Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2013 Nancy Virden
To many, “Isn’t depression a spiritual problem?” may seem moot because they do not equate mental or biological conditions with spiritual ones. Others reject the causal brain chemistry theory of mental illnesses for the opposite reason. They believe all mental trials are spiritually based.
Comments from either of these groups do not help those who struggle with depression.
Our existence is three-in-one. Spirit, mind, and body are so interlaced that any illness of any one part affects the rest. Depression is a treatable physical, spiritual, and mental challenge.
Stigma ignores depression’s complexities. In some Christian churches, this can translate into spiritual judgment which actually prevents a hurting person from coming to Christ or to fellowship for support.
6 truths about depression you may not know
(1) Depression is not simple or easy to overcome. It is a multi-faceted health issue. We can compare recovery from depression to long-term physical therapy in that an episode takes time, teamwork, and effort to overcome.
Lynne Canenta*, a therapist with over 25 years of experience told me, “God gives us insight into who he is so we can accept salvation. After that, it is a process. There is not a “zap” and we go from unhealthy thinking to healthy thinking.”
(2) Depression is not inappropriate for discussion. Sharing human struggles takes courage and faith. It sets an example for others to accept their brokenness as part of a normal spiritual walk. People realize they are not alone in their pain when we are open and real.
(3) Depression is not a ploy for attention. Severe emotional struggles may naturally and temporarily turn one’s focus inward because pain washes out everything else. Imagine a woman who just broke her leg. Without pain relief, her thoughts will center on it.
One of the worst experiences for people with depression is when someone ignores or judges them for talking about it.
(4) Depression is not without purpose. Whatever we suffer can result in renewal. For me, gaining fresh insight into matters of forgiveness, guilt, distorted thinking, healthy relationships, and more is an opportunity to step back from what is false.
As weird as it may sound, major depression and its treatment have ultimately been catalysts for my physical and spiritual healing. The Bible is clearer, and the love of God reaches my heart.
(5) Depression is not a spiritual failure. Because depression numbs positive emotions and can slow cognitive abilities, a depressed believer may feel spiritually dead. That does not make it true.
Christ is always faithful. Even as my brain told me I had disappointed God, when his presence or love was no longer felt, it was trust in his promise that held steady. “Though your mother and father forsake you, I will never abandon you.” (Psalm 27:10). My desire to honor him remained even when I did not know how to function. Depression messed with my thinking, not my faith.
(6) Depression is not a sin. A woman asked me, “Depression can be sin sometimes, right?” Feelings are never sinful, they happen. We can learn to manage them.
I think she was troubled by how long it takes for some to return to her version of normal. She implied in our conversation that the absence of joy for too long a period was disobedience to God. Her definition of “too long” is anyone’s guess.
I have on occasion fallen into victim-mode or self-pity, both of which can help feed an already present depression. What matters is the condition of my spiritual heart. If I need to repent of an attitude, I will. If God is teaching me, and I am listening, then my faith in Jesus is alive and growing despite how I feel. No one will ever be perfect.
It is unbelievably hard to change one’s worldview, perhaps especially when trained as a child to see God and relationships in a negative light. Only our Heavenly Father knows how far one has traveled to reach for life. We cannot measure another person’s spiritual health, especially by such superficial means as emotions or illnesses.
Depression by its nature distorts our thinking. Because of this, one’s sense of morality and inhibition may weaken due to the rising, potent need for relief. Are we responsible at that point for our choices? Absolutely! However, the sins of specific behaviors should not be confused with depression itself.
Love is patient
Truth must be taken from God’s Word and not movies or superstitions! According to the Bible, God is near to those who are faint of heart. It is not complicated. God teaches us and draws us closer to himself through pain sometimes. He has put no time limit on our learning.
Let us accept believers of Jesus, who struggle with depression (or any mental illness), as equal participants in God’s grace.
Today’s Helpful Word
Psalm 119: 71, 72
“My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.”
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, go to your nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Help and hope can be yours!
*picture from qualitystockphotos.ocm