Kevin’s wife Katie was at her wit’s end. She hadn’t married a depressed man; she wasn’t even sure when the depression started. All she knew was that she felt alone. Katie often wondered if Keven was choosing his depression over her and the kids. It was clear to everyone that Kevin needed help. If Kevin could understand depression better, then maybe he would know where to begin.
“I am Christian, and I’m depressed.” This is a common thing that I hear in my office. Often when Christians are depressed, they feel guilty about their depression, and they feel shame about their circumstances. It’s confusing to be caught in negative thought Cycles and believe in Jesus.
Managing depression begins with understanding what depression is. There is a lot of talk surrounding depression. If you do a word-search for depression, you will get over three million results. I hope that through reading this, depression will be demystified, and not seem so overwhelming.
Depression is learned.
The first thing to understand about depression is that it’s not hereditary. If depression was hereditary the scientists would have discovered a depression gene. Depressive thinking and emotional patterns are taught. We can follow depression through families by looking at the unintentional emotional and thinking patterns that are modeled by the parents and passed down to the kids.
Global thinking is when so many thoughts are running through your head at the same time it is hard to figure out which thought is the most important. This thinking results in feeling completely overwhelmed. This is often accompanied by all-or-nothing thinking. Things are all bad or all good. If any bad exists, then it is all bad. Every perceived problem needs to be fixed all at once or nothing can be fixed.
Adding to this, the focus rests on the possible negative outcomes. If it is going to end up bad, then why try at all? To confirm the negative outcomes the depressed person has a past orientation. This past orientation is what allows the depressed person to continue to recall and ruminate on all perceived past mistakes.
This global past-oriented focus on negative thoughts is what fuels depression. How do we go about changing this?
How to help.
Now that we have identified some of the components of depression, let’s look at what we can do to help.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2, NASB
The encumbrances of depression.
First, we need to realize that there is a narcissistic quality to depression. We placed a lot of importance on our abilities or lack thereof, and relatively little importance on the grace of God. The guilt and shame of depression feel so much bigger than the grace that is offered through Jesus.
The pride behind guilt and shame.
Pride is what hides behind guilt and shame. Think about it, guilt tells you that you shouldn’t have done it. Shame tells you that you’re bad for doing it. If you look at both of these narratives, you will see that when we feel guilty it’s just because we have done something that is not consistent with our character. Looking to Scripture, Galatians 5:19 we find the fruits of the flesh.This tells us that whatever thing we do is completely consistent with our character. How would depression be different if we concluded that the only decisions that we are capable of making are bad? And not only us, but everyone is only capable of making bad decisions. This is consistent with Scripture.
The fruits given to us by Holy Spirit are peace, patience, kindness, love, etc. When we experience these things in ourselves and others it is 100% due to the goodness of God, and not our natural inclination. Therefore, the thin veneers of guilt and shame hide pride, telling us that we should be better than we are.
By understanding that all good things, even the good things inside of us come from our Father in Heaven we can release the false expectations that guilt and shame place on us. We can stop believing the lie that we are capable of doing better, and embrace the truth that we are fallen in nature, redeemed by grace, and God is the one who does the work in us and through us.
The focus of our passions: “fixing our eyes on Jesus.”
Think about where your desires are when you’re depressed. If you’re like many people your answer might be, “I don’t want to be depressed anymore.” Focusing our passions on something other than what we can see with our physical eyes is what we are asked to do. We are being encouraged to focus our passions, our hearts, and our emotions, on Jesus.
When I ask depressed people what their passions are, or where their thoughts are, they have a hard time answering these questions. Their passions seem to have dwindled, and their thoughts are focused on themselves. Ruminating on Jesus and His passions instead of our broken damaged hearts and minds we can move from a place of being stuck and depressed to feeling alive and vibrant.
Through learning how to keep our eyes on Jesus, we began to see a kind and gentle Jesus. Depression keeps us mindful of ourselves. Looking to Jesus with the eyes of our hearts and passions fills our minds with Him.
Who controls the outcomes?
The past orientation of depression is often focused on the desire to control the outcome, thinking (for example) that if we only went to college rather than going to trade school, we would be happier today. Or we might wonder if having children earlier in our lives would have made us happier as we begin to age.
Looking back we think that if he had done things differently, we would be in a happier place today. This is not necessarily the case. Had you done things differently in the past does not mean that you would be any happier today. When you look at the research gathered from Lottery winners, often when those people who are poor and unable to manage money win the lottery, within a short amount of time they are poor again.
Winning the lottery did not change their outcome. So yes, you could have had kids younger, you could have had a different career, you could have bought a different car, you could have married somebody else, etc., but however happy you are today is likely how happy you would be anyway.
If we can’t control the outcomes of our lives, then who does? Digging into the Scriptures we can see that God has created good works for us to do before the foundations of the world. (Ephesians 1) Think about that. The things that you’re meant to do have been set out for you before the foundation of the world! That’s amazing! God in his wisdom has already determined the outcomes for you, and these outcomes are good.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundations of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love, he has predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself according to the kind intention of his will. – Ephesians 1:3-5, NASB
(I stopped at verse five, but keep reading the first chapter of Ephesians – it is so encouraging!)
Getting back to Kevin.
Kevin didn’t learn three more rules for managing depression. Kevin didn’t learn five steps to a more fulfilling life. Kevin learned the beauty of just being the person God created him to be. By setting his eyes on Jesus, his thoughts seemed to be more orderly, because he was able to find a structure under which to organize them. He was able to organize his thoughts because he could focus on the goodness of Jesus, rather than his own failures.
In reading Ephesians Kevin realized that God, before the creation of the world, has lavished His grace on him. Over time, the feelings of depression were replaced with feelings of peace, kindness, and goodness.
Some speculate that it takes 10,000 repetitions and three months to create a new neural pathway. Creating healthy habits takes time. However, investing that time to create those neural pathways is well worth the effort. Spiritual healing takes time.
If you are struggling with depression here are four things you can do.
- Realize that what you’ve done in the past hasn’t helped your depression. Continuing to isolate and ruminate will not help you. This is an opportunity for you to try something new. Stepping out onto your path of healing will involve others.
- Join a Bible study or group. This may feel awkward at first. However, with time you will benefit from the encouragement, social interactions, and support.
- Fill your mind with good things. This is a good time to stay away from network news and social media. Pick up a good book, or listen to positive messages. You may feel like you are missing out on something. However, after time you will realize that it isn’t important for you to hear all the negative news of the day.
- Reach out for professional help. This is a good time to get guidance from a mental health professional. A licensed Christian counselor or therapist can listen to you and help you navigate the difficulties of depression and into a more fulfilling life.
“Praying at Dawn”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hands”, Courtesy of Ricardo Moura, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Chains”, Courtesy of Drazen Nesic, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Cross”, Courtesy of Greg Rosenke, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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