Depression, Anxiety and the Love of Christ
Depression is real. It’s not about having a bad day or feeling sorry for oneself. It’s not a matter of bucking-up and digging deep or any other cliché.
Clinical depression is an illness. Writing in Desiring God, Dr. Kathryn Butler, a trauma and critical care surgeon turned writer and homeschooling mom explains it this way: “In major depression … sufferers can’t control their descent into darkness, nor can they wrench themselves from its clutches by sheer will, because the social, spiritual, and practical factors we can easily see interact with changes deep in the brain, hidden from view.”
Brains Get Sick, Too
Yes, the brain. It’s an organ, just like the kidneys or the lungs. And when it malfunctions, when it’s “wiring” shorts-out, there are profound emotional and spiritual effects on the whole person.
It’s all interrelated. Depression cuts a groove, as it were, in the brain. Circumstances, relationships, past and present experiences entwine with the way the brain functions. Together, they can spin a person deeper and deeper down in a well of despair that seems bottomless.
In the same way, anxiety can be about more than just having more faith in God. Chronic, crushing anxiety of the type that keeps you from the normal, healthy activities of life is something else. Anxiety that fosters panic or sheer terror — whether social, professional, or whatever else — is more than a matter of spiritual maturity.
“For seven years I have lived with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety. It has completely changed my life,” says Christian writer Adam Ford. “It is a physiological issue. Having an anxiety disorder is not the same thing as being a worrywart.”
That’s why things get harder for Christians who are told their problem is solely spiritual. If they believed the promises of God, Christ would transform their wounded souls all would be well.
This is like saying faith and prayer are all you need for the cancer eating away your body. In other words, we live in an era in which God has provided medical tools once not available. Our forebears used horses and wagons because they didn’t have cars. Want to go back the time of blacksmiths and bridles? I didn’t think so.
Counsel, the Bible — and, Perhaps, Medicine
Medications for psychiatric and psychological conditions can be a vital tool in helping the sufferer overcome his or her depression or other illness. Not the only tool. Maybe not the principal tool. But a tool, one of the qualified counselor’s weapons in the battle against depressive and anxiety disorders. As Dr. Butler puts it, “When used wisely in severe depression, antidepressants don’t offer an escape from suffering, but rather equip us to contend with it. When used with discernment, these medications can root us in reality, and help us to focus with clarity on our risen Lord.”
“Psychiatric medication has quieted the voices of schizophrenia, abated the storms of bipolar, and relieved the vice-grip of depression,” writes psychologist Dr. Ed Welch of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF). “We confess our neediness, consider relevant biblical teaching, seek the counsel of others, make the hard decisions, learn from what helps, avoid those things that hurt, and know God-with-us. For some of us, a positive decision for medication will be a wise consequence of this process.”
There is no shame in using medication to help with depression or anxiety. Any more than there is in taking medicines to combat any other medical condition. And if anyone makes you feel inferior for taking of the abundance of God’s provision, pray for him or her and move on.
In other words, Scripture, compassion, encouragement and grace combined with exhortation and truth, and, when it’s needed, medicine, can be means by which the kind transformation of a living Savior can take hold of the person grasped tight by depression or anxiety.
Jesus, Depression, and Anxiety
Jesus promised His followers His eternal, comforting presence. He knows loss and sadness. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” Isaiah 53:3. He is a high priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses.” That’s why the writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
And Jesus was also a man who promised life abundant to His disciples (John 10:10). Just before his crucifixion, he said to the Twelve, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Sorrow and joy, grief and life: He knows what you’re enduring, and offers hope. As Billy Graham used to say, the Gospel is “always good news.” Cling to that as, through counseling, his Word, prayer, true friendship and fellowship, and perhaps medicine, you walk through your valley.
“I am with you always,” Jesus said, “even to the end of the ages” (Matthew 28:20).