I have been struggling with emailing you because I know you probably get a million emails a day and I didn't want to burden you with my question, but then I thought about all the people who went to Jesus and didn't worry about burdening him, and he listened to them. I have been struggling with severe depression and anxiety for about a year now. I have been a disciple for five years and I don't understand why this is happening to me. I sometimes don't want to get out of bed, but I have three sons who need me, so I do. I have attempted suicide twice and was spared by God both times. Should a disciple of Jesus struggle with depression? Are depression, bi-polar disorder, etc even real? I thought that only people suffering in the world struggled with this sort of thing, and we as disciples were supposed to go out and find them, pulling them out of the darkness into the light. But I can't even share my faith as I really don't feel I have any to share. Please share some of your knowledge in this area. I desperately need something solid to grasp, I don't even know what to believe anymore. -- Kelly
I appreciate your openness, Kelly. Certainly depression is not always the result of sin or self-focus, nor is anxiety necessarily sinful. Yes, Jesus told us not to worry, as did Paul, David, and other biblical figures. But sometimes anxiety is triggered by external (or internal) stimuli. Psychological illness is real--whatever its cause.
The Lord wants us all to be sound--sound in mind and sound in body. Health has multiple dimensions. And yet all of us are, to some extent, both mentally and physically challenged; we are all learning to overcome our past and grow into the mature well-rounded character of Christ. And one day, John promises us in 1 John 3, we will indeed be like him.
What should be done? You ask whether a disciple of Christ should struggle with depression. Well, that doesn't sound like Philippians 4, does it? So how can you get where you need to be? Since I am not a professional counselor, I can only make a few suggestions. They may or may not be helpful in your case. Take them with a grain of salt.
1. Don't stop reading and praying. Staying as close to the Lord as you can is a huge part of recovery.
2. Read the helpful book Rejoice Always, by Michael and Mary Shapiro (available from www.ipibooks.com), if you have not done so already. This deals with the physiological side of psychology and the benefits that in some cases may accrue from medication.
3. Read Some Sat in Darkness, by Mike and Brenda Leatherwood, Declan Joyce and Joanne Randall (available online). This book, which addresses addiction, harmful behavior patterns and breaking them, contains many principles that apply to us all.
4. Be careful who you get counsel from. The Proverbs tell us to seek counsel, but be sure to seek the right sort of counsel from the right sorts of people. Having the Holy Spirit in your heart does not automatically make you a "wonderful counselor."
5. Consider professional help, though it's good to choose your counselor wisely. Christians go to physicians for routine medical needs; why not receive help from those who can help us with issues of psychological health?
6. Keep getting out of bed in the morning! Yes, your children are a good motivation for getting up. Of course, there are other motivations as well, and hopefully as you grow stronger these will come into play more and more.
7. Be authentic. Of course you can't share something you don't have. But there are other people out there with similar struggles--more than you might even imagine. Relating to others, and pointing them in the right direction, is something all of us can do, regardless of our joy level or emotional self-control. So keep sharing your faith, but be honest about where you are personally.
8. Stay connected. Don't skip church meetings just because you feel sad. That would be like skipping meals, thinking "I feel too tired from lack of food to make myself eat." Decide to build constructive, not destructive patterns of behavior.
9. Aim to stand on your own two feet. This is the balancing truth to number 8. Like all of us, you need people in your life, but ought not to become overly dependent on them. This will increasingly be the case as you get stronger spiritually.
10. Believe in your heart that God loves you. He is that "something solid to grasp." God is described in scripture as a rock, an anchor, and a fortress. Christ is described as our hope, our sustenance, and our foundation. The word of God is unchanging, trustworthy, tested and true--definitely something you can hang on to. In other words, many of the answers are closer than you might think; you already know them.
For more, please view the 14 hour DVD set on Counseling & Psychology, in the Take AIM! series here.
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