“Nights of watching and days of weeping have been mine,” Charles Spurgeon wrote, “ but I hope the cloud is passing.” These were the words of a Pastor “prostrate with depression,” written in a letter to his congregation in 1871.
Many of us know what it’s like to hope for the cloud of depression to pass. We can resonate with Pastor Spurgeon in this regard, acknowledging that perhaps the most challenging demand of despondency lies in the spiritual task of waiting. We cry to the Lord for relief, and then are made to watch and wait for it. We echo the complaint of the Psalmist: “How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:2)
It’s true, the experience of depression is exhausting—both physically and spiritually. We find ourselves desperately feeling around for a light switch that we may finally land our fingers on a toggle. But alas, there are no quick remedies for instantly illuminating our gloom—no switch to flip, no immediate assuage of our pain.
Is it any wonder then, that our appetite for the things of God becomes meager? Like a patient recovering from soul surgery, we only tolerate ice chips for the rehydration of our spirit. We require the tiniest morsels of daily bread because our bodies cannot take in a full spiritual feast. “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:3)
Yet, while depression is a season where our capabilities may be diminished, there are small sustaining graces to partake in which can carry us along while we wait. Zack Eswine writes, “the sad-ridden and gracious-held in Jesus often testify to us regarding the surprising nourishment given with a few bits of daily bread. Day by day the strength finds them and carries them, though they know not how or when the carrying came.”
In what remains of this article, I would like to offer four simple sustaining graces we can partake of while waiting for seasons of depression to lift:
1.) Sustained by the prayers of others. Asking for prayer from a trusted friend is crucial for those who are suffering from depression. It’s common to feel as though we cannot pray for ourselves beyond the desperate groans of a few little words: Lord, please. Lord, why? Lord, help. Lord, I can’t. Lord, make it stop. Not that more words are required to convey our requests for help—the Spirit intercedes for us regardless (Romans 8:26)—but granting the privilege to someone else lets them shoulder the burden with us (Galatians 6:2). When we cannot pray for ourselves with fervency, asking another to do so on our behalf reminds us that we aren’t traveling the dark in solitude, despite how it might feel. Charles Spurgeon preached, “many weary ones still find that God’s angelic messengers are round about them, so that they should not be left alone in the time of their trial.”
2.) Sustained by beholding creation. It’s tempting to burrow oneself in bed when melancholy strikes. Craving isolation is a common experience for those who suffer—it’s easy to lock ourselves away from the world by remaining indoors with the curtains drawn. However, this reflex is counterproductive. Ecclesiastes 1:17 ESV states, “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.” Spending time outdoors, going on a walk, strolling through a garden center, or sampling some other nature-oriented activity can still offer us the solitude we’d prefer, but in a way that floods our eyes with God’s creation. By taking in beauty and wonder from outside ourselves, we’re given the opportunity to explore, to ponder, to touch and feel and even sometimes taste the world that God spoke into existence with his very breath. Nehemiah 9:6 states that God made all things and gives life to all things. His life-giving power includes reviving life within us, especially when our strength is spent (Psalm 71:20-21).
3.) Sustained by service. Just as we’re tempted to turn inward as homebodies, we’re also enticed to turn inward upon ourselves. All thoughts become consumed about our feelings, our treatments, our relationships, our failures, our futures, our dashed hopes, etc. This inward recoil is often a morbid introspection—a ticker-tape we cannot stop rehearsing. Yet, Isaiah 58 suggests that acting as a conduit of blessing in the service of other people can actually help light break back into our lives and can invite spiritual healing into our hearts (v. 8). We become refreshed as we seek to bless others, even in small ways such as writing an encouraging note, interceding in prayer for another, or helping someone with a chore. These needn’t be gargantuan efforts. By setting our minds on the burdens of others instead of on personal perils outside of our control, we find sustaining grace for our melancholy and restored strength for our weary bones (Isaiah 58:11).
4.) Sustained by hearing God’s Word. Christians who experience depression frequently report a decline in both bible-reading ability and focus. Sometimes, motivation for reading anything takes a temporary nose-dive. Ed Welch encourages, “You must do battle a this point with depression’s tendencies toward passivity.” While it can be very discouraging, there are other ways to ingest small morsels of daily bread when we appetites are waning. One of those ways is to hear the word of God preached, whether through podcasts, sermon recordings, or even faithful Christian music. Romans 10:17 NLT encourages, “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” We cannot combat the doubts and fears depression ushers in without reminders about our new identity in Christ, the free grace available through him, and the comforting promises of God secured by his blood—admonitions which must be derived by the Scriptures.
Of all the sustaining graces to be had in depression, perhaps the grandest of them all is that our faith is a gift entirely earned, kept, and ultimately perfected by our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8, 1 Peter 1:4, Hebrews 12:2). No amount of despair can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). No darkness is too powerful for him to overcome (John 1:5). No believer has too deeply sunk into a pit that they cannot be rescued (Psalm 40:2); no pair of toes too tangled to be plucked from the net (Psalm 24:15). Depression will require we take courage and wait upon the Lord, but there are sustaining graces to be had—and sometimes, even enjoyed—until the joy of salvation becomes restored (Psalm 51:12).
“He does not keep us permanently under trial,” Martyn Lloyd-Jones exhorted. “It is only ‘for a season.’ Do these words come to some downcast, heavy-laden Christian? Does all seem blackness and darkness? Are you not having the liberty you once had in prayer? Have you almost lost the faith you once had?…Do not be downcast, it is only ‘for a season.’ You are in the hands of your loving Father, so trust Him and go on. Keep on and say: ‘I am content only to be in Thy hands.’”