For most of my life, I have struggled with one thing in particular: how can I be a Christian and also be battling against depression? I hear so many Christians say things like, “There is only joy for Christians,” or “People don’t need antidepressants, they just need Jesus.” I even read an article recently that talked about how the counseling industry should be done away with, and people should only seek guidance and help from a pastor or elder of their church.
The problem is that I believed this rhetoric for most of my life. Thus, my deep dark thoughts stayed hidden; weeks of unexplainable hopelessness went unnoticed by those closest to me. I was ashamed by the thoughts running through my head, and the lack of emotion pulsing through my heart. All the “good” Christians I knew smiled all the time and were full of emotion. But, I don’t feel that way. God knows I have tried to feel and act like all the “good” Christians. I think I even got fairly good at faking it, but inside, there was still nothing but silence.
I have literally spent the last 15 years of my life questioning my faith. “If I am truly saved, I should have joy overflowing in my heart,” I would think to myself. Yet, the odd thing is that through this whole experience, I could always feel God close to me, comforting me, and giving me rest when I most needed it. I have never felt separated from God. For many years, He was the only One who truly knew how I felt and what I was thinking. But, how could God love a person with no joy? I was taught (I am not sure by whom) that joy was the proof of our faith. Perhaps, I was just confused because joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), but there are many fruits, and no one tree bears every kind of fruit.
Some would say, “Well, there is a difference between joy and happiness. God promises joy, not happiness.” The problem with this argument is that joy is defined as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness (that is the actual definition of joy!). Joy is extreme happiness so it’s not fair to say that one can experience joy without happiness (it’s impossible); yet, we have all heard sermons how joy in Christ is not a promise for happiness. The bottom line is that I have walked around for years thinking that my depression was somehow a sin against God, and I have wondered where the joy He promises was in my life.
Even though I have struggled with the guilt of my depression, the back of my mind always wondered where people got the idea that joy is not happiness and that God promises us joy in this life. I read the Bible and hear Jesus say to pick up my cross and walk with Him. I read about how living a life devoted to Christ will bring pain, sorrow, suffering, persecution, even death. Most of the great prophets lived lonely depressed lives. Jesus died alone, Paul and the other apostles suffered their whole lives. Jesus did promise that we would have joy when He returned, but the prequel to that was sorrow. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)
God Cares for The Brokenhearted
As I really began to dig into what the Bible says about depression, I was amazed to find that it has been a centuries-old struggle for many of God’s people. Even David struggled with depression and Moses thought he was worthless and unusable (if that’s not depression, I don’t know what is). The truth is that God cares deeply for and uses those who struggle with depression. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit/” (Psalm 34:18) “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3) “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. To proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)
For some, this may be no new revelation, but for me, it is a whole new found freedom. You see, I have been afraid to step out into ministry. Thinking that my depression made me unable to serve God, I stayed hidden away, worried that my secret would be found out.
Now, I want the world to know my secret. I want the world to know that some days, I don’t get out of bed, that antidepressants, doctors, and counselors are working with me to overcome the darkness, or at least teach me to cope with it. Why do I want the world to know this? Because, I can testify that through all my weakness and unworthiness, God loves me and has stayed by my side. I can tell you that no matter how unloveable you feel, Jesus still died for you too. In fact, He told the Pharisees that He did not come for the healthy but for the sick (Mark 2:17). I don’t want other people to feel ashamed because they deal with depression. I want them to be assured that God’s grace is for them too.