Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hope for the Depressed

by Ed Welch

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying—your world is dark, heavy, painful. Some days you think that physical pain might be easier to endure; at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression goes to your very soul, corrupting everything in its path. Dead but walking is one way to describe it. You feel numb, but you still remember when you actually felt something. Somehow that makes it harder to bear.

So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you feel empty. Sometimes you are cranky and doubt their love, and then relationships are even more strained.

You aren’t alone, of course. Depression affects as much as 25% of the population. But statistics offer little comfort. In fact, a depressive spin on them can make you feel worse: You wonder why so many people are depressed, and you’re afraid that means there is no solution to the problem. Yet there is another perspective. God tells us that he cares about one wandering sheep in a hundred (Matthew 18:10–14) and counts the hairs on individual heads. If he has this much compassion for a solitary, lost individual, he certainly cares for you and such a large group of suffering people. You may not understand how he cares for you, but you can be certain that he is.

SUFFERING MAKES US AWARE OF GOD

You are suffering, and suffering brings God into view. That’s the way it always happens. The soldier who escapes from a treacherous battle will instinctively thank God. The stock broker who just lost a fortune might instinctively curse him. When hardships come we either cry out to God for help, shake our fist at him, or do both. There is actually a picture of this in the Bible: throughout history God has taken his people out into the wilderness, and you are certainly in the wilderness.

The journey in the wilderness is intended, in part, to reveal what is in our hearts, and to teach us to trust God in both good times and hard times. Why does he do this? To show us those things that are most important. Don’t forget that God takes his children into the wilderness. He even led his only Son into the wilderness. We shouldn’t be surprised if he takes us there as well.

While you are in the wilderness what are you seeing in your own heart? How are you relating to God? Do you avoid him? Ignore him? Get angry at him? Do you act as though he is very far away and too busy with everything else to attend to your suffering? Are you frustrated that God is powerful enough to end your suffering but he hasn’t? In your depression, let God reveal your heart. You might find spiritual issues that contribute to or even cause your depression.

WHICH PATH WILL YOU CHOOSE?

You are on one of two roads: faith or isolated independence. On the road of faith you are seeking and following God. You are calling out to him. You don’t understand what is happening, but you have not lost sight of how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ assure you that he is good. You feel like you are walking in the dark, but in your best moments you are putting one foot in front of the other as an expression of your trust in God. Whether you know it or not you are being heroic. On this path, although you are suffering, you are still able to notice and marvel that God’s Spirit is empowering you to trust him through darkness and pain.

The other path is the more common one, even among Christians. Even if you believe that God has revealed himself to you in Jesus Christ, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. You don’t feel as though you are consciously avoiding God. You are just trying to survive. But if you look closely you will notice that you are pushing God away. Look at the tell-tale signs:

  • You have no hope, even though Scripture, God’s words to you, offers hope on almost every page. Here’s just one example, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23).
  • You think life is meaningless, even though you are a servant of the King and every small step of obedience resonates throughout eternity. This is God’s purpose for you today, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
  • You think God doesn’t care, even though Scripture makes it clear that we run from God, not vice versa. Listen to what God says to you, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7).
  • In other words, in many areas of life, you simply do not believe what God says.

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