The fairytale Princess of Wales (Princess Diana)
The symbol of beauty (Brooke Shields)
The master of comedy (Jim Carrey)
The leader of laughs (Drew Carey)
The voice of the Rockies (John Denver)
The literary giant (C.S. Lewis)
Nanny McPhee herself (Emma Thompson)
The Protestant Reformer (Martin Luther)
The master impressionist (Vincent Van Gogh)
The world leader (Winston Churchill)
The football champ (Terry Bradshaw)
How do we deal with what those twelve individuals dealt with and what, perhaps, you deal with, too? Depression.
Perhaps particularly so among those whose Lord invites them to cast all their cares on Him, a stigma attaches itself to the topic of depression.
The man who held the Vince Lombardi trophy in his hands four times experienced this stigma as he dealt with depression. In Terry Bradshaw’s own words:
“Stigma is incredibly powerful,” says the two-time Super Bowl MVP. “We’ll talk about cancer and every other disease, including alcohol and drug abuse, but people do not want to talk about depression. There’s something about depression that seems to say, ‘I’m a tremendous failure’ or ‘I’m the biggest wuss there is’.” (Morgan)Perhaps you experienced some freedom last week as you read my blog in which I contended that you are not alone and not evil for wrestling with doubt. My prayer is that those wrestling with depression will experience that freedom as well.
People experience depression for various reasons. To name a few:
The Academy Award winning actress Emma Thompson said that she blamed herself for her infertility. She experienced multiple failed in vitro fertilization attempts. While she did not fail, she did feel pain.
Forty-seven years ago, another great success came up short as he tried to cash in emotionally on his victory. His name is Buzz – not Lightyear, the friend of Woody; but rather Aldrin, the giant of NASA discovery.
“What now?” I said aloud to myself as I chewed on the tip of the pipe I rarely smoked—the same pipe I had taken with me on my Gemini 12 mission. What’s next? I sat on a chaise lounge out by our family swimming pool, supposedly relaxing on a waning Saturday afternoon in the hot Houston August sunshine of 1969, my eyes scanning the low horizon above the flat land around me, but mostly pondering the speeches I knew I would be making within a few days. What’s left? I wondered. What’s a person do when his or her greatest dreams and challenges have been achieved? I reached over to the small table next to the chaise and reached for my drink, Scotch poured generously over some ice cubes. I sipped the whiskey and swished it around in my mouth, savoring the taste. I let it slide slowly down my throat as I leaned my head back and looked up at the sky. The sun was already beginning to decline on the horizon. I felt much the same way. (Aldrin 59-60)
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had started drinking more. Life seemed to have lost its luster. (Aldrin 80)
Truth be told, secret dethroned, the thrill of success – even if it lasts more than the famed 15 minutes – fades with time.
Disillusionment (particularly “religious” disillusionment):
1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”Sleep – the oft-found companion of depression. Elijah’s fear-based depression robbed him of energy and motivation. If you read on, you would find that it literally took a shove of an angel to get Elijah out of bed. The depression was a physical presence.
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”
1 Kings 19:1-5 (NIV)
C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, experienced grief so deeply upon the death of his wife Joy that he grew so disillusioned (thankfully, not permanently) that he wrote in his grief-recording journey:
Don’t talk to me about the consolations of religion, or I shall suspect that you do not understand. (xv)Many more reasons for depression could be added. Yet, no matter the origin of the depression, it can be overcome.
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’."
Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
All areas of our lives find their meaning and purpose in those words. Depression is no exception. Those same three directives help focus our approach to dealing with depression.
Deal with depression by . . .
(1) Loving God
If you love God, you will be honest with Him. Therefore, when you experience depression, talk to Him about it. Converse with God. Tell Him your joys, your hurts, your doubts – your all.
We call this prayer. Deal with depression by praying.
Whether it is a “just because” card or note or a letter I receive sealed and stamped, if the handwriting belongs to my wife, I can’t wait to read her words. I love her and I enjoy reading her words. Likewise, I love God and I enjoy reading His words.
Deal with depression by reading God’s words, the Bible.
(2) Love Your Neighbor
Stated another way, love community. Loneliness is depression’s friend. Invite your friends to break up that dangerous friendship.
(3) As You Love Yourself
As you deal with depression, you will need to trust God and welcome the help of others. In addition, you must engage your will to live a life worth living and say good-bye to self-hatred.
(a) Taking the outstretched hand
While some may turn their backs, there remain a number (whether many or few) who stand by ready to help. Receive it, welcome it – a listening friend, a well-spoken word of encouragement, a promise of prayer.
(b) Go to the “experts”
Depression is real. Whether it is a passing phase or a full assault, depression hurts. There are men and women who are ready to help by offering professional care when that is necessary. God heals. Sometimes He heals in ways we cannot understand. The lame walk; the blind see. God also heals through men and women trained to help through medical and other professional care. Some people of faith who do not hesitate to drive to the local hospital so a physician can set their broken arm ridicule others who rely on humans rather than God to heal their depression. That is inconsistent and unfair. Too often depression is blamed on a lack of trust in God. It is not that easy, especially for those who love Him and others, yet still struggle to love themselves.
In A Grief Observed, his memoir of his struggle with his wife’s death, C.S. Lewis records his terrible yet necessary journey through grief and sorrow. Listen to some of his words:
In so far as this record was a defence [sic] against total collapse, a safety-valve, it has done some good. The other end I had in view turns out to have been based on a misunderstanding. I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process. It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. There is something new to be chronicled every day. Grief is like a long valley . . . (59-60)
Grief is a long valley. Lewis wrote through his valley and on the other side came out with more strength. He learned again how to love his God, his friends, and his life.
Aldrin, Buzz. Magnificent Desolation. New York: Random House, 2009.
Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. New York: HarperOne, 1961.
Morgan, John. “Terry Bradshaw’s Winning Drive Against Depression.” USA Today. (Jan. 30 2004.) 10 Nov. 2010 <http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/spotlighthealth/2004-01-30-bradshaw_x.htm>