“And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory…God only ordains his child’s deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal. Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.” (full article here)
This article was posted right before Easter last year, and it made a powerful impression on me. I had never thought of the story of Lazarus’ resurrection in this light before, and the parallels that the writer drew between that Bible passage and our own dark nights of the soul really touched me. To read that God never wastes any of my suffering, and in fact makes me wait in pain only because He loves me, was a necessary and precious reminder. I highly recommend reading the whole article.
I have struggled with depression-anxiety, in differing levels of intensity, for nearly four years now. When my struggle began, it was a terrifying and confusing experience to know that something was very wrong and yet not know what that something was or how to even begin dealing with it. As time has passed, God has been very gracious to provide more clarity and progress through medicine, counselors, community, and His Word. I am in a FAR healthier place these days, but I still take 60mg of an antidepressant every day and I’m still healing. The process is slow and there is no guaranteed end date (that is, until heaven :).
In this process I have learned more than I ever could have imagined learning about myself, the body of Christ, and God’s character toward me. Now I know what it looks like for me to experience depression-anxiety, how it affects all different aspects of my self and my life, and what “triggers” I need to avoid to not worsen my condition. I know now that my depression-anxiety is linked in part to my thyroid disorder, my family’s genetic history, and certain predispositions in my personality. But I am still learning and healing, and as part of that process, I want to share these thoughts with the hope that they help any of you who may have similar needs.
1. Get Help
For a Type A perfectionist like me, it is hard to accept that I’m not self-sufficient and am actually very needy and weak sometimes (or most of the time…). But learning to ask for help from others is healing on so many levels: it is humbling, and so helps to free me from pride; it gives others the opportunity to use their gifts, which blesses both you and them; it allows you to know Jesus in new ways, through the different members of His body. If you are ready to seek and accept help in your depression, anxiety, or any other mood disorder, seek out Christian counselors and/or psychiatrists. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms and discuss the options for medication with him or her. And most of all, share your need with those whom you trust to pray with and for you. Talk with your pastor or another spiritual leader whose wisdom you trust. You will need those loved ones and friends to pray for you in the dark times when you do not have the strength to pray yourself.
2. Give yourself grace
Seeking out medical and spiritual help is so crucial because you will need those people to remind you of truths that will be hard for you to believe yourself. For example, the truth that it is not your fault you feel this way, and so you do not need to feel guilty for your depression; this is a very complex and multi-faceted issue, and a physical one at least as much as a spiritual one. So don’t blame yourself or feel ashamed for a chemical imbalance in your brain as if it were a spiritual or personal failing. Since it is so complex, healing will need to come on all levels: spiritual, mental/emotional, and physical; mostly likely only taking medicine or only going to counseling will not fully help you. God gives us grace in so many different and surprising ways; don’t deny yourself that grace by letting guilt, shame, ignorance, denial, or fear rule you. I did that for much too long!
And you are not alone in this; there are so many people who have gone through the same thing you are going through! All of these truths were very freeing for me; I hope they are for you too, and empower you to give yourself grace. Or rather, allow yourself to accept the grace that is already yours in Jesus! He longs to give you the riches of His grace; will you receive His gift?
3. Understand that not everyone will understand
This was a hard one for me to accept, because I falsely believed that once everyone around me accepted my suffering as real, then it would be legitimate. You cannot put your hope in how others will react to your statement of “I’m depressed” or “I have an anxiety disorder,” or even how they react to your altered behavior or appearance. And you don’t need their approval for legitimate your suffering.
I thank God that He has been so gracious to surround me with a predominantly very accepting and understanding community of friends and family; I can’t even tell you the number of times that I’ve opened up about my depression-anxiety to someone and been met with only the kindest responses of understanding and compassion. I am constantly amazed by how many people identify with my experience; if not personally, then at least with someone they are close to!
But it is still a risk every time you choose to be vulnerable with someone. Not a risk outside of God’s love and sovereignty, but still a risk that they may not understand you at all. They may not see any value in the choices you make, or recognize your reasons for the lifestyle changes you’ve made. It is easy for me to feel hurt and angry toward such people in my life, but God tenderly convicts me of this sin in my heart; He reminds me to be thankful that I don’t need their approval to know what I know about myself and to live the way I know I need to live.
4. Learn (and accept!) your limitations
And that ties into my next tip: accept your limitations. First you will need to learn your “triggers,” those environmental or situational factors that tend to exacerbate your anxiety or deepen your depression. These look different for every individual, and so take the time to talk with counselors, reflect, journal, pray and do whatever else helps you to identify these unhelpful factors. Some of them may be outside of your control, and those will be the ones that you will have to just pray for acceptance and submission to what God sees fit to allow in your life. But others may be things that you can eliminate from or add into your life as ways to help yourself be healthier.
I’ve learned that if I wear myself out physically and relationally/socially, it is a recipe for disaster. As an introvert, I don’t have as much people and relational capacity as some other people do. And because of other parts of my physical make-up, I am not the most energetic person in the world. Learning these things about myself and accepting them as good (because it’s the way God designed me) has been super hard, especially because I’m constantly tempted to compare myself with other women who seem to be healthier, more outgoing, and always “on” in life.
But when I do accept the way I am, I can live more freely; I learn to recognize when my body has had enough, when I need to take myself out of a socially demanding situation and lay down in a quiet, private place to just be. To stop being productive and allow my mind and body to rest. To not drive on the highways and instead take back roads, even if it’s a longer route. I have to build these buffers of rest into my everyday life, and the more demanding my schedule is, the more recovery time I will need. If I ignore this need, I quickly begin a downward spiral into thoughts and feelings of being overwhelmed, helpless, anxious, hopeless, and trapped. Depression is never far away at that point.
I am still trying to learn the balance between rest and work in my life. Because I’m a very driven person, I know I would push myself through a draining and stressful job, simply because I’m addicted to productivity and afraid of failure. I have driven myself multiple times to the point of crashing, the place of panic attacks, suffocating depression and simply not being able to cope with life. I almost dropped out of college at one of those times, and had to quit my nanny job at another. That is not the place God wants us to live in; His heart’s desire is to give us abundant life, and we can experience that even when we’re not perfectly healthy. But it requires our submission and obedience.
5. Wait on God
Ultimately, this is not a self-help situation. And we can only submit and obey by the power that the Holy Spirit gives us. As I’ve already stated and firmly believe, there are many things you can do to help yourself and to accept help from others. But this must all be in the context of knowing and trusting God to be your ultimate and highest Help! It is He who lifts you out of the pit and sets your feet on the rock, putting a new song in your heart; it is He who will ultimately heal your depression.
This is both a great source of comfort and a great test of faith, because it means we cannot save ourselves and so must put our hope in Jesus. We are freed from the guilt and pressure to fix ourselves, but we are also put in a place of helplessness before God’s throne. But praise Him that through Jesus, it is a throne of grace that we approach! And one before which we can fully expect to find help in our time of need. It may be through medicine or counseling or change of circumstances, but in whatever way God sees fit and in His own timing, He will provide for all the needs of each of His children.
And so we have the responsibility to wait on Him for the healing we desperately need, but also the privilege of waiting in hope that our God is a God who knows our pain more intimately than even we do, and is able and willing to care for us better than we could care for ourselves. And hope does not disappoint us, because He has poured out His divine love into our hearts to sustain and comfort us even at our weakest and darkest times.
A word of caution: Do not overwhelm yourself with reading, advice and tools by getting into too many too soon! I also made this mistake 🙂 If you don’t have the concentration or energy yet to invest yourself into resources, that is ok; don’t push yourself. If you do, you’ll only end up more burned out, stressed and burdened by a task that looms too large. Wait until you are ready to take small steps of improvement and bite off small pieces of advice; remember, this is a process, not a quick-fix. So if you feel ready to move in that direction, here are some resources that I have found immensely helpful:
Christians Get Depressed Too, by David Murray
Emotionally Healthy Spiritually, by Peter Scazzero
1000 Gifts, by Ann Voskamp
Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard
The Psalms, especially numbers 13, 22, 42, 56, 71, 88
And obviously countless other Scripture passages 🙂
“5 Things Christians Should Know About Depression and Anxiety”
“Pastor John on Antidepressants, Sleep & Diet”
So many other Desiring God sermons, articles, etc online
“Mental Illness and the Church”
“The Biggest Lessons I’ve Learned from Managing My Anxiety”
TED Talks: “How Should We Talk About Mental Health?”