Two Christian Truths for Fighting Depression

Two Christian Truths for Fighting Depression

A recent survey revealed that U.S. adults are the most unhappy they’ve been in nearly 50 years.

The Great Recession, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Columbine. Of all the distressing events American people have endured over the past five decades, this is the time when happiness is at an all-time low.

And Christians aren’t exempt from this pain.

In your circle, well-meaning friends might underestimate your emotional struggles. “Just pray and read your Bible,” they may say. But what if you do all the “right” things and are still depressed?

My Study On Depression

As someone who has not personally faced the darkness of depression, I spent a good amount of time listening to others who have. What I learned is that depression is more than simply sadness or discouragement; it is a state of constant darkness. It's sometimes as though there are no feelings at all. No motivation, no hope.

What's more, while the church should be the safest location to discuss emotions of sadness and depression, this is not always the case. There is a taboo in some Christian circles where someone who feels depressed feels ashamed to talk about it or even spiritually guilty.

I thought that was odd when placed within a larger framework. If someone you know says, "I have a sore throat," you may tell them to see a doctor. If someone fractures a bone, you would advise them to see an expert.

If someone is depressed, the suggested message at church is just to keep smiling and keep it to yourself.

Still, there are places in Scripture that seem to suggest there is a solution to a downcast soul, and that solution will likely tick some people off. For example,

Proverbs 12:25 - Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a good word cheers it up.

The first section will be familiar. Depression is often caused by anxiety, stress, nervousness, or worry that has acid stripped the human heart. Duh, "anxiety weighs down the heart."

But then Bible then states, "a good word cheers it up." If you are suffering from depression, you may be thinking, "It's not that simple!" That is not the case. A good word?

A good word does not lift me out of my darkness.

But I want to remind you that this is God's Word. God's inspired truth. And if that last part seems a little too basic today, it is my prayer that a good word could provide a little bit of hope, and a good word might bring a little healing through the power of God's Word.

4 Root Causes of Depression

In case you're feeling proud because you don't battle with depression, don't. Depression doesn't discriminate. In other words, if you don't have it, that doesn't make you more spiritual than someone that does.

Depression can hit anybody at any time. It doesn't discriminate.

Let's dial in on a couple of root causes of depression.

  • Biological cause. If you're struggling with depression right now, you may not have done anything wrong. You might have a chemical imbalance in your body or brain that's causing you to feel a certain way. You might have chronic pain that's certainly not your fault, and it's leading you into a state of darkness. You might have a nutritional deficit. You might have hormonal changes. You could have just had a baby and you feel postpartum effects.  You might not be sleeping enough, exercising enough, or getting enough sunlight. There are biological causes of depression.
  • Relational cause. In other words, you might be having a really big problem with one of your kids or your marriage is falling apart or you've got issues with people that you love. How about this one: you went through a global pandemic and had isolation for 18 months and are still struggling to find a real community.
  • Circumstantial cause. The root cause of your depression is you might have lost somebody close to you and you're dealing with feelings of darkness. And you just wish you could talk to them one more time. Or you might have been through some type of trauma. Or financially, you did everything you could to hold it together and you couldn't keep up and you filed bankruptcy. Or it could even be something that appears to be good, like you look forward to retirement and then you retired and you're like, "Now I'm gonna have fun!" But instead you're like, "Who am I now? What's my purpose now?"
  • Spiritual Cause. We have to remember that we do not battle against flesh and blood, but we have very real spiritual battles against the forces of darkness that want to steal, kill, and destroy everything that matters to God (Ephesians 6:12).

A Depressed Man of God

I want to show you a very depressed man in the Old Testament. This guy wasn't just any guy, but was a prophet of God. This was a guy who spoke on behalf of God, and represented God. And yet this man of God, this person of deep and committed faith, was also in a very deep, dark, and desperate place.

We are talking about Jeremiah in Lamentations 3. Let me give you some context to understand his depression. You may remember Solomon's temple, one of the greatest tributes to God in the history of humankind. Before the Babylonians tragically destroyed it in 587 BC, it lasted approximately 400 years.

Well, Jeremiah saw the destruction. He would've witnessed his loved ones being murdered, his close friends being taken captive. He would've watched perhaps family members being deported away as his city, his homeland, the house of God is destroyed, and he saw it and experienced an intense version of darkness.

Just like some of you right now who don’t know what to do next.

Look at the descriptive metaphors. If you've never battled with depression, this is an incredibly accurate description of what someone would feel.

Lam 3:1, "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord's wrath. He has driven me away and made me," this is what he says, "walk in darkness rather than light. He's besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He's made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. He's walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. I've been deprived of peace; I've forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, 'My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord,'" listen to his dark cry. He says, "I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me."

The prophet of God, broken. He momentarily has no hope.

Truth #1

Your emotions are real, but fleeting.

I want to reveal two truths you can hold on to if you’re battling depression.

People often claim in a church culture that it doesn't matter what your feelings are, that you shouldn't believe them. They are fleeting. Unreliable. Always changing. And they are absolutely true.

But they are still valid. When you're hurt, don't know where to turn, or feel like you've done everything and can't get out, I want you to know that your emotions are genuine, valid, and real. And they are a vital element of your recovery. An expert would tell you that one way to heal and change your emotions is to start by acknowledging and naming them.

If you feel hopeless right now, what I want you to do is just say or think, I feel hopeless. What do you feel? Name what you feel. You might say, "I feel angry." "I feel hurt." "I feel ticked off at the world." "I feel betrayed." If you're depressed, you might say, "I feel empty right now," or "I feel numb." “I feel scared.” Name your feelings.

Speaking of being afraid, how does this make you feel? 👇

About 3% to 15% of the population has arachnophobia (scared of spiders).

I want to tell you about  a study that was conducted with tarantulas. In the study, they took people frightened of spiders, put a tarantula in a cage, and exposed participants to the tarantula. They divided participants into four groups and assigned them four separate tasks.

  • The first group was told to label what they were feeling. In other words, "I feel afraid of hairy spiders."
  • The second group was told to make a general, emotionless observation about the spider. Something like, "that spider is big."
  • The third group was told to make an observation completely irrelevant, like "it's Tuesday," or "it looks like it might rain."
  • The fourth group were told not to say anything at all.

After these tasks, they let the participants leave to return a week later. They then exposed them again to a tarantula, this time not in a cage. This time they measured their physiological responses: did they sweat, did their heart rate beat, did they pee in their pants, you know, what did they do?

They discovered out of the four groups, by far the one who labeled their feelings a week previously did exceptionally better. They were less nervous and many of them were actually willing to touch the spider.

What they learned: naming your emotions opens the door to changing your emotions. 

Identify your feelings. You are not more spiritual if you pretend your feelings are irrelevant. They're present. God gave them to you. They are valid. They are, however, not permanent.

When you acknowledge they aren't permanent and identify them, you open the way for God to change it. The key is not to make permanent decisions based on temporary emotions. Not only are we not going to make permanent decisions, but don't make permanent conclusions.

Example of a permanent conclusion: "Well, all men are this. Well, all people are that. Well, all churches are that. Well, all Democrats think that way.

Or you make it personal: "I will always be/feel this way."

Don't make permanent decisions or conclusions based on temporary emotions.

You may feel like life isn't worth living in the worst moments. And your spiritual enemy who wishes to steal, murder, and destroy you may say, "You'd be better off if you weren't here."

That may feel true at the moment.

But I want you to know that it is never, ever, ever true because God understood what he was doing when he created you. He knew you before your mother's womb developed you. He brought you here to know him and gave you good works to complete ahead of time.

Your feelings are valid. They exist. You received them from God. We'll feel them, but they won't dominate us. They are not in charge. Your feelings are real, but they are not permanent.

Truth #2

Faith in God provides hope for the hopeless.

When dealing with depression, it's important to remember that there is a second truth that may provide peace and renewal to your tired heart.

As Christians we must trust God has the ability to bring hope even in our darkest moments. While this may seem abstract, let me spell out some concrete instances of how this truth may be transforming.

Find purpose in the pain

Until you see purpose in your pain, it will remain painful. A brushstroke of your recovery is recognizing your depression as part of a larger story, one that has the potential to shape you into a stronger, more compassionate person. Just as an artist creates a masterpiece from various brushstrokes, your life's canvas can be transformed into a work of art through the interplay of joy and pain.

Trusting in God's purpose for your life, you can draw from your experiences to bring light and hope to others who may be walking a similar path.

“If our live is always easy, it is because we are called to a lesser purpose.” - Rick Joyner

Connect with a supportive community

One of the most remarkable aspects of faith is its ability to bring people together. When you feel like the weight of the world is crushing you, stop listening to a world that tells you to ditch the church and maintain a relationship with God. A faith community is God's method to provide you with the community you are desperately searching after.

Through shared beliefs, prayers, and genuine human connection, in the local church you can find a network of individuals who understand your struggles and are committed to walking alongside you.

“A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community

Draw strength from practice

Practice makes perfect, but perfectionism kills progress. Don't seek perfection, seek progress through practice. That was a lot of words that start with the letter p.

Here's the point: consistently engaging in healthy spiritual habits is you path to freedom. Prayer, meditation, reading God's living word. All of these things disrupt the negative cycle (I talk more about that here), and focus our attention on a higher power. Through these practices, you can cultivate a sense of inner peace and resilience that can sustain you through the ups and downs of depression.

Embrace a source of unconditional love

In times of hopelessness, when you may question your worth or struggle with self-acceptance, turning to a loving and compassionate God can bring healing and restoration. Unlike human relationships that may falter or be influenced by external factors, God's love is constant and unwavering. It is a love that embraces you in your brokenness and reminds you that you are enough, just as you are. This divine love can instill a newfound hope and acceptance within you, allowing you to find peace and strength to face each day with renewed courage.

Remember that believing in God is a very personal and one-of-a-kind journey. What works for one individual may not work for the next. However, by opening your heart to the prospect of divine hope, you may uncover a source of power, purpose, and calm that may illuminate your journey to recovery. Allow faith to be an anchor of hope, leading you over the stormy seas of despair and toward a better future.

Read More In This Series

Breaking the Stigma: How the Church is Addressing Mental Health
Learn about the misconceptions around mental health in the church and why Christians can and do struggle with mental health in this 5-part blog series.
To The Christian With Anxiety
Discover how to overcome anxiety and find peace through prayer and faith. Explore the inspiring story of Jehoshaphat and gain valuable insights for dealing with overwhelming anxiety in this powerful blog post.
11 Weird Things Anxiety Makes You Do
Do you always compare yourself to other people? Do you find it hard to forgive yourself when you do something wrong? Anxiety can make people do many different things, like overthink or avoid social situations. But don’t worry, we’ll take care of you! Check out our list of 11 ways to deal with worry…