You never really forget the way the carpet smells. Down there, face down, trying desperately to figure out what it is that would make life bearable—that’s the place depression puts you. The stale woven fibers offer the only tangible connection to the outside world. Everything else flows inward into a chest-constricting darkness, and you have no idea how to claw out.
But even that doesn’t show what it’s really like.
Describing depression to someone who doesn’t suffer the impact is almost impossible. Sure, you can offer images and comparisons, but nothing quite captures the way it grips a person and just won’t let go. Sometimes, when I try to explain it to Christians, I like to point to a familiar passage in the Bible:
He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:41–44)
What? Jesus? The perfect, sinless Son of God? Depression? In a recent article on Pastors.com, Scott Attebery thinks we shouldn’t be so surprised by this idea:
“Perhaps it is because we have the false notion that depression is either 1) a sin or a 2) sign of weakness. But neither is the case.
“In fact, depression is not something a person chooses. Rather it is something a person must choose how to deal with. The real issue is not whether a person experiences depression, but instead, how the person reacts to depression.
“For this reason I am of the opinion that Christ did indeed battle depression. And more importantly, He battled it perfectly. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ ”
You see, depression has a bad reputation. Whether we mean to or not, we Christians sometimes lump it into the category with doubt and lack of faith—or worse. We tend to treat it as something that a person can just “shake off” if they really wanted to. But many believers have suffered the pangs of depression, including such luminaries as Charles Spurgeon and William Cowper.
Our Savior is fully God, but He is also fully human. Once we remove the stigma from depressive episodes, imagining that this “man of sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3) experienced his own battle isn’t so hard to believe. And, in fact, knowing that Jesus understands the shadow of depression is a powerful aid to those of us who suffer. He knows what we face. He’s felt the crushing weight of it all. Talk about hope.
If you know someone who suffers, Attebery has some excellent suggestions to help them in their struggles:
1.You have an opportunity to minister the patient, merciful love of Christ to them.
2. Be patient and listen to them.
3. Encourage them to seek biblical counseling. (A good biblical counselor will encourage them to also consult a physician to determine if there is a need for medicine).
4. Continue pointing them to dependency on Christ.
5. Pray for them—and don’t give up!
A recent article on Crosswalk also provided some guidance for those who face depression. Counselor Margaret Ashmore says that it can feel like it’s impossible to escape sometimes—but we can:
“Depression can be so weighty that it has its own gravitational pull, and one that has found me more than once dead center on the couch watching some mind-numbing television show. (Interesting isn’t it that the word a-muse means to ‘not think’?)
“The choice of just getting up and sweeping the floor or writing a note to someone has always propelled me from its grip with escape velocity born from the spark of sheer obedience. The maximum weight of a Boeing 747 is approximately 900,000 pounds, yet ‘thrust and lift’ can take it above the very clouds that had shrouded the sun.”
I’d love to hear your take. Do you think Jesus may have suffered from depression during His time on earth? How about other people in the Bible? If you suffer, what would you say to other Christians to help them understand?