“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” (Matthew 26:36-38)
In our ladies’ Bible study sometime back, we were focusing on Scripture that spoke to our emotional struggles and what God wanted us to do with them. One week, we studied the joy God designed for His children and the issues that rob that joy from us. As I prepared our lesson, I studied the way Jesus handled sorrow. The above verse caught my attention in a new and fresh way. The God of the Universe, the Creator of All Things, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, experienced emotions so powerful and intense that the pressure of His grief made Him feel as if He could just keel over and die right there! He sweat blood! I’ve been stressed and deeply upset, but I’ve never sweat blood!
Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Jesus is our High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness—even our weak, frail, human emotional issues. He sympathizes with us because He understands pressure, grief, sorrow, stress, anger, and all other emotions. Yet in all the emotional drama that surrounded His earthly life, He never sinned.
Despair and depression to the extreme of suicidal feelings isn’t something we like to talk about, but it is something God brings up rather often in His word. While my journey with this shadow has some uniquely personal facets that might not benefit you (or me) in the retelling, I want you to know that our family has been deeply affected by both depression and suicide. So these words are written from experience and with much compassion. Yet, I know that one person’s experience won’t meet everyone at the place they need encouragement. So I am praying for those of you reeling from this inner battle that God’s truth, grace, hope, and love would find their way into the just-right places of your heart.
Depression has been called “the common cold of the mind.” Experiencing depression does not make anyone less of a Christian. Mighty men of the Bible like Moses and Elijah were so grieved in their hearts they asked God to let them die rather than go on living. Even Jesus was called a “man of many sorrows.” So if you have struggled with depression to the point of wishing your life away, you are actually in pretty good company.
God made our hearts with the capacity to feel all our emotions, even the ones we struggle with. God gave us our emotions to act as a barometer. The negative emotions signal important information to us. Depression may be your heart’s way of telling you that you are too stressed out and packing too much activity into your days. Or perhaps your heart is telling you that something needs emotional/spiritual realignment and you need to spend more time with the Lord. Depression can also signal internal physical issues as well. Nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalances do us no favors when it comes to beating depression. Think of your emotions as a signal system. The key is to listen to our hearts without letting them rule our lives. Only the Holy Spirit is truly safe, capable, and right to rule our lives!
The Lord’s plan for you includes great joy. He cares so much about the joy in your heart that He went to the ends of the earth, took the punishment for all your mistakes, and then rose from the dead so that you might experience true joy with Him in heaven forever. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Christ came in order for you to have a full abundant life. "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11). This is God’s plan and will for your life, so don’t think that your struggle with depression doesn’t matter to Him or that it’s His fault. Despair is a mark of the enemy because it steals, kills, and destroys.
Four encouragements from Scripture concerning depression:
1. You are in good company. When I was first searching the Scriptures to get a clearer picture on what God wanted me to do with my depression, I was struck by the people who also struggled. Surprisingly, I wasn’t alone and the men who struggled were heroes of our faith. (Read: Numbers 11 - Moses, 1 Kings 18-19 - Elijah, Job 3, Psalm 13 - David (among other Psalms as well) Jonah 4, Jeremiah 20.)
2. You are not useless. Your life holds profound, eternal value. I noted that their struggles were frequently in the midst of being used powerfully by God. When I feel depressed, my internal dialogue revolves around feelings of uselessness. But Scripturally, it appeared as though depression came when God’s children were actually being used in amazing ways. So listening to my internal rattling was actually putting my thoughts above God’s - and I had to wrestle that part of my heart into obedience of my Lord.
3. Despair speaks doubt into your soul over who God is. Those men of faith who struggled with depression, in that clouded moment, had a foggy view of God as well. My view of God gets clouded too. Recognizing that something is a feeling and not truth is an important part in managing our emotions and growing in our faith.
4. Be watchful over your heart! Certain unresolved emotions can make us easy targets for the enemy of our soul. Sometimes, in an attempt to manage our emotions, we stuff them. Unprocessed emotions can become the devil’s playground. I found New Testament verses that addressed emotional issues that were tied to enemy attack. These emotional issues were present in the accounts of depression of those Old Testament heroes of the faith and they were also frequently present in my own struggle with depression. Issues like anger, jealousy, selfish ambition, unforgiveness, and anxiety can take up residence in our soul and make our struggle with depression much worse. (See Soul Sorting for more.)
Based on those four encouragements from Scripture, I developed four actions to manage my struggle:
1. Take the air out of the big, bad idea that you are such a horrible failure for struggling with depression. Everyone struggles with something and the enemy throws the lie in each of our faces that our struggle is the worst! Your struggle might be great, but it is not so big that it can keep God’s presence, purpose, or promise from your life!
2. Replay the truth of what Scripture says about your life. Depression and suicidal feelings never repeat the truth of God’s Word to us. We might not be able to choose whether or not we are having a difficult day, but we can choose what thoughts we entertain. So print out verses and plaster your world with them. Memorize the Scriptures that speak to your heart need. Play music that reinforces Scriptural truths. (Click here to get a list of Scriptures to remind you of how God sees you.)
3. Choose faith over your fears. While we can choose to not let those negative lies about ourselves have a party in our minds, we need to do the same with our doubts over who God is. It’s a simplified analogy, but you know the sun is still shining even if it is cloudy, and the same principle applies to God’s character. Sometimes in our faith, we are like babies who don’t have object permanence yet. We think that just because we don’t feel God’s love at this moment, He has taken it away. He hasn’t. In those moments, I ask the Lord to grow my faith and endurance so that I would stand strong in His love, even though I can’t feel it (Hebrews 10:36). Pain is a very strong emotion. As I have served in ministry, it has increasingly become something I am aware needs constant prayer covering. Whether we are in pain because of grief, depression, or physical ailments, it fills our receptors so that it’s very hard to experience God. I knew a woman who struggled with debilitating migraines and each time she was bedridden, as she could, she would lift each person in pain up to the Lord. She used it as her reminder to pray for the pain in the church. I have come to try to use my pain the same way.
4. When I am lost in that fog of despair, I take stock of what my system is telling me. I spend some extra time in prayer for wisdom concerning any unprocessed emotions, any physical/mental overload that is exhausting me more than the Lord intends, etc. I take time to do things that are physically healthy for me (go for a walk even when I don’t want to) and emotionally healthy (make time to see/talk with a friend), and spiritually healthy (ask for prayer and soak my heart in God’s word).
I know that none of these reminders or coping mechanisms are an all-consuming solution. Depression and suicidal feelings are rooted in deep, wide pain. Much bigger than a little article can answer. But I am praying this might give you a place to begin studying in Scripture or a new way to view your struggle. You are in my prayers today.
A Prayer for Those Struggling with Suicidal Thoughts
Father in Heaven, please reach down into the hearts of Your people today who are aching under the weight of sadness and despair. Surround them with tangible reminders of Your presence, love, and grace. Protect them from the robbing schemes of the enemy. Speak louder into their hearts than their pain, memories, disappointment, failures, and anything else that holds their heart captive to despair. Replace their ashes with Your beautiful hope. Be the Rock under their feet in the miry clay. Lift up Your countenance upon them until there is a new song in their heart. Thank you, Father, that You have caught every tear and that one day You will wipe the tears from our eyes forever. We long for You, Lord. In all of our aching, help us remember that you are the answer for every pain and need. Keep our hearts tucked under the shadow of Your wings until we awake in your presence, made whole by the sight of You.
April Motl is a pastor’s wife and women’s ministry director. She writes for various Salem Web Network venues, Christian magazines, and websites. For more information, resources from April and Eric, freebies, and devotionals, visit www.MotlMinistries.org.
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