He could find his way to my doorstep blindfolded. He always takes the same route—by way of prolonged physical illness, sustained stress, or painful loss. Without fail, he shows up at the most inconvenient times and walks in as if he owns the place. He is that dreaded and unwelcome visitor, Depression.
You don’t have to share my 25-year history with Depression to have found him on your own doorstep this year. There have been enough oppressive realities in our 2020 world to bring him knocking on anyone’s door. So if you or a loved one have felt the darkness of his presence settling in on you, I would love to speak a bit of encouragement into your heart today. Below I share a few of the ways I’ve managed Depression’s disruptive presence—and found God’s breathtaking goodness in the process. (Of course, these aren’t meant as a cure-all or substitute for professional care and medication; they are simply my own testimony of a broken but beautiful journey.)
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When Depression comes knocking, I tell myself these four things:
Be gentle with your weakness.
In the past, I’ve felt fear at the onset of depression, shame for being prone to it in the first place, and even guilt for not being able to “snap out of it.” But over time I’ve experienced the gentleness of Jesus’ heart toward me in my weakness, and this has taught me to wrap my arms around my human frailty and say,
“Okay, here we are again. This depression makes sense considering my circumstances. I know Jesus is with me, and I know this darkness won’t last.”
The psalmist David models this acceptance-of-weakness in many of his psalms, such as this one:
Although my spirit is weak within me, you know my way. (142:3)
And Thomas Watson put it this way:
How is a weak Christian able, not only to endure affliction, but to rejoice in it? He is upheld by the arms of the Almighty. ‘My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Whatever reveals our need for God and strips us of our arrogant self-reliance is a mercy. We experience more of Christ’s power in us when we are weak, and that is an indescribable gift. These days, instead of bracing myself at the first sign of depression, I gently welcome my frailty as one of the surest ways to experience more of Jesus.
Keep a grateful heart.
During a bout of depression, I’m prone to dark and gloomy thoughts. The difficult circumstances that summoned depression in the first place, now tempt me to drink deeply of their bitterness—and before I know it, everything about my life looks abysmal.
Again, the Psalms beautifully model for me how to move from a place of toxic negativity back to a place of peace and joy. The psalmists were incredibly raw and real about their bitterness, their pain, but they knew how to not get stuck there: they thanked God in the midst of the darkness, and their Godward praise changed their hearts. Look at how this works in Psalm 71—
Deliver me, my God, from the power of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and oppressive.
For you are my hope, Lord God…
As my strength fails, do not abandon me.
For my enemies talk about me,
and those who spy on me plot together…
But I will hope continually
and will praise you more and more.
Your righteousness reaches the heights, God,
you who have done great things;
God, who is like you?
You caused me to experience
many troubles and misfortunes,
but you will revive me again.
You will bring me up again,
even from the depths of the earth.
My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you
because you have redeemed me.
Therefore, my tongue will proclaim
your righteousness all day long.
The psalmist was oppressed by enemies, his strength was failing, and he had experienced “many troubles and misfortunes,”—but he hoped in God, he praised him (“more and more”!), he recalled the great things God had done for him. His heart was full of gratitude, so instead of nursing a grudge or griping, his lips shouted for joy.
Stay connected to your people.
During depression, it’s easy for me to withdraw from the people I need the most. I’m mentally and emotionally tapped out, so the thought of making room for meaningful relationships is exhausting. But it’s precisely what I need, so I’ve learned to keep a few friends and family close no matter how I’m feeling—and to stay engaged with my son and husband who are such a source of strength to me. I don’t always do this well (some days of depression find me “checked out” or withdrawn), but my goal is to remain relational with a close circle of friends and family through the duration of my darkness.
And let me quickly add the obvious—that in the midst of quarantines and social distancing this year, staying connected has been more difficult than ever. Zoom and Marco Polo apps are poor substitutes for the real thing. It takes far more work to be in relationship and feels far less fulfilling than pre-quarantine. But the dangers of isolation are real, so the effort is always worthwhile. As both King David and the Apostle Paul testified, the people of God are our joy and we need them!
“Indeed you are our glory and joy!” (1 Thessalonians 2:20)
“As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the excellent ones. All my delight is in them.” (Psalm 16:3)
My capacity to remain joyfully resilient during depression is largely dependent upon my connection to the very ones who bring me great joy!
Keep going to God.
Depression tends to snuff out my desire for prayer and Scripture. Passages of the Bible that typically would make my heart sing, fall flat—and my prayers sound hollow. I don’t have the same experience of God’s presence. At times he feels a million miles away.
In the past I’ve let this numbness distance me from the One I love. But through the years, I’ve resolved to not let depression keep me from Jesus—but instead to let it teach me how to sit in his presence, patiently waiting on him. I open his word. I tell him how I feel. I keep showing up and listening. While I may not have the capacity for intense inductive Bible study, the daily ritual of simply praying through a Psalm or steeping myself in a small book like Amos or Philippians is a ritual that will soon lead me back into the joy of the Lord. The psalmist described this experience beautifully when he said,
My life is down in the dust;
give me life through your word.
I told you about my life
and you answered me… (119:25-26)
FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Depression’s visits once scared and overwhelmed me, but now I see them as a conduit of blessing. His presence in my life has been used by God to grow in me a tenderness toward weakness, a deeper gratitude, an enduring love for my people, and a resolve to keep going to God. With a full heart I say with the psalmist,
Happy are the people whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca [the Valley of Tears]
they make it a source of spring water;
even the autumn rain will cover it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength
till each appears before God in Zion.
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This article also appears on Revive Our Hearts.