When I first met my unwelcome companion, depression, I was a busy mom educating four teens and juggling a musical career. I had no idea where this thing had come from, how long it would stay, or how to get rid of it. Though I resisted, it insisted on becoming a long-term visitor, demanding lots of my attention. It was as if a thick, heavy blanket had descended on me––I felt crushed, broken, depleted, and helpless.
In hindsight, many things contributed to my experience of depression. My youngest son ran away from home. I grieved the loss of two women to cancer. Chronic trauma from my abusive marriage was reaching full tilt. I had a family history of mood disorders. My connection to God felt distant.
In my former circles, Christians weren’t supposed to be depressed. Ashamed, I feared what others might think if they found out I was struggling. They might conclude I was defective or unspiritual. So I told very few people as my energy levels plummeted and I felt confused and disoriented, cried all the time, and spent many days in bed. Without coping skills, I was powerless to withstand this burgeoning enemy.
I began asking God crucial questions: where was he in my pain? Did he see me? Was he real? Was he punishing me for some unknown sin?
God’s answer came slowly, gently, and quietly as I soaked in the Psalms over the next few years. Even the psalmists faced dark seasons. Despite what my former circles said, depression isn’t abnormal, even for believers. Our bodies are often the battleground for spiritual warfare. Sometimes the psalmists link their depressive states to personal sins (as in Psalms 38 and 51); at other times, their depression results from enemy oppression (Psalms 34 and 41). They are honest about how they feel as they cry to the Lord. “I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart” (Ps. 38:8).
God affirms he is especially close to those whose souls are afflicted: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Desperation is the soil in which we grow closer to the heart of God. In this wilderness of affliction, we learn of our Father’s love and care for us. He welcomes our brokenness, our utter depletion, our neediness: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:17). A closer look at the Hebrew word for “contrite” reveals its meaning: crushed, broken, or collapsed mentally or physically. God embraces us in the lowest places of suffering.
Comfort and Hope
While our individual experience of depression is unique, it helps to know we’re not alone in our struggle. Not only does Jesus relate to us (Heb. 4:15), our fellow believers suffer as well (1 Pet. 4:12–19, Phil. 1:29–30). In a safe, authentic community such as a small group, we can share our struggles with others (Gal. 6:2), and as we bear one another’s burdens, we fulfill part of Christ’s work in our lives.
Our suffering is never wasted. Paul affirms that glory is the ultimate outcome of affliction (2 Cor. 4:15–18) and that our current circumstances don’t hold a candle to the brightness of our future (Rom. 8:18–19)! Even now, our difficulties mold us into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) and prepare us for ministry to others (2 Cor. 1:4).
Help and Support
Because we are children of God in the kingdom of God, depression is neither our identity nor our destination. God has given us many means of grace and support, including education, a community of believers, and medical professionals.
Understanding why we experience depression can help us cope. We may suffer from a mood disorder for a number of reasons: genetics, grief, trauma, major life change, chemical or hormonal imbalances, thought patterns, and more. Sometimes, as with the psalmists, we need to address specific sin in our lives. Working with a Christian counselor can help us explore the nature of suffering and move us toward healthy stress management. Additionally, there are numerous online Christian support groups wherein participants share their stories and encourage one another.
God extends his grace to sufferers in many ways. The body of Christ is designed to be a built-in support system (Prov. 8:24, Gal. 6:10). We can experience healing in community through prayer (James 5:16). Wise pastors normalize suffering and God’s nearness to broken-hearted people. Listening to praise and worship music can not only lift your spirit and cover you in God’s truth, it can also improve your outlook and affirm your values.
Because depression affects the whole person, be open to many health-promoting avenues. Consulting with a physician may reveal an underlying physical cause for which medication may help. Care for your body with rest, moderate exercise, and nutritious food. Know your limitations and set reasonable boundaries.
Moving Through Depression
While we can’t avoid depression, we can move through it with hope and support. Psalm 139 shows us how well God knows us and stands ready to help. The last verse reads, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps. 139:23–24). That word, “grievous,” translates as mental or physical pain, demonstrating God’s care in our suffering. He sees us in our weakness and will guide us through hardship toward a glorious future!