There's a dangerous illness afflicting women everywhere across the nation. It's linked to considerable physical and mental suffering. It disrupts millions of lives, decreasing productivity and contributing to marital stress, absenteeism, loss of income, and disability. It is depression.
Depression may not be as obvious as a broken leg, but it's just as real and just as painful. It's a complicated "whole body" illness that affects the way you eat, sleep, think, behave, and feel. It's a very treatable condition, so there is no need to suffer with it. Unfortunately, within the Christian community, there are four common misconceptions about this illness, which make it difficult for many to seek the help they need. These myths are:
1) God doesn't give us more hardship than we can handle.
2) Good Christians don't get depressed.
3) Depression is sin.
4) We're useless when we're depressed.
Many well meaning people tell the depressed person that God doesn't give you more than you can handle, so He must think you can bear whatever He has dumped in your lap. People who think this way claim that this idea is taught in 1 Corinthians 10:13. What this verse actually says is that you will not have any temptation that isn't common to men, and that God will not allow you to encounter any temptation to sin without also providing a way for you to avoid that temptation. In other words, God won't let you be tempted when there is no way you can resist sinning.
Does God allow his people to be burdened beyond what they're able to bear? Paul wrote these very words in his second letter to the Corinthian church. He said, "We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life." (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Paul's difficulties were too much for him. If God doesn't give more than a person can bear, He certainly would not have excessively overburdened the apostle Paul, would He?
Paul was suicidal and no longer wanted to live. That's about as depressed as you can get, so how can anyone say that Christians don't or shouldn't get depressed? Paul was a leader of the Christian church. If he got depressed, can we expect to be immune to depression? But don't despair about that, because Paul wrote, "But He (God) delivered us and He will deliver us." Even if the situation ends in death, God delivers His people. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:16-22, "The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed . . . and I was delivered from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me . . . and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom." God helps us through tough times IF we allow Him to handle things and give Him room to work. Paul said "When I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10)
Some of God's greatest leaders suffered from depression. There was the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 19:4, it says, "He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,' he said,' Take my life.'"
David, the "man after God's own heart," got depressed. The book of Psalms is filled with expressions of his depression. He wrote, "I am laid low in the dust." (Psalm 119:25) "I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. I groan because of the turmoil of my heart."(Psalm 38:6,8 - NKJV) In Psalm 6:3 he says, "my soul is in anguish." Verses 6 and 7 say, "I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow."
King Soloman wrote in Proverbs 18:14, "The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness, But who can bear a broken spirit?"
Others in the Bible who may have experienced depression include Job, Jonah, and Jeremiah (called "the weeping prophet").
Nowhere does the Bible call depression sin. 2 Corinthians 7:6 says God comforts the depressed; He doesn't condemn them. Depression is an illness. A person cannot talk themselves out of it any more than they can talk themselves out of Chicken Pox, Diabetes, or Cancer.
Rather than being useless when in the throes of depression, we can be very useful to God when we have more than we can handle. It's at those times when we are at the end of our own strength that God can work best through us. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul wrote, "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."
When God allows trials to come into our lives, Peter says it's "so that your faith will be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:6,7)
God's strength takes over and gets us through, when we've reached the point of more than we can handle on our own. ( John 15:5 says, "Apart from me you can do nothing.) This is why Paul boasted about his weaknesses instead of trying to hide them. He acknowledged that he had no strength himself, yet he was more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37) by God's strength and power, which worked through him.
Depression can be a struggle, but I've found that it can also be a gift. The person who has experienced it can help others through it. Only one who knows first hand how it feels to despair of life can offer compassion and understanding to a fellow sufferer. This kind of empathy is not possible for someone who has never felt for themselves the hopelessness of depression.
Author Marsha Jordan is founder of a nonprofit charity called Hugs and Hope for Sick Children (http://www.hugsandhope.org). More of her articles on depression are in her book, Hugs, Hope, and Peanut Butter, a compilation of encouraging essays illustrated with drawings by critically ill children. Proceeds from book sales will benefit kids battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.
Other essays in the book include, "Ten Tips For Beating Depression," and "Why Doesn't God Answer My Prayer?" Order the book or learn more at http://www.hugsandhope.org/book.htm