I think we would all agree: as followers of Jesus, we are called to “love one another,” just as Christ loved us (John 13:34). Unfortunately, we don’t always know how to carry out this command. Too often, it is the very seasons of struggle that we are called to love others through, that we unintentionally isolate and hurt our sisters in Christ. Help Wanted is a series designed to shed light into just a few of those specific struggles and how we can help, not hurt, the ones experiencing them.
By Randi Peck
What is depression?
There was a time when I would have described it as a choice… A bout brought on by people who couldn’t cope with life… An issue that emotional women dealt with.
Then I experienced depression…
… Is that what it is- an experience? Or perhaps it is a process?
Is it an inability to deal with circumstances? Or is it a personality type?
Is it a disease- a chemical imbalance? Or is it an emotional crisis?
Is it a sin? Or is it an affliction?
Yes. And no. All I know is the part depression played in my own story. And over two years later, even that is hazy. For though I have walked through multiple seasons of sadness that were directly linked to and explained by my circumstances, there was one year of my life when melancholy overtook me and- at the time- I had no idea why.
I checked and re-checked my formula: I was a Christian. I was newly married to a wonderful man. We were blessed with jobs and health. Wasn’t this all supposed to equate to joy, and joy abundantly? Where had I gone wrong?
For twelve long months, I felt like I was groping around in inescapable darkness, unable to find the slightest green glare of the “exit” sign. Tears, once few and far between, visited me daily, yet brought no relief. It was the first time in my life I seriously questioned whether or not God loved me… and whether or not He actually existed.
Not one to easily open up about my doubts and troubles, it took me a while to admit my struggle to family and friends. When I did, however, they became my stabling hand as I wobbled through that year. The people I trusted became God’s voice when he seemed silent. They became his kindness when it felt unperceivable. They became his truth when my perspective was cloudy.
I know my version of this ugly thing called depression is only one of many forms. I will say up front that if you know someone going through depression, I lack most of the spiritual answers and medical research you may need (and obviously severe and suicidal cases require immediate, professional help). But together with my friend Shelby, who is also all too familiar with depression, I’ve come up with a list of ways you can love on a friend experiencing depression:
- Be there. Perhaps the greatest common denominator I’ve found with those I’ve known struggling through depression, is that it makes you feel so alone. Invite your friend to coffee. Pray for her. Bring her a meal. Just listen.
- Make them feel human. Much of the reason I kept people “out” is because I felt weird. I felt like no one else experienced what I was, and that if I even attempted to explain the emotions I was going through, they would think I was crazy. Assure them we are all crazy. Emotions are complex. It is human to go through mysteriously difficult seasons.
- Preach them the gospel. God was so gracious to give me my husband and next-door neighbor, Emily, during this time who, it seemed every time I was with each of them, reminded me of God’s undeserved and powerful love. I still cling to many of the powerful analogies, words, and Scriptures they used to reinforce the gospel to me.
- Don’t compare depression to merely being sad. If you can’t truly relate to the deep agony of depression, don’t try. Comparing your friend’s suffering with your “rough week” or PMS will only make her feel angry, pathetic, and misunderstood. Sympathize when you can’t empathize.
- Don’t be like Job’s friends. In the book of Job, we see his friends constantly looking for the cause of his suffering, self-diagnosing and sin-sniffing. It’s easy for people who have not experienced depression to come up with the “cure” or to subliminally suggest their friend “suck it up”.
- Keep them accountable in going through the motions. Generally, we’re advised not to just go through the motions, but during times of despair, it is sometimes all we can do. Check in with your friend to ensure they are getting fellowship, exercise, eating healthy, getting outside, being social… these can all feel daunting and meaningless, but they are so crucial in helping to slowly overcome and not further sink into depression.
- Direct them to a Biblical, gospel-centered Counselor who is trained to identify some of the root issues and mental complexities your friend may be dealing with.
As far as my personal journey through depression, I wish I could tell you one day I woke up, and I was better. I wish I could tell you there was a pill that made it all go away. I wish… In reality, it was a very gradual and daily process. It seemed as though my spirit had been shattered into a million, infinitesimal pieces, and my wholeness required God’s restoring or replacing each broken piece, one by one.
So, back to the question: What is depression?
All I know for certain is that depression is another means by which God can be glorified. It is another avenue, though dark and grueling, through which his goodness will shine through.
While I can’t tell you that the mess makes sense in entirety, this side of eternity, I can tell you this: God is faithful. God delivered me from depression. I have never been more at peace, more joy-filled, than I am in my life right now. I am not promised that the darkness will not return again in this life. But no matter what, I can trust God uses brokenness to reveal His love. And one of the most tangible ways He did so in my walk through depression was through those around me.