Monday, September 05, 2005

Depression - The Way Out

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Let's talk about what Depression is not. Depression is not just a state of being extremely sad because you have something to be extremely sad about. Being sad because someone in your life has died is not necessarily depression. It may be grief, and that's normal. Being sad because you lost your job or are getting a divorce or have experienced other losses is not depression. It's grief, and it's normal. It becomes depression if it continues on for a long period of time and has other, life-affecting symptoms that go along with it. (We get to that in a moment.)
(Concerning depression medication, please read my post on this topic called Depression - Medication.)
Science is fairly clear that there are two kinds of depression: familial (possibly chemical) and conditional. There are people who were born with what seems like a genetic predisposition to be more depressed than others. They can usually see depression and other kinds of mental illness in their family tree, and their state of mental health is all-too-familiar to them. People like this tend to be somewhat more negative in general, and are affected more quickly and more deeply by life's difficult moments than people who do not have this predisposition. (Please understand, however, that this is not an irrevocable condition. If this applies to you, you have not been sentenced to a life of depression. There are things you can do, and we will address those here.) There are also those who are more balanced by nature, and if they are depressed, it is because of their circumstances and how they have processed those circumstances internally.
Both types of depression feel the same to the depressed person. You may be sad a great deal, but you may not be, too, so don't let that fool you. (Go here for the diagnostic criteria for "Major Depressive Episodes.") Often, depression looks like you just don't care any more. The things that used to be fun aren't fun any more. You may have experienced a significant weight loss or gain, and your eating patterns may have shifted dramatically. You may have experienced a significant loss of energy, and your sleep patterns may have changed dramatically. You may have trouble concentrating and you may feel overwhelmed with worthlessness and inappropriate guilt. You may even be having unusual thoughts about death and dying, and may actually be thinking the world or your family would be better off without you. You'd probably not have all of these symptoms, but you'll have several. If you have most of them, you have a very serious depression, and you need professional help immediately. Search for licensed Christian Therapists in your area, and get help. The American Association of Christian Counselors web site has a "Find a Counselor" link that might help, and New Life Ministries has a "Christian Counselors" link, as well.
IMPORTANT: If you have imminent thoughts of suicide, especially if you are thinking about how you might go about it, you must get help immediately! These thoughts spiral downward quickly, so don't delay. If you can't get in touch with a professional immediately, then go to the emergency room in your local hospital. They will assess your level of safely and help you get stabilized until you can see someone for more longer-term help.
If you believe you are one of those who might be depressed by nature, then understand first and foremost, that your depression may be biological, but far more important than that is that your depression represents a range of emotions that are still affected by your environment. When things are going well for you, your experience of depression is far less than when they are going badly. You may go into a deeper depression than someone not predisposed, and you may go into it more quickly and with less provocation, but it is still a range. How you experience your depression still has a great deal to do with how you process your life experiences.
So as I address this issue, understand that I am addressing both types of depression. When I use the term "depression," I am talking about the combination of those symptoms as listed above that have caused a life-changing reaction as a result of how you process your circumstances. It's the processing that we will be addressing here.
I entitled this post "The Way Out." That was an intentional play on words, because, as is always the case, Jesus is The Way Out.
Ok, that's a nice thought, but how on earth can it be that simple?
Depression is all about meaning. The meaning you give your history, and the meaning you give your life.
The processing that I was talking about is essentially the meaning you've given to your life experiences. For instance, if a child is harshly disciplined out of anger and without love to the point of it being abusive, then very often, that child will justify their parents actions by saying to themselves, "My dad is a strong and protective dad." You have to believe that as a child, otherwise you're very life is at risk, and that's way too big. "My dad loves me." Again, you have to and will believe that because as a child, you are wired to attach to your parents - or to someone - and to not do that is not an option for you. So you attach - regardless of how that person treats you. "My dad is a strong, protective, loving father." That's the only choice you have as a child.
So how do you explain to yourself that you're being beaten mercilessly on a regular basis? You say "It's my fault. I'm a bad person. I'm a bad child. I deserve to be beaten, otherwise, my strong, loving, protective father wouldn't do it."
So the message is planted. The meaning is given. The heart speaks. I'm a bad person. I deserve to be treated badly. I'm unworthy. If my own father thought I deserved to be treated this way, then how can I expect anyone else to treat me any better. I have no value. My life has no value. And depression is the only option. You can apply this same thought-process to any circumstance that did not lift you up and help you see yourself as God sees you.
So how do you undo the depression? You undo the meaning. Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life..." I will show you how.
The word JOY is an acronym. It stands for Jesus-Others-You. If you want the joy that God has in store for you, then you must put Jesus first in your life. Focus on Him.
Colossians 1:1-4 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
The Greek words "keep seeking" implies an on-going, repetitive action. Keep on keeping on seeking and seeking and seeking. Get into the Word on a daily (or more!) basis. Get into a good Bible-believing church. Involve yourself in classes and Sunday School. Focus focus focus on Jesus.
Ok, then. So I go to Bible studies. So what? I'm miserable! I could memorize the entire New Testament, but how is that going to help me with my depression? What am I supposed to learn?
1 John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
Beloved, you are a child of the living King of the Universe. You're a Prince or Princess. What are you supposed to learn? That.
God values you above all things.
Matthew 10:29-31 "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
If you were the only person on the face of the planet 2,000 years ago, He'd have died for you. Let that wash over you. Let it sink into the marrow of your bones. Read it again. Close your eyes and meditate on it. Pray about it. Stop right now and pray.
Even if you don't believe it, or it seems to have no meaning to you beyond the words on a page, pray anyway. Do it until the fog passes away. Repeat it to yourself. "I'm a Prince/Princess of the God of the Universe. He loves me. In His eyes, I'm worthy. I'm valuable. He died for me. He died for me!
Romans 5:7-8 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
For you. When you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Unworthy? Hardly. Value-less? Not on your life. The people who planted that message are just flawed, fallen sinners like you. They don't really know you - not like He does. He died for you, by choice. Would they? When the devil tries to tell you that applies to everybody else, but not you, say "Get behind me, Satan!" Rebuke him and receive the love God has for you, and you alone.
Read the Word of God and learn to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And then remember that you're His child. His beloved. His chosen one. What more value do you need? (To further emphasize this concept, you might want to read the post on Self-esteem.)
But if God loves me so much, why did these things happen to me and why do I feel this way? All suffering has purpose aned meaning. Your suffering was horrible and tragic, but it wasn't without meaning. To understand this, please reflect on the flagship verse at the top of this post. Understand that God cries with us in our hard times, but there's purpose in it. He wants us to grow so we might better serve Him. If this is still a difficult concept for you, please read the post on Why Does God Allow Evil and Suffering?)
Ok. Put the focus on Jesus. Read the Word. My suffering had meaning. Go to Church and Bible study. Got it. I feel better, but I wouldn't say I'm "joy-filled." Am I doing something wrong?
No. That's only step one. There's a step two.
Please take a moment and read "The Parable of the Five Talents".
...enter into the joy... ...enter into the joy... Read that again and again until the word "JOY" becomes real to you. Jesus is telling you exactly how to enter into that JOY. The first step is Jesus. We've just been over that. The second step is "Others." This parable tells you how to put the focus on others, now that you have your focus on Him.
Each of us has a Spiritual Gift - a "talent" - that God wants us to use in His service and for the ministry of the body. Even you. Please stop now and read 1 Peter 4:10, Acts 2:38, 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 7:7. Don't skip these readings. They're critical to your recovery.
Convinced yet? Every single one of us who has the Holy Spirit in us has at least one gift from God. That means you. You may have 10 talents, you may have five, and you may only have one. But Jesus expects you to use it in His service, however many or few He gave you. Your gifts are not about you, remember. They're about Him, and they're about others.
What is your Spiritual Gift? What "talent" has God given you - big or small - that He wants you to use to increase and serve His Kingdom?
If you don't know, talk to your Pastor about it. Tell him you'd like to do a study on that to find out how God wants you to serve the body of Christ on Earth. There are great books and websites, too, that could help you. Avail yourself of them, and learn who you are in the body of Christ.
Enter into the life Jesus has bestowed upon you through the power of your gift from Him, and He promises you will enter into His JOY! No more depression. No more purposelessness. Nothing but value imputed to you by Him as you serve Him according to His will in your life and with the gift He gave you. There is no greater joy than that. Swim in it.
The trick is this: Fall madly in love with Jesus and then serve Him according to His will.
JOY. Jesus first through His Word, then Others through the exercise of the Spiritual Gift He's given you through His Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, will You enter into the real joy and freedom from depression He has promised you. That's a promise from God, and He's good for it. Trust Him.
God Bless you all as you escape the condemnation of the enemy and enter into the Joy of Christ.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


I feel a need to post my horror at the tragedy we're dealing with as a nation in the south. On a personal note, I have much family in the direct line of fire, so this has affected me in a terribly personal way. Three of my family members' homes are completely gone, along with most of their personal possessions, and two others had major damage to theirs'. But that's the good news. In addition to that, we have three family members, ages 6, 8, and 15, along with their mother and half-brother, missing in New Orleans. I share this with my readers because I consider you friends and brothers and sisters in Christ. I am asking for prayer that my family members, as well as everyone in that area, can put their lives back together again, and especially that the ones lost in New Orleans are found safe. God bless you all.