Every night she cried on her pillow. She couldn’t shake this feeling hanging over her – a feeling like she was alone, she was useless, life was pointless, and there was nothing she could do to make things better.
It seemed like nothing brought her joy – at least, not any joy that lasted very long. She hated the idea of going out and having to see the people at church, pretend everything was okay, sing, and smile.
Sometimes she wished that she could be more broken. People looked after others who were perceived to be more broken – but she couldn’t do that. She had been told that she had to “just be happy.” Though she kept showing up anyway, she quickly left as soon as she could.
Even when she spent time with the love of her life, driving around, talking and being loved to the fullest extent one could be – the happiness quickly dried up. She knew like everybody told her, that she had every reason to be “happy” – but she just couldn’t keep it up. Every night she cried on her bed, and at times wished that she could just give up.
That girl was me.
You may not know this about me, but I am naturally a very negative person. I’m not always happy. I don’t always have everything together.
Every personality is tempted in its own way and, unfortunately, my personality is such that I naturally see the negative in myself, others and the world around me before I see the positive. I seem happy and bubbly upon greeting people, and yet when left alone (or together with the ear of my poor, patient husband) I am often tempted to wallow in misery, loneliness, negativity, self-deprecation, and discouragement. I have been through bouts of severe depression and anxiety – to the point where I didn’t want to get out of bed or meet with anyone.
I’ve had people tell me that this is okay, that to be depressive is a normal part of life. I find, however, that many of the people who tell me that this is okay are just like myself – naturally negative. Many encourage others to be depressed and negative, saying that it’s okay and there’s nothing you can do about it – often because they themselves want to believe that it is okay to wallow in misery.
Though at times I may feel like indulging myself and would love to simply wallow in my dark, depressive, judgemental, and cynical thoughts – the truth is that I want to change. Being miserable is miserable. Truthfully, I am tired of this incredibly popular idea that a person cannot change his or her character or way of thinking. I’m tired of people telling me that being depressed is okay and I should indulge myself. That is not what I need to hear. I need and want to be called to something higher.
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I understand why people are talking this way. For years, depression was misunderstood and people were told to “just get over themselves and stop being selfish and ridiculous.”
Obviously, those kind of words are not very helpful or encouraging (though they are usually meant to be). But almost equally as damaging is a swing in the opposite direction, which is exactly the swing that we as a body have taken. Suddenly depression is a right – allowing you to do or not do, and be or not be almost anything you like. Though I understand why there has been the massive shift in thinking, I don’t believe either of these views is healthy.
The truth has to be somewhere in the middle. You can’t just get over depression, just like you don’t just get over anything. It takes time, treatment, and effort. It’s like anything I might be tempted with – if I let it overcome me and drown myself in it, it’s a problem. While I don’t believe that doubt and sadness are a sin, I believe it is a problem if we let ourselves drown in our depression.
These thoughts probably won’t make me popular, but let me explain what I mean by telling you a story about Elijah. This story tells us how God Himself dealt with depression, and so teaches us how we can effectively cope with depression and negativity in our lives and the lives of those around us.
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Elijah was a man who was strong in the Lord and had every reason to have confidence. Yet, when we see him in 1 Kings 18, after he has just won a great victory over the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:22-46), and should have been full of confidence and courage – instead he is on the verge of giving up (19:1-2).
He was in such despair that he ran away and expressed his desire to die. He didn’t want to go on (19:4).
He started to make comparisons of himself in light of others, telling himself and God that he was not up to the challenges ahead of him (v.4).
Here we see God’s first step in care for the downcast prophet. Elijah was tired, and had not eaten – but God sent an angel to wake him up and feed him more than once (v.5-7). Elijah had let the self-pity permeate his mind and was forgetting to look after himself in even the most basic of ways. Sometimes when we are hungry and tired, we need to get up and fill ourselves up (physically and spiritually). Sometimes this is something we need to do for someone who is in a depressive state – remind them of their basic needs and help them to fill them. We need to provide the strength and encouragement others need, and look to God to provide what we need when we need it (v.6, 7).
God asks why Elijah is in the cave – perhaps wanting Elijah to realise where he had come to (19:9).
- God did not want him running away
- God did not want him to be afraid
- God did not want him to be in the cave
While we can go find the cave and try to stay there to escape our problems, but God does not want us to stay there. God does not want anyone to stay in a dark place.
Elijah feels he has done everything that God has asked and yet has been left alone. He was full of self pity, and felt he deserved better.
“I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14).
Though Elijah’s thinking here is obviously flawed – God doesn’t rebuke him. He gives him a task to set his mind on and accomplish and encourages him.
“And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:15-16, 18).
There are two roles to play in dealing with depression. The person who is dealing with it needs to get up and try to help themselves, but those looking on do not need to rebuke – they need to be encouraging. There doesn’t need to be allowance of wrong-doing because of depression, but there doesn’t need to be harshness or a lack of understanding either.
Elijah wasn’t told “You are okay where you are because you are depressed.” He still had to come out of the cave to do the work of the Lord, but still the Lord was not harsh. The Lord just didn’t say “It’s okay, I understand, stay here in your cave,” but rather said, “It’s okay, I understand things are difficult – but you need to get up, eat, and start working again for me. You are not alone.”
In order to help with his focus, God began to sharpen Elijah’s perception, telling him to come out of a dark place and to focus on something bigger than himself – while reminding him that he was not alone.
And then he led him to a friend, Elisha (19:19-21).
It won’t be some dark place somewhere that the Lord calls us to, and He never calls us out to be alone. Would we really want a God that lead us to or wanted us to stay in a lonely, dark place? Surely not.
There is a reason why we should come out of our cave and refocus. Just like Elijah we need to realise that God’s work is more important than our self-pity, and God’s work is more important than we ourselves. Elijah wasn’t let off his duty to serve God – but rather he was gently led in the right direction.
The fact of the matter is that despite all that some may say, God tells everyone that they can change – and I will take God’s view over popular psychology any day.
God has not called us to depression. God has not called called us into a state of hopelessness. God has called us to joy.
Change begins in the mind, and so if we let our mind be taken over with depression and negativity, we will find ourselves crippled in His service (Romans 12:1-2).
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”
Some Practical Suggestions
If you are the one depressed:
- Realise that you can reach out for help. I was always taught to be very guarded when it came to revealing to others my true struggles and feelings, but that got me into a very dark place. Realize that you can let others know how you are feeling, and what you are struggling with. When we let others know how we feel, we are simply helping them to “fulfil the law of Christ” in bearing our burdens (Galatians 6:2). Elijah was taken to a friend by God – but sometimes we need to find our friend. Sometimes we have to let others help us.
- Don’t neglect important things. Even though you may not feel like getting out and doing those things that are important, you will feel worse if you don’t, and will put yourself in a weaker position for the future. Others can’t help you if they never see you, and God can’t help you if you don’t help yourself a little. Even though it was difficult for me when I was depressed to keep going and showing up, I know for a fact things would have gotten worse if I had stopped. Unfortunately no angel is going to show up to feed you today. Keep getting up, keep eating, keep making yourself get out the door to meet with the saints.
- Do what it is that God needs you to do. When Elijah was at his lowest point, God told him to get up and do His work. God expected him to do something. No, you probably won’t feel like doing this (and I doubt Elijah did either) – but it’s really one of the best ways to recovery. It isn’t just me saying this. So many programs that teach people to how to overcome grief or depression tell their members to find others that need help and help them, and find something they can dive themselves into. What better than the Lord’s work?
- Realize that it is okay to see someone professionally. It’s not a weakness to go to a professional for help, and you aren’t weird if you need to go and have someone to talk to about your struggles. There are many people who need this. You aren’t alone.
If you know someone else who is depressed:
- Take care of their physical needs first. This is what God did for Elijah. Often people will be more willing to accept your help if you show that you care for their person before you start to try and work on their soul. It’s hard to listen when you’re sstruggling with simple things. Bring them a meal, invite them out for coffee, offer to clean their house. Show you care about more than just them doing right. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15, 16)
- Let them know you are someone they can talk to without judgement. One of the most encouraging things that was done for me during my dark period was a gift that a member gave me. She gave me a big bag full of over 30 little presents with an encouraging note – and she told me to open just one a day. It gave me something to look forward to. Ok, so I may have opened more than one a day at times – but it lasted a good month still. The gesture was so thoughtful and long-lasting that the impact stayed with me. I felt like I had a friend that I could go to if I needed. Let them know they are not alone, like God did for Elijah. If you can’t be that someone, lead them to someone who can be their Elisha. No one should have to go through things alone.
- Please don’t tell them to “just get over it,” or “just be happy.” I can safely say that one of the least helpful things someone told me when I was in deep depression was to “stop crying,” and “just be happy.” In fact, telling someone this can be downright damaging. We shouldn’t just be anything. We may not understand why someone is down, but the command we have is to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), not to tell them not to weep!
- Don’t encourage them to neglect what must be done. There are some who I have seen attempting to encourage others by telling them that it’s okay to do the wrong thing when they are depressed, because “God will understand.” I’m sorry, but it’s never okay to do the wrong thing or to neglect what is your Christian duty. It’s okay to be at a low point, but it’s not okay to wallow there. You don’t have to say it in those words, but you don’t have to tell them that what they are tempted to do is okay either. Gently lead them in the right direction – like God did for Elijah.
- Observe them to see what their talents/interests are and encourage them to become involved in something that correlates with them. When Elijah was at his lowest point, God told him to get up and do His work. Sometimes those who are depressed feel like they have nothing to offer, and no reason to live. Helping them see how they fit into the body can help them to overcome these feelings.
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For some of us this will always be a struggle, and sometimes we will forget our hope and indulge the dark feelings. But the Christian life is not about perfection, it is about striving for it (Philippians 3:14). It’s about saying, “Ok, that happened. I did that, but I can do better next time,” picking yourself and trying again. It is about getting a little bit stronger every day, stumbling every now and then – but bit by bit stumbling and struggling less.
Yes, negativity is my nature, but like any part of my character, it can be bent and swayed. Though my personality may not change, the direction in which I bend it can be changed. If those without God can do it, then why can’t we? We, who have hope in our hearts and God on our side?!
I have been in the absolute depths of depression and had to crawl out. I may go there again, but I pray that if I do there will be those that lovingly and gently lead me as the Lord did Elijah.
No judgments, no “just-snap-out-of-its,” or “just-be-happy’s,” but gentle and loving hands pulling me along and saying, “It’s ok. You’re not in this alone. I know this is tough, but you have a work to do. Let’s do this together.”
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