I have collected many thoughts on the topic of Depression and Christianity because I, a Christian, have suffered for many years with depression.
“Aren’t Christians supposed to be joyful always?”
“Shouldn’t I be immune to depression?”
“Am I still a Christian?”
While I don’t have miracle, one-size-fits-all answers to these questions, I do have a few things to say about them.
Looking back, my depression has usually stemmed from thinking errors. Something in my daily life provokes me and I start to believe something that isn’t true (the definition of a thinking error) about myself or God or some other such thing. As luck would have it, these thinking errors rarely cause me to think I would make a great empress of the universe, and usually create negative feelings in me instead and sends me sprinting to try to rid myself of the bad feelings.
Most of the time, the end result is sleepless nights.
Many nights, it takes me up to an hour of just lying in bed to fall asleep. Fast forward a few hours: I’m awake again and don’t get another wink of sleep for the rest of the night. If I can resolve the thinking error, and my mind go back to a more normal and rational state, I can sleep again. If not, I can be plagued by weeks sans sleep and it affects every other aspect of my life.
Perhaps this is my thorn (2 Corinthians 12:9), though, if it is, I’m still waiting for that sneak peak into heaven. These bouts with depression and insomnia seem to be having the same effect on me as Paul’s thorn had on him: the only thing that seems to help me is God and His word.
Perhaps this is what drives me to Him. I used to ask God, why? When I was at my lowest, I didn’t understand why God would even have me here. I cause too much pain to others, why bother? Or if I can’t even live as a Christian because of this, why not just take me now while I’m faithful?
“Why do you have me here?”
“Why am I down?”
“Why…. why… why?”
I was like a toddler following an older sibling around; I couldn’t stop asking.
Not long after I got into a serious car accident. We were t-boned at 70 mph by a truck the size of a F-150. The hospital called us the miracle car because all we suffered were scrapes.
I stopped asking why that night.
If God didn’t want me here, he could have easily taken me that day. But he didn’t. So perhaps I’m supposed to get on the other side of these struggles so God can use it for his glory. (Romans 8:28)
I have my story and others have their own. In CPH, we have roughly a quarter of our congregation suffering from mild to serious depression and stress. They keep going but it seems difficult just to do the minimum. So in this spiritual battle (which I truly believe it is), I have found some things that have helped me.
What has helped me?
I have had professional counseling and taken anti-depressents. I am a firm believer that some people have chemical imbalances and need medicine. But I do think it needs to be monitored and in combination with counseling. Counseling really helped me to have the tools I need to deal with depression. So even though I can still struggle with it, I no longer need medication and have the tools to cope. My greatest coping mechanism is almost always a LONG solid quiet time. A lot of times, the thoughts I have going through my head aren’t truth, but they can be so strong and so real that they are easy to believe. I usually have to work backwards in my mind to sort out my thoughts and answer the following questions:
“What am I feeling?”
“What did I think to make me feel this way?”
“When is the first time I have thought this?”
(An example of this process is here: http://media.psychologytools.org/Worksheets/English/Belief_Driven_Formulation.pdf)
If I can pinpoint the thinking error, then I can replace it with the truth: God’s word. It does take meditation, prayer, reminders from others to drill the truth into my head sometimes. Many mornings I wake up hating my life and everything I need to do. But a long quiet time usually helps to correct my thinking and go in God’s strength.
What keeps me going?
While learning to cope with depression, I have held to two (self-made) convictions that I feel has helped me to test my heart and keep going. When I am down, it is hard to determine what is truth and not let my emotions dictate my actions. So if, for example, I’m down and I don’t want to do anything or go anywhere, I ask myself:
Would I have the energy to go to church (for example) if I know I would receive a great gain? Say for example, there is a silver briefcase with a million dollars waiting under the pew for me. It’s silly, but I ask myself that. If yes, then I force myself to go. And then I try to remember that the kingdom is a great gain… Matthew 13:44-46.
Am I okay enough to go to work/school/mandatory whatever? Then I’m okay enough to go to church. It’s true.
Can I at least get out the door? One thing I tell myself as I’m getting ready to leave the house is: “Just get out the door. Get there. I can always go home early if I continue not to feel good.” This has been extremely helpful for me. I’ve never left early and nine times out of ten, I feel better having been around the other christians.
What depression doesn’t mean:
Putting on a smile and saying, “I’m fine.”
This has been extremely hard for me to not do. It’s actually quite easy for me to show up, smile and pretend I’m fine. But the church isn’t for the healthy, I don’t need to pretend that I am. (Mark 2:17)
Not letting others in.
I think it is okay to set boundaries on what will be most beneficial. When I am down, my husband cannot come and “fix” me (though sometimes he tries, bless his heart). I won’t hear anything he has to say, I’ll probably get defensive and end up causing a fight. I need to be self aware and express what is the need. Most of the time, I need to be left alone to have a quiet time and then I can come back and talk to him. I’m grateful he is patient with me!
I don’t know what the solution will be for our church or the Nordics for that matter. I do know that God is mighty to save and the more who are able to see victory and share their experience, the more God will be glorified.