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Christians and Depression

 

Woman StressClarksville, TN – In the winter of 2006–7, while in the middle of a divorce, I plummeted into a mental state unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. This was not simply a case of the blues. I lost all interest in the activities that constituted life: people, writing, my job, food, recreation, and daily rituals like grocery shopping.

The moment I woke, I longed for bedtime—for escape—and yet I couldn’t sleep. Nausea, confusion, and exhaustion plagued me. Smiling was impossible in the face of intolerable sadness. Pulling myself out of bed each morning was torment.

The thought of continuing in such blackness for one more hour, let alone one more week, was unbearable as I struggled to “keep it together.” I dreaded social situations. The sound of conversation and laughter between my coworkers became foreign to me, until I couldn’t remember what either one felt like.

I knew I’d laughed and conversed thousands of times, but now it seemed ludicrous and utterly impossible.

Worst of all, though God hadn’t left me, the awareness of His presence that I’d always enjoyed had vanished.

One evening, I mentioned my struggle to someone who was spiritually sound and whose opinion I valued. “I can’t feel God,” I said. “This sadness is devouring me, and I can’t find Him no matter what I do.” My friend answered, “There’s got to be some kind of sin in your life if you feel separated from God. Examine yourself and see where you’re missing it.”

My friend meant well, but he had inadvertently kicked me when I was at my lowest.  His words didn’t make sense: even though I couldn’t feel God, I knew I hadn’t turned my back on Him. And somehow I knew that He hadn’t deserted me. My friend simply didn’t realize that believers aren’t immune to the horrors of clinical depression.

Columnist Skip Heitzig says, “Many Christians feel guilty and ashamed to talk about this issue, thinking that spiritual people should never feel depressed. But spiritual depression is a recurrent theme throughout Scripture. One example is the prophet Elijah who, despite his great faith, fell into depression, going from the mountain top to the valley.”

A few days later, the despair became so suffocating that I asked a girlfriend (whose husband had suffered mental illness) what was required to check oneself into a hospital—just in case. All hope, joy, pleasure, and light had ceased to exist for me. I begged God to give me a moment’s assurance, some sign, but the nothingness continued. It was sheer grace that allowed me to hang on until Monday, when I finally called my doctor.

Somehow I dragged myself to the appointment. I remember the bewilderment I felt as I watched the woman across from me in the waiting area peruse a magazine and smile pleasantly at a nurse. How could she be so carefree? How was she untouched by the desolation that had swallowed me?

The next hour changed my life. After describing my symptoms to my doctor, he asked about my circumstances and then ran some tests. His conclusion: my depression was the result of two decades’ worth of nearly continual stress. I had simply drained my body of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone. He prescribed a medication that would give me a bit of relief and allow me the time to “refill my tank.” Within four months, I was off the medication; I was laughing and living again.

Can depression be a sign of disobedience? Yes, it can. (If in doubt, read Psalm 32.) But it can also be caused by medical or chemical issues, mental or physical exhaustion, and so on. Can God heal us in an instant? Yes, He can and often does. But if you’re in the “waiting stage,” don’t assume that God is displeased with you.

Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself while trusting that you completely belong to Him. Recognize that seeking professional help and trusting God can go hand in hand. And above all, remember that if you are a believer, your standing with God has not changed. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

For “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


About Victoria York

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