m depressed I really don’t care what happens to me.
In general I would prefer if the Church (as in all Christians) would recognize that depression is more than just thinking bad thoughts, it’s a medical problem. It’s a disease, and a very crippling one at that. Why do mental illnesses have this stigma around them that things like cancer, diabetes, and the common cold do not? Does being a diabetic or having an allergy to pet dander make me less of a Christian or not a Christian at all? Then why should depression make me less of a Christian or not a Christian at all? What do we do with those who are sick? “Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” — James 5:14 (NIV) Let’s do that for our brothers and sisters dealing with mental illness.
So believers, if a Christian friend tells you they suffer from clinical depression and you’ve never been there, say this:
“Well, I’ve never experienced the illness of depression myself so I don’t understand what you are going through. However, I realize that it is a very crippling condition. I love you and I’ll pray for you, and if you want to discuss something you’re going through just call me. Maybe I can’t provide an answer, but I’ll at
least listen. I have faith that God will meet you where you are at and He will heal you.”
Thanks, and God bless,