About 15 million American adults will experience depression this year. It’s possible you’re experiencing depression right now. It’s likely you’ve dealt with depression in the past or will in the future. And it is almost certain that you know someone who has struggled or is struggling with this mental illness.
Depression is painfully common. And it does not discriminate. Christians are still susceptible to depression, even when walking closely with the Lord.
Desiring God writer Stephen Altrogge explains, “Depression is both a physical and spiritual affliction. Neurons and synapses fail to fire properly, leading to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances cause the depressed person to feel awful, like their entire world is a raw catastrophe hovering over the depths of despair. When everything is a catastrophe, it’s easy for faith to falter and stumble.”
If you are struggling with depression, part of your brain might be telling you that God has not left you in your time of need. But a louder part is screaming that you’re alone, and there is no hope. It is hard to feel God when such a lie feels true.
So what should you do when depression has caused your faith to falter? Altrogge suggests three ways to fight until your faith (the greatest weapon you have against depression) is restored.
1. Distinguish between fact and feeling.
Remember, so much of what your brain will tell you is not true when depressed. You malfunctioning brain is saying that everything is worse than it is in reality.
Says Altrogge, “If you’re depressed, it can be dangerous to evaluate anything in your life. Don’t scrutinize your circumstances or friendships or prospects for marriage. I can assure you that you will misinterpret reality.”
As hard as it will be (and I am not underestimating how much will power it will take), stop worrying about these things. Pray that God will handle your life when it gets too difficult to handle yourself.
“Faith is simply believing that God will do what he said, even when it doesn’t feel like it. I can guarantee that when you’re depressed, it won’t feel like God is faithful. But that feeling simply is not true. Don’t believe it,” Altrogge writes.
2. Find a friend to remind you of the truth.
“During these times, I need someone to tell me the truth. Not in a corrective way or as an exhortation, but simply as an anchor. I need someone to say, ‘Listen, here’s what’s true. I know it doesn’t feel true, but it’s true. Right now, you feel like you are doomed. But God is with you. He loves you and won’t let you go,’” Altrogge says.
But take note of what he says here: Not in a corrective way or as an exhortation. If you are caring for a depressed friend, criticizing their lack of faith or simply insisting that they need to read the Bible more is not what they need right now. Be their anchor, as Altrogge says.
Tell your loved one how loved he or she is by God (and you). Continue to speak this truth to your friend. Perhaps read the Scriptures with your loved one. But mostly, be their constant support in this storm.
To the depressed individual, Altrogge writes, “...one of your greatest temptations is to shut people out. And I get that. It’s really hard to let people into the cage of your life. But you need someone to gently remind you of what’s real; a faithful friend to walk through the valley of depression with you.”
3. Give sunshine to the soul.
Go outside. It almost seems too simple, but it fresh air is an effective mood-lightener, if only temporarily.
Writes Altrogge, “I’ve found that one of the most effective methods for increasing my faith begins with my body. When I exercise or go for a walk or sit in the sunshine, my body feels better. Blood and oxygen pump through my body, refreshing and nurturing it. When I feel better, I think more clearly and see things more accurately.”
Just yesterday, I witnessed the healing power of nature firsthand. I’ve been sick for an extended period of time, and the illness in my physical body is beginning to affect my spirit. I did not want to go on a walk, but my husband gently pressed me to join him, insisting I would feel better if I did. He was right. That hour spent outside was the best I felt all day. Somehow, I left the discomfort behind for that time while I soaked in the beautiful sunshine. My spirits were lifted, and for awhile, my problems did not seem quite so severe.
“If you’re depressed, embrace the sunshine. Go for a walk or a jog. Sit on your porch and feel the warmth on your face. Drink your coffee and watch the sun rise,” Altrogge writes.
“You won’t feel like it. You’ll want to hole up in the darkness of your room or stay in bed. But just twenty minutes in the sun can do wonders for the darkened brain and the sunken soul.”
God did not promise that we would have an easy life. But he did promise that we could not be separated from His love. Yes, even when we are in the midst of darkness and despair.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Crosswalk.com contributing writer Sarah Coleman says that this promise should change the way we live our lives.
“Do you ever feel unloved? Unworthy? Your Heavenly Father never sees you that way. Nothing can ever separate you from the love of God. No feeling. No thoughts. No attitude. No sin. No mistake can separate you from the love of God. You cannot escape His love. It is ever reaching for you.”
Carrie Dedrick is an editor of Crosswalk.com. When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap.
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