Praising God, Even Through Depression
- Mary Southerland Journey Ministry, Inc
- 2021 5 Aug
Since the day I surrendered my life to Christ as a freshman in high school, I have wanted to do two things – please God and live a life of purpose. God has allowed me to do those things, but not in the way I expected Him to. Not through the strengths in my life but the greatest struggle of my life – my battle with clinical depression.
It was the spring of 1995, and something was very wrong. I was empty and exhausted in every way. Dan and I talked and prayed, chalking it up to the non-stop year I had just experienced:
My speaking schedule was out of control; I directed the ladies’ ministry of our church; I taught a weekly and monthly community Bible study; I counseled women in crisis two or three times a week; Because our church was growing so fast, I was often the pianist and soloist for three worship services; My husband was the pastor of this large and fast-growing church which meant I was a pastor’s wife – a title that has an unspoken but very clear job description; We had two young children.
The “S” on my chest was not for Superwoman; it was for Stupid! I did all those good things, trying to prove my worth to God, to myself, and to everyone around me. If I did important things, that meant I was important. Right? I had always been strong, driven to excel in everything with minimal sympathy for weak people. Now I, the strong one, couldn’t get out of bed. If I was dressed by the time our kids got home from school, it was a good day.
The simplest decision - like planning a meal - brought on a panic attack. The significant tasks – like attending church - were out of the question. I was paralyzed. I had fallen into some deep dark pit. I honestly had no idea how I had gotten there, but what was even more frightening was the fact that I didn’t have a clue how to get out! But God did.
My loving Father shut the door, turned off the lights, and said, “That’s enough, child.” For two years, I sat at the bottom of that pit. I stepped out of every responsibility I had in ministry and most of my life roles. And God redefined me, stripping away what was not of Him, replacing it with what was. I was a pastor’s wife, a grounded Christian. But I had never heard even one message or lesson about mental health or how to deal with clinical depression. I thought that could only mean one thing. I was not supposed to struggle with depression.
I began to search for anyone in ministry or the Bible who had battled depression. The results were surprising!
• Job longed for death and questioned why he was even born.
• Elijah sat under a juniper tree and begged God to let him die.
• Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.”
• Martin Luther, a great man of God, wrote the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” from the depths of a deep depression.
• Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers to ever live, often battled depression.
• When nailed to a cross, Jesus cried out to God because He was utterly abandoned and completely alone.
Who can struggle with depression? Anyone can. While it’s wonderful to know that we are not alone, the more important question is how do we get out of that pit?
Be willing to admit we need help.
My pride made it very hard for me to ask for help. I should be the one giving help – not needing it. But emotional health begins at the point of emotional integrity. It’s being willing to admit that we have a problem and need help.
My husband Dan was the pastor of a huge and fast-growing church in South Florida. As weeks of darkness and pain turned into months with no light in sight, Dan and I knew we had a choice to make. We could sweep my journey under the rug. The people who attended Saturday night services would assume I was attending the Sunday morning services. The attending Sunday morning services would assume I was going on Saturday night.
A great plan! But one small problem. Dan and I had decided to always be transparent and real with the people we served. We knew we had to be real to be right. So, we shared what I was going through with our staff first, then with our elders, and finally with our entire church. I was unprepared for the response of our people. It was one of love and grace. The sharing of the crisis lessened its grip on my life, and I soon learned that a shared load is a light load. People stepped in to bring meals, pick up our kids from school, clean my house – you name it, and they did it. “You have laid down your life for us, and it is our turn to lay down ours for you,” they said.
We were created to share our burdens. We were created to need each other. When one member of the body of Christ is in pain, we should all feel that pain. When clinical depression has its grip on our lives, we tend to seek solutions in the wrong places. Places like alcohol, drugs, food, or the wrong people. Let me share some right places to go for help.
Ask God for help.
Psalm 107:28 “In their misery they cried out to the LORD, and he saved them from their troubles.”
In this verse, “cry” literally means “to summon.” In other words, your Father stands, waiting to hear your voice. When you cry out to Him, He comes running – through His Word, through prayer, through His people.
Ask doctors, psychiatrists, and counselors for help.
Proverbs 15:22 “Plans go wrong with too few counselors; many counselors bring success.”
There was a terrible storm. The little girl was frightened and cried out in the darkness for her father. He heard her cry and came running. Scooping her up in his arms, he said, “Honey, you don’t have to be afraid. God loves you and will take care of you.” As the little girl snuggled in her father’s arms, she said, “Daddy, I know God loves me and will take care of me, but right now, I need somebody with skin on.” Some of those people “with skin on” may be doctors, psychiatrists, and counselors. I encourage anyone experiencing depression to do two things immediately. First, see a doctor.
Depression can be rooted in a physical problem that requires medication. It might be a hormone imbalance, a thyroid problem, chronic physical pain, or even a side effect of some medication you are already taking. Don’t miss this important truth! I have heard pastors, church leaders, popular Christian speakers, and authors say that taking medication to deal with depression is wrong. The medication is a crutch. There must be some unconfessed sin in your life, or you are not reading the Bible or praying enough. Medication does not eliminate depression. It simply levels the playing field so you can deal with the issues that landed you in that pit. I continually search my life for some un-confessed sin. I have sifted through my past and dealt with every painful memory God has recalled. I have tried dozens of nutritional “cures.”
Exercise? Do it. It helps - but the darkness never quite goes away.
I have had two sleep studies, been given a lightbox, taken I don’t know how many different anti-depressants, and seen countless psychiatrists and counselors searching for an answer. They don’t seem to have one that I like – you know, the one that takes away the darkness altogether.
I have concluded that my real name is Pauline.
I am nowhere close to the faith level of the apostle Paul, but we do have one thing in common. A pit. I’m not sure what Paul’s personal pit was. It doesn’t matter. When Paul begged God to take away his pain, the answer was a resounding “no.” God then proceeded to use Paul in amazing ways – because of and through the broken places in Paul’s life.
I want to be like Paul. I want to be okay with just being okay some days. We are all broken in some way. We all have pits. And we all need help.
Pursue Christian counseling.
Depression can be caused by so many things. It might be past experiences that we have tried to bury. It might be a great loss or a traumatic event. God gave counselors their gifts because He knew we would need them. I certainly did! I still do!
Ask family and friends for help.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 “So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now.”
If it were not for the help and support of my family and friends, I would not be in ministry today. You may be thinking that you have no one who will help you! I guarantee you that If you cry out to God and honestly seek help, He will bring it.
Depression was part of God’s plan for my life.
Remember how I said I just wanted to do what God asked me to do? I never dreamed He would accomplish His plan for my life through the most broken place in my life – my battle with clinical depression. But I now get to travel all over the world, sharing my story. I’ve written 12 books – one of which is Hope in the Midst of Depression. I am a member of Girlfriends in God and write daily devotions for thousands of women worldwide.
None of this would have happened had I not been broken by my struggle with depression. Literally thousands of people have prayed for me to be delivered from depression. God has simply said, “No!” Why?
Isaiah 45:3 “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”
Our Father has gone before us, and in every dark moment has buried a treasure or stored a secret. The only way to find that treasure or learn the secret is to go through the darkness. There are some things we cannot learn in the light.
Anything that keeps me on my face before God or makes me desperate for Him can be counted as a blessing.
I did not realize just how much God had used my struggle with depression until I re-connected with a young couple Dan and I met over 30 years ago. We were very close friends while Dan was in seminary, but God called us in different directions, and we lost touch. But then I received an invitation to speak in Georgia from Julie, the wife of Rick, our very close friends. Rick was in a major battle with depression, on the verge of leaving ministry. He searched for resources about depression and came across my book, Hope in the Midst of Depression. Julie told me that Rick takes that book with him wherever he goes. In fact, Rick showed me the book. The pages were worn and curled, words highlighted, notes written in the margins. Rick said, “I would not be here today if you had not told your story.”
And that, my friends, is why I encourage you to embrace your pain, knowing God will use it to help others to accomplish His plan in your life – for your good and His glory.
Photo credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Sorajack
Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.