David Murray’s wife Shona had always displayed a bright, energetic, extroverted, type A personality. Her life was full. She was a pastor’s wife and a mother of five who worked part time as a physician while homeschooling her children. She stayed busy, but that’s how she liked it.
So both Shona and her husband were surprised when she found herself crying often, without knowing why. She told her husband she had “lost her Christian joy.” Sadness and despair hung like a cloud over her each day. She couldn’t shake it. And neither she nor her husband knew what to do about it.
Shona’s experience with depression is more common than most people know.
Pastor Tommy Nelson was in a busy season at Denton Bible Church, preparing to film a teaching series through Romans while juggling all the other aspects of ministry and family life. One Sunday afternoon, something snapped. His wife found him sitting in the living room, wide awake but unresponsive. She thought he’d had a stroke.
After a trip to the hospital and subsequent appointments with a series of specialists, Tommy’s doctor told him “you’re depressed.” Tommy thought the diagnosis was absurd. He wasn’t sad about anything. “I never realized,” he said later, “that it’s possible to become depressed doing something you love to do.”
No one is likely surprised that the past six months have taken a toll on our collective mental health. Every one of us is experiencing increased stress and pressure in our lives. We’re disoriented. Life is unstable and unpredictable. There is a lot more for us to worry about than there was this time last year. Some of us have found ourselves regularly wrestling with anxious thoughts or profound discouragement. We’re not sleeping as well. We lack motivation to do anything. We’re experiencing increased conflict in our relationships. Or we’re withdrawing.
Does it surprise you to know that Charles Spurgeon battled with despair and depression? The great British preacher from the 1800’s told his congregation in London “I find myself frequently depressed – perhaps more so than any other person here. I could weep by the hour like a child, and yet I knew not what I wept for. I am the subject of depression so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go to.”
What causes us to become anxious or depressed? One counselor uses the acronym PITS to point to some of the factors that can affect our emotional well being. The first is pressure. When our lives become busier and more stressful, when we are juggling more and more, it’s easy for our patience and endurance to wear thin. Next comes instability. Emotional equilibrium is hard to find when the routines of life are disrupted and we don’t know what to expect next. The third area that is fueling our anxiety and loneliness is technology. Our devices are always on, and as a result, so are we. We face constant stimulation, comparing ourselves with others, worried that we might be falling behind or missing out on something. Finally, our spiritualcondition plays a significant role in our emotional health. What we believe about God, His goodness, His providence and His power will affect how we process the circumstances we face each day.
If you have found yourself wrestling with sadness, anxiety or melancholy more and more in recent days, know this. First, you’re not alone. You’d probably be surprised by how many people you know are also dealing with these issues in secret. Second, you’re human. Part of living in a broken, fallen world is learning how to grapple with the stresses of life. Third, you’re not somehow spiritually defective. Don’t allow yourself to believe the lie that if you had your act together spiritually, you wouldn’t be dealing with these issues. Depression and anxiety are realities that have plagued men and women throughout human history. You’re in the company of people like King David, the prophet Jeremiah and Martin Luther. And so many others whose names you don’t know.
What do you do when the depression and anxiety mount? You address some of the root causes. Maybe you dial back your use of technology. You let people know what you’re feeling. You increase your time in God’s word and in prayer. You make worship a priority even when you don’t feel like it. And you get the professional help you may need from a physician or a counselor who is trained to help you with these issues.
Ed Welch, the author of the book A Stubborn Darkness tells about a 75-year-old man he knows who he says has been depressed his entire life. He asked his friend once “Why do you get up every morning?” And his friend said, “The reason I get up every morning is because I am called to love people. So I look to love somebody every single day.”
“When he told me that,” Ed said “I wanted to take my shoes off and say, ‘I’m on holy ground.’”
Our job when we find ourselves experiencing anxiety and depression is to fight for hope. The familiar verses found in Lamentations 3 give us guidance:
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
In the midst of our sorrow, grief, and despair, Jeremiah says, we must continue to turn to God and hope in Him. His love is steadfast and His faithfulness are great.
A great big thank you to all of you for your generosity! Thanks to you, we have the funds we need to be able to provide school supplies for students at David O’ Dodd Elementary as they start the school year in a few weeks. And we are also able to provide a lunch for teachers. Thank you for helping us bless our neighbors during this hard season!
Why did the crowd in Judea in John 7 think Jesus was demon possessed? Was it what He taught? How He acted? We’ll turn again to John’s gospel this week to see the escalating conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. As always, church begins at 10:00 with the Gospel Zone lesson for kids starting at 9:40.
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!