“The Scriptures do grant clearly by their teaching that it is possible for a Christian to be depressed.”
– Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures
I was eleven years old the first time I tried to kill myself. I had spent an hour or two meticulously building a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption by which I could push a lever or such and a considerable weight would descend on my chest. (It would seem my conception of mortality and engineering were both derived from Wile E. Coyote.) I remember lying on the floor, looking up at the ceiling and crying, letting the seconds tick away on what was left of my life. Whenever I think back to it, I always try to find a way to articulate what I was so depressed about that – as a fourth-grader – I would be so determined to end my life.
Even as someone who has struggled with depression, I still need to remind myself that depression has no need for a cause.
But fate intervened. I had my radio in hopes of keeping curious ears from investigating my, erm, construction project. I can’t say how long I was lying there, waiting to extend my arm and crush my chest, but eventually Alanis Morisette’s “Hand in My Pocket” started playing.
But what it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine
Cuz I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one’s giving the peace sign
Still sobbing, but now for a different reason, I crawled up off the floor and started unmaking the machine.
Why am I telling you this? I have several good reasons. First of all, I think it’s important for people who are depressed (or have been) to open up and share their stories. Our struggles may be unique and personal, yes, but we are far from alone in having them: we may take different paths to come through, but we all spend some time in a forest of melancholy. If someone might feel encouraged – or feel like I might be someone who can sympathize with them – and as a result seek a friendly ear or professional help, awesome. A second reason is to throw off any lingering shame I have for feeling that way. I have had bouts of depression since then, but I am no longer ashamed when I feel it coming on. I have a better understanding of what triggers that state, and I’m more willing to seek out help when I need it.
But the real reason is this. My last post was about contentment: feeling complete and joyful no matter what life has to offer at the moment. In the discussions I’ve had with friends since posting that, one question keeps popping up: how can we be content while grieving? An ancillary question is, is it possible to have joy while being depressed?
It is hard to see how it could be possible. Depression is characterized by a lack of joy, a lack of will, of energy, and drive, and desire. (Let’s set aside for a moment the neurochemical end of the discussion.) Because of this fact, many Christians stigmatize the depressed – or the anxious, or the obsessive-compulsive. “If you would just pray more,” they’ll say, or, “You must have some unconfessed sin your life.” But I like what C.S. Lewis has to say on the issue: “Some people feel guilty about their anxieties [insert “depression”] and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ.”
It’s been my own experience that contentment is to the heart as nutritious eating is to the body: it is one of the best ways to stay healthy and stave off illness. And I’ve found to my own benefit that making a conscious decision to see positives rather than dwelling on negatives has helped keep my depression at bay. But none of that tells us anything at all about how to be joyful while afflicted. (If you have any insight of your own, I encourage – nay, plead with you – to leave it in the comments.) Until we get a good answer for that, all I can do is offer the wisdom of Paul.
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
Lord, may my weakness multiple my faith, and demonstrate with total clarity that any strength in me is not my own but the power of Christ working in me. We know You have the power to remove thorns, and we know that by Your wisdom, grace, and discretion You may leave them in place. Help my own struggle prevent my heart from dispensing judgment on anyone dealing with their own. Amen.