Today I want to talk about the elephant in the room.
Depression…in the life of the believer.
Oh yes. It happens. It IS happening. All around us. And unless we, the church, come to grips with the truth of this fact, and learn how to respond to our hurting brothers and sisters in a way that is both biblical and Christ-honoring, we will never function as the Body of Christ on earth as God intends us to… loving, nurturing, and taking care of our own.
“If one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it…”
~ 1 Corinthians 2:26
That’s what God’s Word says. But do we really believe this? Or do we think we can just turn a blind eye to those suffering with depression, and it will just go away, with no consequence to the body as a whole — including us as individuals?
No. God has told us point blank: If one of you suffers, all suffer. If one part of the body is diminished, it diminishes us all. In the very same way our personal bodies are certainly compromised when any body part is hurting, ailing, lacking strength. No different.
And I see the truth of this scripture on display on a regular basis. We do indeed all hurt when one member is suffering with depression, unable to function in their role in the body. But because too long we have been unwilling to address this epidemic head on – depression in the life of the believer – it remains the great elephant in the room.
This has to stop.
As one who has suffered with depression in the past, I can usually spot from afar another tormented soul. They don’t have to say a word. They may even be found in church with a big smile on their face as they interact with others. But deep calls unto deep, beloved…
And deep within my soul, my heart sees. I see the pain. The emotional devastation. And my heart cries out. Because I know only too well just what that precious brother or sister is dealing with.
Nevertheless, in my observation, the church by and large seems perpetually put off by the notion of a depressed Christian, as if it’s a sign of lazy self-indulgence, or some kind of oxymoron: “Why are they depressed? God is so good!”
And the result?
Sufferers are left with no alternative but to hide in shame, and pretend all is well. To live, as it were, in private torment. Not feeling able to seek help. Or even ask for prayer, because to do so would be an “admission” that they have failed miserably as a believer.
That’s not me saying they failed miserably as a believer — that’s the lie of the enemy saying it. And it’s a lie which too often finds fertile ground in today’s churches where no one is willing to talk openly about this elephant in the room.
So let’s change course right here, and right now, shall we? Let’s talk about this elephant in the room. And what to do about it. And together let’s put an end to the enemy’s work of shaming those who suffer terribly, in secret silence, with this debilitating disease.
But first, this is the perfect time for me to interject how very grateful I am to be in a church where my pastors have recognized and made provision for this great need in their flock, actually dedicating office space in our church facility for use of a bona fide Christian counselor. To quote our wonderful pastor’s wife and my dear friend, Carolyn: “Well, we just saw the need was so great and we couldn’t possibly address it all ourselves.”
Now that is what I call true shepherds after the heart of Jesus. Feed My sheep, Jesus said. And they are. Tend my lambs, He said. And they are.
But, sad to say, in my experience this kind of proactive, compassionate approach is the exception to the rule. As all too often, over the years, I have had to witness tragic responses of saints toward believers in their midst suffering with depression: Going from simple lack of understanding all the way to open disdain for what is perceived as a weakness at best and/or some kind of character flaw or sin at worst.
Now I’m no psychologist, and don’t pretend to be. Still, God’s Word provides us with bountiful clues as to what kind of heart attitude pleases – and does not please – the Lord as we encounter the suffering of others. And I think we honor God by exploring them.
Look no further than Job for the first clue.
Don’t make assumptions and rush to judgment at the suffering of others. That’s what Job’s friends did. And it didn’t end well for them.
So sure were Job’s friends that his suffering was God’s punitive justice in action for some hidden sin in Job’s life, they all rushed to pronounce him, “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!”
Ha! Talk about missing the mark by a mile.
Little did Job’s “comforters” know that the one they were so ready to judge and accuse of sin was in fact a favorite of God. Was in fact God’s trophy child. Was a man marked by God as so very excellent in spirit, that God knew He could trust Job not to curse Him even if he were plagued with one vexation after another.
Job. Not picked ON. Picked OUT. Picked out by God from the whole world’s population as the very model of righteousness. Trustworthiness. And faithfulness to the Lord that could be counted on — no matter what.
“Have you considered my servant Job?” God bragged to the devil.
Oh, brethren, let us never be found as Job’s accusers were — demanding of a depressed brother or sister, “What have you done to cause this?”
Such a response is not the heart of the Lord. Not even close.
If a believer is openly engaging in sin, obviously that’s a different story. With a different remedy. And not the subject of this discussion.
Rather, this discussion is about the struggling saint, particularly those weakened by an unresolved state of depression. The saint who loves God. Isn’t engaging in any known sin. Yet finds himself helplessly swallowed up in a black cloud of depression.
How does God respond to these broken ones? Let’s look.
The Word says, “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who have a crushed spirit.”
~ Psalm 34:18
Therefore, we can be assured that the Father is certainly not wagging His finger in the sufferer’s face, commanding His sheep to “get happy” when they are down.
Commanding, coaxing, pushing, and prodding someone to be joyful (“Just praise the Lord more, that’s what you need to do! You just need to praise the Lord!”) when they are depressed isn’t the love of Christ. It’s bullying, plain and simple. And worse, bullying dressed up like holiness. And those who engage in such “ministry” to the downtrodden are woefully off the mark.
How do I know?
I know because God has already told me in His Word exactly how He wants me to respond to those who have sunk to the depths. God has instructed me…and you…
Clue # 3:
“WEEP with those who weep.”
~ Romans 12:15
How much clearer instruction could we get from the heart of God? In this verse we’re not simply instructed to forbear with the crushed in spirit. No, God has set the bar so much higher. He says, “Enter in to their sorrows!”
“Weep WITH those who weep.”
And as I read this verse in my Bible, I don’t see a little asterisk beside it leading to a footnote that states, “Oh…well except the depressed person, of course. Don’t weep with that person. That will only encourage them to stay down, and THEY just need to snap out of it.”
In August of 2017 I watched with deep appreciation as Marilyn Hickey confessed publicly how calloused she used to be toward individuals who were depressed, even going so far in her head, she confessed, as thinking, “OH, put a rubber band around your head and just snap out of it!”
However, once she experienced depression personally — to the point of wanting to die — everything changed. And she no longer has that “just snap out of it” attitude toward those suffering with depression. God opened her eyes. And heart. And I so admire her open candor and humility in making a public confession of it.
God is near to the brokenhearted, beloved. He is weeping with those who weep.
The question is: Are we?
I’ll never forget years ago observing a dear, sweet woman where I worked who was going through a deep depression. One day I watched as she ate her lunch in silence across the table from a co-worker who knew she was depressed, yet like a dolt kept chirping away before her about how great life was. Chirping, chirping, chirping, first about this, then about that. “God is so good! Hallelujah! Isn’t it great? Isn’t it wonderful? Praise the Lord, praise the Lord!”
He never came up for air. Just kept singing songs of rejoicing before her, while I watched, cringing, as the dear woman just sank deeper and deeper before him.
Do you know what the Word of God says about this kind of exchange?
“Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound.”
~ Proverbs 25:20 NLT
Here again, how could the Lord make it any more plain?
Here we learn that when someone is depressed, we are not to sing cheerful songs to their heavy heart. And not just because it doesn’t help. But worse. Far worse: Because such behavior actually brutalizes the person, increasing their pain, increasing their sorrow.
What, then? What are we to do?
Well, I think this scripture gives us the clue. Instead of brutalizing the heavy heart by singing cheerful songs to them, I believe the Lord would have us do the exact opposite. Cover…wrap…encircle that precious soul with the soothing warmth of God’s love – and keep our mouths shut, if we have to, rather than singing cheerful songs to them.
Let us learn the way of Jesus, about Whom scripture says:
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out… “
~ Matthew 12:20a-b New InternationalVersion
“He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle…”
~ Matthew 12:20a-b New Living Translation
All God is calling us to do is revealed so plainly in scripture:
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”
~ Galatians 6:2
Just love one another. Bear one another’s burdens. That’s it. That’s all.
And leave the scrutinizing to the One Who alone is able to judge men’s hearts infallibly.
As stated earlier, if someone is in abject sin, that is obviously another matter, not under consideration here. Here we are talking about the bruised reed, the flickering wick. Specifically the sufferer of depression. And for that there is one remedy, and one remedy alone: The gentleness of Christ, the Good Shepherd.
Not the rod of correction.
The law of Christ is love. If we do not bear — and bear with — one another’s burdens, we love little. We are to love as Christ loves, Who bears all things, and loves us on our good days and bad.
Here is a real-life illustration from my own life:
Once when I was going through the absolute toughest time in my life, I experienced a powerful lesson in love, reflected in two vastly different “counsels” offered by two different friends. You see, in the midst of my struggle, I reached out to both, desperate in each case for encouragement, consolation, and a listening, understanding ear.
And what I got back from the two was like a study in contrasts – a contrast of biblical proportions.
First, there was “Friend A.”
As I cried out in pain, Friend A never once consoled, never once comforted, never once “wept when I wept.” Instead, in every single instance, bar none, whenever I expressed my great personal and ongoing struggle, this individual pushed back in a spirit of religious anger toward me — clearly not “approving” of my expressions of personal grief and sorrow. In fact, one time they actually made light of my distress, trying to “get me to see” that in the scope of things eternal, what I was going through was really nothing. Nothing at all. They spoke religious platitudes to me. There was no love. No compassion. No mercy.
In Friend A’s religious mindset, I didn’t have the right heart attitude.
Now I want to say here before going any further that I have categorically and without any reservation forgiven this person for all of this. Definitely. For the fact is, they suffer a blind spot, as we all do — myself included — a place that simply has yet to be touched by the Lord’s light of truth, and I continue to pray for their own healing of heart.
But that said, not surprisingly, in response to their loveless “counsel,” I was made to feel shame at my depression, like my personal struggle was somehow a major disappointment to God, and proof that I didn’t measure up, and wasn’t pleasing to Him, since I obviously was failing miserably the test He was putting me through.
This was the “fruit” of Friend A’s ministry to me. All rotten.
Then there was my other friend. “Friend B.”
And oh my, oh my. What a difference. Talk about night and day.
One evening – trembling inwardly, as I was all prepared to be judged again just as I had been judged by the other — I poured my heart out to Friend B, compelled by the sheer desperation of my plight. And to my utter shock and relief, what I received back was not the icy cold grip of judgment against my ailing heart, but the warm, healing affection of a tenderhearted soul for the bruised reed before them…the flickering wick before them.
I am not lying when I tell you that after leaving Friend B’s presence I felt I had just had an encounter with Jesus Himself.
Well. First of all, this friend didn’t preach at my pain. They just listened. And listened so intently they were actually able to hear everything I was experiencing at the time. At one point, so shocked was Friend B at what I was going through, they interjected, “Oh, Cinnie, these things you’re telling me are not little things! This is truly a desperate situation!”
To say that Friend B’s respectful care and concern toward me was like balm to my soul would be a massive understatement. As I said, I truly felt I was in the presence of Jesus, with HIS heart of compassion expressing itself before me. Having my friend speak back to me their own words of shocking reflection upon what I was telling them, I felt so completely validated, so understood.
There was not a trace of the “religious spirit” in their attitude toward my struggle. No death blow to their counsel. Just love. Pure love. And without measure.
Like the priceless perfumed oil that Mary Magdalene “wasted” by pouring all over the the feet of Jesus, then mopped up with her own hair and tears…a sacrifice of love that meant so much to Jesus. That was what my friend’s ministry to my desperate soul felt like: Lavish. Extravagant. Priceless.
And it didn’t end there, either.
Friend B then went on to say they were going to make this a matter of urgent personal prayer. Priority prayer. They assured me they would not forget to pray for me even while on their vacation. And that they would be engaged in the battle with and for me — until such time as there was a breakthrough.
Now that, dear friends, is what it looks like to “weep with those who weep.”
And you know what?
Ten days later, there was indeed a breakthrough. And no surprise. For the Word of God declares that “the fervent effectual prayer of the righteous man avails much.” James 5:16
I will never forget the ministry of my second friend.
I will never forget the encounter I had with Friend B that night when I was prepared to be judged all over again – but instead Jesus showed up, with skin on. The REAL Jesus – through the heart of a saint who knows how to love the hurting, entering in to their pain and suffering with them. Taking it on as if it were their own.
There is depression in the Body of Christ, saints. There is pain in our midst.
Let us not judge the pain.
Let us not preach to the pain.
Let us not sing cheerful songs to the pain.
Let us not break an already bruised reed…
Nor snuff out the already smoldering wick.
But let us enter in, beloved! As my second friend did.
Let us weep with those who weep.
And let us not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. (Romans 12:3)
For in the end, if I pray all the time, go to church all the time, tithe all the time, and do all manner of sacrificial service in God’s name, yet have not love for my brother or sister in anguish — what does God’s Word say of me then?
God says this:
I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2)
For “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Jesus is among us, brethren…hurting…weeping…and heavy of heart…
Let love abound!