QUICK SUMMARY: Depression comes in many shapes and sizes. From light melancholy bouts of the blues, that most people experience from time to time, to serious and persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that can lead to the conclusion that life is not worth living anymore. These post-sermon talks do not target the full spectrum. Specifically, we are not addressing clinical depression or MDD, major depressive disorder, which affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. Extreme or true clinical depression usually presents with symptoms that occur most of the day, nearly every day. If you are on the persistent side of depression you need to see your doctor. One way you know this is you is if I am not the first one to suggest that you to see your doctor!
What we are talking about is the way we all feel from time to time when life has become more difficult than usual. Feelings that are a reaction to life, not persistent depression which may not come on because of anything we can point to as a cause. Most days you are fine. But now you are in a season of loss, change, stress, conflict, high activity, exhaustion, sickness, or maybe all the above. The result is that we are physically and emotionally drained and then struggle to deal with life. Cause and affect discouragement, and maybe even despair and depression.
In This Article We Will Address:
- Unhelpful Words – How to make them more depressed!
- Helpful Advice – For the depressed and their friends.
- Trickle Down Thinking – Is how we indirectly regulate of emotions.
A Biblical Pattern for Healthy, Healing Thinking:
- Reality – Admit and express it to God. Be real.
- Request – Admit it and express that to God too! Request freely.
- Reset – Eventually breath, pause, reset your mind and heart. Reset eventually.
- Repledge – Are you still waiting on God? Re-pledge anyway.
- Rejoice – Even while still in the middle of the storm. Rejoice religiously.
- Rinse & Repeat – Practice spiritual breathing. Shampoo regularly!
Looking for more? Keep reading!
David, Depression, & the Psalms, by Kerry Krissel
GO DEEPER: (Read the “Quick Summary” first.) Several years ago I faced a life changing medical crisis. When I was 18 I learned that I had a congenital back disease. The doctors had told me then that one day my back would “give out,” whatever that meant? They “welded” my messed up lower back together with a spinal fusion and sent me on my way. Their prognosis would frequently come to mind but over time it seemed more and more like an overly dramatic prediction and less and less like anything to worry about… Until I was forced to worry about it. In January of 2012 their prediction came true. Over the accumulating months of pain and ridiculously powerful medicines, not to mention the change for me and the family, I became increasingly depressed. The panicky emotions that came over me were so powerful that I felt like I could not breathe. I did not sleep well either which made everything worse. The side effects of the pain patch and pills were not any help at all. After a few fretful, edgy, suffocating weeks I realized that it was not going to go away. I was “falling apart.” I went to see the doctor.
Turns out that the physical strain on my body had been so accumulatively severe that I could not produce enough natural anti-depressants to keep up with everything I was experiencing. Yep, they put me on the dreaded anti-depressants. Two or three weeks later I felt brand new. Those of you who have been struggling for much longer probably wish it would be that easy for you. I am sorry if it is not. But I tell you this story to say that that is not the kind of depression we are going to address either. There was a physiological cause that needed a doctor’s care, and no amount of advice, however true, was going to touch it.
No amount of advice, however true, was going to touch it.
Just. Not. Helpful!
That is not to say that some of our suggestions in these blogs, that support the sermon series, will not help lessen your depression. They very well may do just that. What we do not want is for people who struggle chronically and/or medically with depression to hear anything akin to over-spiritualized, stale, cliché, or useless advice. This type of advice is all-too-frequent, unhelpful, lacking is real understanding, and often infuriating. When people make it sound like it should be the easiest thing in the world to overcome, it makes the depressed person feel worse, not better! It may even lead to shame. “There must be something wrong with me because apparently I should be able to just choose to not be depressed anymore.” Yeah, not helpful and infuriating. It is apt to make them feel… wait for it… depressed!
First, if you are reading this because you want to help someone you know who is depressed, listen carefully. In your well-meaning and sincere effort to help, your thoughtless words may make things worse. If you are not sure what to say, stop. Do not speak. If you cannot be present without being compelled to say something that you are not sure is helpful, go home. The Bible says we are to weep with those who weep, not lecture those who weep! We will address what to do and say to help someone who is depressed in an upcoming blog. Second, if you are reading this because you are the one who is depressed and are finding it hard to shake, regardless of what the source of your depressions ends up being, go to your primary care physician for a checkup. Again, if I am not the first person to suggest this, please call them today! I remember my trip to the doctor. Of all the things I was told, just hearing that I was not crazy, that depression is common and can trouble anyone, and is unworthy of the frequent, ignorant, and groundless stigma, made a lot of difference.
Trickle Down Thinking
Shifting gears slightly, if your depression is brought on by your thinking—about events, people, yourself, illness, loneliness, change, conflict—changes in thinking can at least begin to bring relief. What I will share is not a mystical cure-all and it will not make your feelings magically vanish. Since feelings cannot be directly controlled, we have to affect them indirectly with our mind. New and healthier thinking takes time to “trickle down” into the heart. When discouragement and sadness are the results of the way we mentally process the normal ups and downs of life (or even the occasional bigger fluctuations that are not usual), lifting your thought life can help. And I am pretty sure that thinking life giving thoughts never hurt anyone!
David and the other psalmists have helped me put into words what I could not say without a little jump start.
So, here is something that has always helped me. I read Psalm in the Bible. David and the other psalmists have helped me put into words what I could not find the word to say without a little jump start. When I feel like I am falling apart emotionally, I let them guide my talks with God. It helps when I talk things through with their assistance. Over the years of following their guidance I have discover a few patterns in those prayerful songs and poems. No one psalm has all the components that I delineate, but they are persistent themes throughout. These patterns are ancient but the situations and feelings they express are all too contemporary. David’s psalms have a lot to do with enemy attacks of one sort of another, but the emotions are so relatable. These writers complain about slander, betrayal by close friends, injustice, discouragement, jealousy, desperation, and the fear and feeling that in his delay God has abandonment and forgotten them. Hopelessness ensues. But I find refreshment in their struggle because I find my own heart in theirs.
Here is the pattern that I have identified” (Not always in this Order)
1. Reality – The various psalmist had an often embarrassing habit of telling God exactly what they were thinking and feeling. At least I am embarrassed for them. Sometimes there will be a statement of dedication to God at the beginning of the psalm, other times they dive right in. What I love is that they do not hold back. Whether they are blunt about what they have endured or how it has affected them, they clean nothing up. They do not pretend with God. Maybe it is because they remember that God knows all anyway. Even what they did over spring break! Whatever the reason, they do not try to figure out what they should say, what the right way to approach God is. There is little religious language and flowery terminology and flattering names for God. They face the reality of their situation and their own, even wrong, feelings or ways they would like to respond. Sometimes just saying it out loud to someone who will listen and love unconditionally instead of lecturing you, takes some of the energy out of it. And with God, you do not have to worry about gossip or your friends hearing your deepest thoughts and feelings because he will never betray your trust. Not. Gonna’. Happen. Be real.
Whether they are blunt about what they have endured or how it has affected them,
they clean nothing up. They do not pretend with God.
2. Request – They also minced no words when they tell God what they would like him to do about it. After spilling their guts, they want action. I just shake my head sometimes. I would never ask for some of the retaliation they do. Well, almost never. The point here is that again, they are being real with themselves and with God. No hiding. Hiding is bad. Hiding keeps things hidden! Hidden things, especially when they are unhealthy, eat away at our soul. And we do not always hear the moral quality (depravity) of our own requests because we are so deeply immersed in the feelings. But when you say it out loud, for God to critique, it helps you hear things the way God does. Our desires, when we stop long enough to collect them efficiently enough to describe them to someone else, reveal our heart. Speaking requires thinking, determining, deciding, concluding, and arranging. The process of preparing to voice a request helps with self-awareness as well as self-honesty. Request freely.
3. Reset – At some point we need to take a breath and step back from the situation or feelings. Back away from our limited perspective, pause, and regroup. Invariably each psalmist does just that. Nothing has changed, they feel no different yet, God has not answered, and the emotions persist. But if our depression is of the more widely experienced garden variety, this should be a thing we can do. Being unable to breath due to panic, dark thoughts and despair is a sign we need to consider that we need professional help of some sort. The reset you will find in the psalms usually begins with some sort of a “but.” “But I will trust you.” Gratitude that generates “but I remember your past rescues.” A determination the drives “but I will seek you alone.” Given the reality, and their request, they could be led down a dark and dangerous path of unbelief and fear and hopelessness. The reset is a choice to take a different route. When you are ready… Reset eventually. It leads them to two more choices…
4. Repledge – Again, the psalm often begins here (and often return here), but somewhere in there you will find at least one statement of devotion. “You are my rock, fortress, high tower, strength, refuge, rescue, hope, and God. Despite everything, or even given everything, I am waiting for you.” They may make sure to stress to God that they are still waiting, but waiting nonetheless. They remind themselves who God is, and whose they are. They recall his past help and eternal character. They assure themselves that God is dependable, trustworthy, unable to be unreliable no matter how it seems in the moment. They reflect on how able God is to intervene either in the situation or in their hearts. Then they repledge their loyalty, often even when still under great distress externally and difficult emotions internally. Repledge anyway.
They may make sure to stress to God that they are still waiting, but waiting nonetheless.
5. Rejoice – I am readily impressed with the degree to which the psalmists can both complain so vividly and passionately, and then turn right around, walk through a repledge, and come our rejoicing. They may have just finished paining the darkest of scenarios, and then they stop, take a breath, repledge, and end up in joyful worship. Often it deceptively seems so effortless. We know the truth is usually the opposite. But rejoice they do. Again, usually before they have had any time to experience change within or without. I think that is the secret sauce if there is any in all this. These steps all occur in the midst of great stress and strain and emotion, even if they persist through to the end, if an end comes. These are actions that get you through to the end, not necessarily that brings an end. And they have to occur while the waters are still rising, which makes it that much harder. (And is why we need to walk through life with others.) But I imagine there is another secret. Steps four and five are a regular part of their conversation with God before steps one through three are needed. Rejoice religiously.
6. Rinse & Repeat – The “shampoo algorithm” helps keep the necessary elements above in mind. A metaphor with greater religious imagery is called “spiritual breathing.” “Rinse” or “exhale” is a reminder to expel the toxic fumes that feed depression. It is hard to flourish when we are holding our breath. The exhale vents negativity, untruth, fear, and confessed sin. Rinsing and the reference to water can call to mind our baptism. A symbol of God’s forgiveness and cleansing when we feel we have messed up way too much and/or unforgivably. It reminds us that we his and he is ours. That he is for us, not against us. It calls us to remember that God gives us as many fresh starts as we need, every day or all through it. Rinsing washes away dirt and soap bringing the Spirit’s pure and clean refreshing and renewing gift to our soul.
Once we have rinsed and exhaled, we “repeat” or “inhale.” To inhale spiritually is the action of taking in or imbibing the fulness of the Spirit of God. By huffing in life we surrender control once again to the God who is and gives true life. To the extent that the exhale is confession of sin, agreeing with God against ourselves, to inhale is thinking and acting like we are forgiven and recommitting to stay out of God’s way and follow his lead. The imagery of “repeat” nicely reminds us that living in relationship with God (are anyone) requires intentional habit. We must return to our Lord to continually find his mercy, forgiveness, healing, freedom, and power. We need to do both to keep ourselves aligned and allied with God. Rinse and repeat. Eject they bad, replace it with the good, the good one! Shampoo regularly!
We wrap up by remembering that there are various ways to become depressed, many levels of depression if you will, and there are also as many different approaches to dealing with it. As with any remedy, it is very crucial that we appropriately match the medicine with its corresponding malady. Treating clinical depression with everyday spiritual truth may lead to disaster. Not because the truth is untrue, but because every day spiritual truth is intended everyday spiritual struggles. What works well for situationally developed depression may do worse than nothing for deep and chronic depression. That calls for other remedy.
If anything you read hit home, raised questions, or helped you realize you could use some help,
follow this link to get in touch with a Two Rivers coach.