“Depression is a form of suffering that can’t be reduced to one universal cause. This means that family and friends can’t rush in armed with THE answer. Instead, they must be willing to postpone… and take time to know the depressed person and work together with him or her. What we do know is that depression is painful, and, if you have never experienced it, hard to understand.”1 If you have never really experienced depression, please be very careful how you respond to someone suffering with it; although you may have good intentions and give them truth you are likely to end up hurting them more. Be there for them, listen and love them. Regardless of the cause, depression “is a time to answer the deepest and most important questions: Whom will I trust? Whom will I worship?” God is at work in us to change us, but “deep change is rarely a matter of knowledge. It is a matter of repentance.” Depression doesn’t always mean that we have sinned, but we usually sin in the process by turning away from God. As we become aware of this He will not only change us through the depression, He will change us at the deepest level of our heart.
“God is over all things, and nothing happens apart from his knowledge and will. By the time suffering or depression comes to our doorstep, God did it. To believe anything else is to opt for a universe that is random and out of control, without a guiding hand bringing all things to a purposeful and awe-inspiring conclusion.” This of course may lead one to question God’s goodness, but God’s sovereignty and His goodness are not contradictory. The cross demonstrates this. “The truth is that you belong to God and you have a God-given purpose. Furthermore, the cross of Christ reveals that God’s purposes for your life are good.” In Christ we are empowered to resist temptation and sin and turn to God, no matter what. So depression is something you must do battle with and fight – for it will seek to turn your heart away from God. Turning inward feels good and feels safe, but the truth is that it is oppressive – we were not meant to function that way and cannot for very long. We must be willing to look outside ourselves and to persevere even though it’s difficult. Paul writes that we can “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
“If you are willing to be trained by in, expect depression to be a good teacher. That doesn’t mean that you should seek it out… But most people who are willing to be taught by suffering look back and are grateful.” I have found this to be true to my own experience. As difficult as suffering is, I am richer for it. “There are ways that you will know Jesus in your suffering that are unique and profound.” Expect to learn, expect God to use you to minister to someone else who is suffering. But always remember that this affliction is “light and momentary” compared to the glories of Heaven that await us. There is hope, but not just for the future, for right now. God gives enough grace to endure what is before you. Your pain may not disappear, but it can be alleviated as you hold on to hope and believe that Jesus is greater than your experience. “On this side of heaven we walk by faith and don’t have all the answers we would like. But there is reason to believe that you will find certain hopes fulfilled even on this side of paradise.” The question is, where is your hope? Often depression is the result of our hopes having been somewhere else and being disappointed. As hard as it is, we must humble ourselves, turn to God and cry out to Him. We must read Scripture (force-feed if necessary) and seek fellowship. God has a story, and our goal should be to accept it. We tend to make our stories about our pain and suffering rather than about Jesus and His mission. The way out of depression is to look up to God, to look forward to eternity, and to trust that God is bigger than your suffering and has a good purpose for it. Talk to God, voice to Him your struggles and confess the sin that is there. Ask Him for help and for comfort. He will give it! He promises to heal the brokenhearted (Ps. 147:3) and to come through for us. I have two quotes on a bulletin board that I made, they are this: “Hope thou in God” (from Ps. 42) and “He is for me” (from Romans 8). Both of these are great reminders that all of us need at various times in our lives.
Depression makes us sad, makes us lose interest in life. But suffering, no matter how great, cannot rob us of joy. We lose joy when we turn our eyes from God to our suffering. What is joy? “Joy takes our attention off ourselves and places it on God.” Learning to choose gratitude and be thankful in times of sadness is challenging, but again, the way out of depression is looking outside yourself to God. “Thanksgiving is gratitude for a benefit we have received. Joy includes gratitude, but its true delight is in the beauty of God and the deep goodness in all the things that come from him.” Remember that “Joy is not the opposite of suffering” – but it can be present in the midst of it. Be willing to choose gratitude and look for joy.
This really was a valuable book – and greatly needed. Many people struggle with depression, and many others do not understand it and therefore cannot be much help. Ed ends the book with some practical things – things that have helped or have not helped those who were depressed and some specific strategies to try. I hope it will be helpful to someone here!
1 All quotations in this post are taken from this book, but from my kindle edition so I don't have page numbers.