Anyone who has battled depression can tell you that relief is a welcome mercy from God.
Yet, as much as the relief is welcomed, it is also sometimes wasted. As a feral cat darting out of a cage, I have often sprinted back into everyday life after seasons of depression. What once was slow and plodding and tempered suddenly switches into a whirlwind disguised as “normalcy.” In my haste to get far removed from the shadows, I neglect to reflect on the lessons learned in the dark.
Who isn’t repelled by the pain of depression? It singes, stings, and swallows. But more than that, deep melancholy threatens to decay our souls when we treat it like a skeleton in the closet. Depression demands to be heard—to have a voice. Ed Welch writes, “There are times when depression is saying something and we must listen.” If we don’t take notice of the dirges despondency sings, we fail to capitalize on an important catalyst for spiritual growth.
Sometimes we’re so busy rejoicing in depression’s absence that we ignore what God was teaching us through it.
The time to prepare for dwelling in the shadows is not when they fall upon us. Depression restricts our ability to ingest even small doses of comfort and courage. Our appetite for faith and fighting and fortitude are meager when despondency settles. Because of this impediment, the time to become a student of our sorrows is when the fog lifts enough to see things clearly.
In short, the best studying of our suffering happens when the lights are on.
It may sound bleak—or even depressing—to closely examine our dark seasons, but there are many redemptive benefits from endeavoring on such a journey. I want to offer you a few recommended reflections for such times as these, that you might condition your sea legs for future sorrowful swells. As Charles Spurgeon once preached, “Storms help to make the sailors sturdy, and trials help to make Christians strong in faith.”
Learning from the Language of Lament
If you’re unfamiliar with the language of lament, now is the time to get acquainted with it. Even if you do not experience a recurrence of your depression, you are sure to experience additional sorrows in this life. The learning of the language of lament will not go wasted. As author Mark Vroegop explains, biblical lament provides “a pathway and a language that allow people not only to deal with the reality of their pain but also to be refocused on the trustworthiness of God.” When we understand lament as a pathway to God’s sustaining grace, we become equipped to respond to life’s sorrows with hope.
An intentional study of lament may appear morbid when we aren’t “feeling” it. Why dwell on such things when sadness has gone, and smiles have resumed? Because it is wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:4). I would suggest that biblical lament is not a natural reflex for the majority of Christians—myself included. If we do not train in this language during times of peace, how can we use it effectively in response to the shell shock of war? Lament is a minor key expression of depression’s gloomy song. Thus, Vroegop continues, “We need to learn to lament and from lament so that we can live with lament.”
Recommended Reading on Lament
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop will equip you with a practical, biblical strategy for learning the language of lament.
Learn to Ask Good Questions During Times of Depression
Take your heart to task by asking good questions. Not all manifestations of depression are the result of bad spiritual fruits. Many times, there are other contributing factors involved. However, there’s never a time someone travels through the experience of depression sinlessly (1 John 1:8). God uses all kinds of afflictions to expose the areas in our spiritual life that aren’t in submission to him—despondency is just another tool to accomplish the work.
Depression is simply another occasion for our heart’s desires and beliefs to become revealed to us. We might conclude one of the many redemptive benefits of suffering is the ferocious toppling of idols within our hearts. God can use despondency to make us shift from shaky grounds to firm foundations, from rocky roads to the Rock of Ages. It’s right to take the time to reflect on the way we responded to our depression, even if it wasn’t caused by sinful behaviors. We should ask ourselves the following four questions:
- Was I grieved because I lost something I loved?
- Did I place my hope in something that could only offer me temporal comfort?
- Did I become bitter because my will was not accomplished?
- Am I living in pride and rejecting God’s grace for my imperfections?
It’s critical to understand this exercise comes with an immense amount of grace. God already knows the quality of our faith. He knows our frame and what we’re made of. Times of suffering and sorrow are not designed to reveal the caliber of our faith to God, but instead to reveal it to us. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial, He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.”
Recommended Reading on Depression
Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch will supply you with thought-provoking, heart-exposing questions.
Get Familiar with the Biblical Accounts of Depression and Sorrow
Expand your familiarity with biblical accounts of depression and sorrow. Don’t make the mistake of thinking the Bible doesn’t address the topic of depression. Don’t make an equally egregious error by thinking fervent faith and sorrow cannot coexist. It’s a great consolation to uncover biblical narratives that depict a wide-array of despondent characters. From death wishes (Numbers 11:11-15) to fits of anger (Jonah 4:3), physical exhaustion (1 Kings 19:4) to mysterious calamity (Job 1:12, Job 2:6), the Bible is full of stories that offer refuge to the sorrowing.
The presence of depression in the Christian’s life is not abnormal. The people of God have struggled with melancholy emotions, fears, and laments for generations. It’s most assuring, however, to recognize that Jesus himself was overwhelmed with sorrow—to the point of death—in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38). The Man of Sorrows is acquainted with grief and therefore is full of sympathy for his fellow weary ones (Isaiah 53:3, Hebrews 4:15).
Even with relatable stories to discover, the most worship-inspiring observations we can make in the biblical narratives is to examine how God responded to his despondent children. Watch his masterful care and tender mercies! Note his patience and his provision! He wasn’t surprised when darkness befell his chosen people—he knew just the right words to say and actions to take. God was faithful to counsel and comfort his children with appropriate measures of grace. The Lord’s expert handling of cases of sorrow encourages us to remember that his methods have not changed—he remains the same skilled Physician, the same caring Father even today.
Recommended Reading on Sorrow and Depression
Unpack some of the biblical narratives on sorrow and depression with a trusted, fellow traveler by reading Silent Shades of Sorrow: Healing for the Wounded by Charles Spurgeon.
Depression obstructs our view of reality. Just as we don’t pack an emergency kit in the midst of peril, we can’t expect to respond in faith to the next round of life’s sorrows if we pay no mind to advanced preparations. God-honoring reflexes to trials are trained in the light and tested in the dark. In order to utilize our recovery as an opportunity for training in righteousness, we must exercise intentionality. Depression invites us to take a long listen to its voice for the purposes of healing what’s tender and realigning what’s askew. In doing so, we demonstrate a keen sensitivity to the role of faith in Christian endurance, not allowing our woes to be wasted when there’s wisdom to be gleaned from the dark.