Depression: A Diagnosis, Not An Indictment

Come quickly, Lord, and answer me,
    for my depression deepens.
Don’t turn away from me,
    or I will die.
 Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning,
    for I am trusting you.
Show me where to walk,
    for I give myself to you.

Psalm 147:7-8 (NLT)

“I think you are depressed,” my doctor said. “You need to see a counselor.” “NO!” I wanted to scream. My body stiffened. I felt indignant but managed to keep my cool. A month later, when I saw her about another problem, she again asked me to consider seeing a counselor. I agreed to let her give me a referral. Two weeks later I met with the counselor. She said, “You are depressed.”

I felt embarrassed. That made me feel more depressed. How could I, a counselor, myself, need a counselor? How could I, who in years past was depressed but spent money and time to work through issues, be depressed again? For a week or so, I felt defeated.

Then, I realized that depression is not an indictment. It’s a diagnosis. Depression does not mean I am a criminal. It means I am human. Christians, as well as those of other faiths, and those of no faith can become depressed. Denial of depression deepens it. Acknowledging it is the first step toward recovery.

In Psalm 147 (quoted above), David acknowledged his depression. Then, he called on the Lord for help. Every time I’ve admitted that I’m depressed and prayed for help Jesus has heard my prayer and provided the help I need. In a way, depression can be called a “friend”. Not a friend I want to walk with for very long, but a friend who alerts me to the fact I need help.

Depression is a Friend of Mine

A friend? (I hear you ask.)
I can’t imagine why you want her
Get rid of her—and fast

She will ruin you completely
She will take up all your time,
She will rob you of your energy
And use up your last dime.

I used to think as you do
About my friend, Depression
I was embarrassed by her presence
Until I learned this lesson:

Her purpose is to warn me 
To tell me something’s wrong;
In some way my life’s off balance;
Perhaps I’ve worked too long.

I have overdosed on sugar
With a resulting glucose plunge
Or my hormones are not flowing
Like they were when I was young 

I just might be a couch potato—
Neglecting exercise,
And my windows are all shut
No fresh air can get inside.

So, my body’s lacking sunshine—
Not much serotonin remains.
I may have buried anger,
Covered over guilt or pain

I might have buried anger,
Felt helpless to confront
Persons or situations
That are painful or unjust.

Or I’m hiding painful memories
And rejecting who I am;
So, I deny my giftedness
And feel like a sham.

Because of lies I’ve sheltered
In my subconscious mind,
I try to change direction
But cannot do what I design.

I may have experienced a loss
And not fully processed grief;
In the circumstance I’m facing,
I’m questioning my belief. 

The problem might be simple
But, often, it’s complex.
Depression won’t play God
She can’t tell me what to fix.

When I’m given knowledge
I become responsible,
I must take some steps to change
And overcome that obstacle
Depression is not pleasant;
She’s a friend of confusion
But she certainly won’t leave me
If I ignore her intrusion.

Yet, Depression does respect me
Yes, she is polite;
When I do the needed action
She, eventually, takes flight.

Who and Who Not to Fear

[Jesus said,] “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Luke 12: 4-9 (NIV)

Oh, how easy it is for me to become overconcerned about the opinion of others. To fear human power rather than trust in the security of God’s love for me. Especially if I sense shame or physical danger. As I watch the war in Ukraine progress and see the courage of people there, particularly President Zelensyyy, I’m amazed. I can think of no other person who is so unafraid (as Jesus told his followers to be) of those who kill the body. He demonstrates courage combined with compassion more than most world leaders have done for generations.

Jesus instructed his disciples to not be afraid of humankind; then, he told them who to fear. Maybe it sounds like a double message. How can we both love and fear God? And what does it mean to fear God? We can only fear and love God if we understand his nature. Jesus, God in human form, showed us God’s nature. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as being “full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14)

He clearly demonstrated what it means to fear God (humbling himself and respecting the authority of our Father in heaven) and to love God (keeping his commandments of love in all relationships).

We, humans, tend to emphasize grace or truth to the neglect of the other. Our knowledge of both is incomplete. We make ourselves the authority of truth and judge others according to our standards. By embracing truth without grace, we become proud and legalistic. God, alone, who is all-knowing can define truth with accuracy.

When we de-emphasize truth or define it according to our own desires and focus on grace, we also mess up. This causes us to overlook and downplay the presence of dysfunction (sin) in all of us. In describing the human heart, Jesus said, “From the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander”. It’s because of this that we need grace. God’s desire for us is forgiveness and freedom from sin and Jesus made this possible.

One of the most beautiful descriptions of truth combined with grace is this: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ”. (2 Corinthians 5: 21 NLT)

In the words of that famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”, it was grace that taught my heart to fear [God]. By looking at Jesus’ life, I saw my dysfunction. “And grace my fear relieved”. By looking at Jesus’s death, I saw God’s compassionate grace. My love for him is a response to his love for me.

Lord, you have a panoramic view of every
ocean, valley, and mountain peak.

Yet, you count each hair upon my head and
See the sparrows nest in yonder tree.

Such knowledge I shall never comprehend,
Greater still the mystery of your love for me.

You choose to die upon a cross!
You choose to save a fallen one like me.

Sparrows are such common birds. I prefer more colorful cardinals, goldfinch, and dainty hummingbirds. God does not overlook sparrows. That tells me he cares about common people. Those who go unnoticed. He sees the details of their body, knows the number of hairs on their head. If God values sparrows how much more he values humans like you and me. 

Sparrows fall. So do we do we humans. Sparrows fight with one another for the seeds on my deck. Sadly, we humans do too. In small ways,  like children over the largest piece of candy. In disastrous ways. Like war. How thankful I am for God's provision of grace!

Everything Here is Passing Away

And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
1 John 2:27 (NLT)
We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. Ecclesiastes 5:15

A few years ago, I went back to the farm where I lived as a teenager. The house was gone. The only thing that remained was this dilapidated barn. I cried. Recently, I located on a Google map the house where two of my grandparents lived. My grandmothers’ well-kept lawn was nothing but mud. Broken shades hung on the windows. The house needed painting. Again, I cried.

I felt the truth of the words “this world is fading away”. I can’t imagine what Ukrainians have been feeling, as their cities are destroyed and decimated by bombs, rockets, and missiles. They don’t have the bare necessities of life, food, clothing, water, heat, and shelter.

Yet, their spirits don’t seem broken. Yesterday, ABC Evening News showed a video of a seven-year-old girl in a bunker singing. As I listened to her beautiful voice, I cried.

I wonder how we, the richest nations of the world, would handle ourselves in such a situation. Today, I read an article about the level of anxiety in various countries of the world at this time. It showed that people in rich countries suffer a higher degree of anxiety. As Jesus said, “I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?” Matthew 6:25 (NLT)

If Jesus’ words are true, let’s live like they are.

Everything here is passing away 
We’re around for a very short day.
Let us not plan and let us not boast 
About the great things we think we can do.

Listen to God and do what he says;
Don’t try to look good or try to impress
Our family, friends, and people at work
Like us, they’re dust, their life will soon end.

If we serve God, we’ll get a reward 
He cannot lie; he is true to his word.
His promise is life and unending joy
To those with faith who long for his return.

Let us make sure, as we patiently wait, 
We keep ourselves clean—pure in his sight;
Quickly settle disputes, and seek peace;
For he shall come back—but we don’t know when.

Let’s set our minds on pleasing our Lord;
Let go of things we cannot afford,
Pay all of our bills; get rid of our debts.
Take actions to live a more simple life

Stop all the useless games that we play;
Time is soon gone, don’t throw it away.
For many are lost and live without hope
With all of life’s pain, they futilely cope.

It was for them not only for us
That our Savior died, he went to the cross.
And now it remains for someone to go
Why do we delay? Why are we so slow?

It Won’t Happen Here

Do not boast about tomorrow,
    for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1 (NIV)
The prudent see danger and take refuge,
    but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. Proverbs 27:12

“Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” was a common expression I heard while growing up. It referred to hearing, seeing, and speaking of the best in people. This is certainly commendable, but this phrase can also be used to avoid seeing, hearing, and speaking about that which is dangerous and destructive. In our environment. In others. In ourselves. Denial is costly. Untruthful. Unloving.

How long did it take various countries to come to grips with the reality of Covid? How long did countries of the world fool themselves into thinking Russian troops would never attack Ukraine? How many devastating forest fires, floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis will it take before we accept the reality of climate change?

I find there needs to be a balance in my life. If I look at photos of Ukraine and listen to updates about the war all day long, I feel overwhelmed with grief. I can only pray effectively and think reasonably about this distressing situation if I look away from it from time to time. Out of a heart of compassion, I mourn with those who mourn and pray for them. By looking at Jesus, who exemplified truth and grace, I find peace of mind and do what I can to help in some practical way.

I learned quite early in life how to deny the reality of unpleasant and unacceptable emotions, along with physical limitations. To “burn-out” was an approved practice. This proved to be very costly for me. It resulted in years of depression.

Recently, I’ve been listening to an audio version of An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling. I’m reminded, again, of how important it is to slow down and listen, to live in the reality of my humanity. I am not god. I need God. I need others. They need me. We are interdependent. A tendency to deny these bottom-line truths is a dangerous type of pride. It flows out of unreality and leads to isolation. Isolation increases our denial of reality.

Greatness arises in those who in true humility are simply themselves, nothing more and nothing less, who live in honesty, not pretense. Living in reality gives us the energy and wisdom to do what is truly loving.

We must guard against denial, first of all, in our own hearts.

Jesus, measuring tape so true,
I stand myself next to you.

Here, I’m safe to be alone.
You tell me how much I’ve grown;

Then show me what I cannot see —
The sin that still resides in me;

The habit I still need to break, 
The new one I must create.

By your grace, I succeed, 
Forever, you intercede.

I rejoice in your acceptance.
Your presence is my evidence.

Daily, you give me a song.
You speak and I know I belong.

I’m not satisfied with the norm.
I want you to fully transform

My heart, my mind, and my soul;
I want to be holy and whole.