Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2015 Nancy Virden
Last year, a list of sins was handed to me. I glanced at it and immediately saw three words, depression, hopelessness, and helplessness. Sure enough, these emotions were listed right along with truly dastardly deeds.
Never mind the questionable necessity to create a list of sins that is supposed to fit every Christian while taking no circumstances into account; including negative emotions was unfair and quite possibly deadly.
A despairing individual who has come to hopelessness and helplessness already doubts his value and whether he has options. A severely depressed church goer is likely in a quagmire of feeling spiritually lost and struggling to be in any social atmosphere. To tell these people (or anyone) that their emotions are wrong is to invalidate legitimate experiences and needs, and to discourage openness.
It was explained to me that the author of that list didn’t mean the kind of depression that is clinical; it is the sort of depression people choose that is proof of a lack of faith, hence sin.
I’ve been there. In all honesty, sometimes sulking seems more fun than getting work done. I have entertained self-pity. Complaining or refusing to get over a past hurt are some of my not-so-great decisions.
“Depression” has multiple definitions. Most people never feel anything worse than the blues. Pity-parties, grudges, and negativity can all play a role in a bad mood day.
There is depression that exceeds choice, and becomes the very existence and reality of one who suffers. It is far deeper than sadness and more overwhelming than grief. It is a whirlpool-like drainage of hope. It is a shroud of dread slowing each movement.
Like darkness in a cave can almost snuff out a light, a cavern of emptiness can swallow up truth despite powerful faith. Maybe the believer’s agonized whispered prayer is, “Help me,” or maybe it is, “God, please take me now.”
This level of depression cannot be described in a way that those who have not experienced it can understand. It can take months to years to overcome and can recur throughout a lifetime.
This is the danger of writing lists of sins- we cannot write about every mitigating circumstance. We cannot know another’s motives. Only God gets to see our honest effort versus apparent lack of faith.
I don’t recall seeing sulking or self-pity on the list – only depression was named a sin. That is a misuse of the word, I hope. I’d like to believe no church would dismiss people who experience the number one commonality between all human suffering.
Unfortunately though, I’ve seen all too many people of faith who are quick to judge and misinterpret symptoms of depression. I was greatly disturbed by that list of sins. If I’d seen it three years earlier, my reaction would have been greater despair, and frankly it would have played a part in my downward spiral toward suicide.
NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.
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