“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph. 6:12
This has been a tough week for many as the death of the world’s funniest man, Robin Williams, has revealed the truth of one the world’s toughest battles, depression. Many have been the commentaries on the subject, varying from a coward’s choice to a weakness of faith to a legitimate mental disease. Some have carefully approached the subject with compassion while others have breached it with judgement and vile. While I am not an authority on the correct diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, I am familiar with depression-he is an unwelcome friend always lurking on the other side of the door. These are my observations and experiences regarding depression.
Depression does not discriminate and most certainly does not prey solely on those of weak minds. I did some research yesterday and was alarmed to find that many of the world’s most intelligent people have suffered from depression. Among them are Abe Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, O’Keefe, Tolstoy and even Beethoven-all arguably people of extraordinary intellect and yet all victims of the darkness of the mind. I was further stunned to learn that the suicide rate of Christians is nearly the same as those who profess no particular faith, and that even ministers of the Gospel have fallen victim to suicide. If even clergy who have applied themselves to advanced study of the Bible to be spiritual leaders are subjected to the fatality of depression, then we have little option but to recognize the scope of the battle many of us deal with in our minds.
Many who know me would describe me as a laid back, cool, easy going personality with a teflon approach to life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I keep locked in my mind a demon that is very real and always looking for ways to escape. Few have seen me in the heat of these battles except my wife. Miraculously she is still with me. I have often accused God of toying with me for His amusement. Don’t get me wrong, God certainly takes pleasure in testing me, sometimes without a chance to catch my breath, but the war that rages in me is not God sent but mentally seeded and exploited by those forces who would seek my eternal destruction. And they are real.
The church has done a great disservice to many parishioners who have come to them for help in fighting depression. Many clergy mistakenly dismiss depression as just a bad perception of reality and in turn dismiss the legitimacy of the parishioner’s cries for help. Others, feeling it’s strictly a spiritual matter, throw some oil on them and quote a Bible verse or two and send them home. And then there are those who make their member feel completely shamed by “reminding” them of all the good things in their life, suggesting they have nothing to be depressed about, adding to their depression the burden of guilt. As a result there has been a stigma placed on mental illness in the church that has left many people feeling isolated in their fight and ashamed to openly seek help from even their own Christian siblings. If one came to a pastor requesting prayer for lumps in the breast or chest pains the pastor would not hesitate to refer them to medical experts. Why should disorders of the mind be treated so differently?
And yet with all sickness there is hope. We must never be so disillusioned as to forget the magnitude of the God we profess and His ability to heal any disease. Even in the grips of our deepest despair nothing is to great for God to resolve. We must also cling to the healing properties of hope, and do all that is within our power to find, recall, strain for and acquire the assurance that each of us who are in Christ possesses, the blessed hope of eternal life beyond the battles of our earthly existence. My bouts with depression are never so severe that a grandchild in my lap can’t bring a smile and reminder of God’s love for me. But that is only possible with constant contact. If I were ever left alone for long periods of time during these battles, with no one checking on me or simply being with me, who knows that I may a sad statistic. Depression requires comfort and comfort comes from the strong presence of peers, unlike the peers of Job as he struggled, who implied his troubles were his own doing and that he should just shake it off an move on. Dealing with loved ones who are depressed requires love, patience and in some cases a tight lip. It never requires judgment ridicule, guilt or shame.
Corrie Ten Boom, author of the best selling The Hiding Place, battled deep depression while she was in the German concentration camps. I had the unique privilege of hearing her speak in person about the book and her ordeals in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. This is an excerpt from one of her stories:
The Ten Booms, all devout Christians, had provided a hiding place in their home for persecuted Jews during World War II. Corrie, who was fifty-nine at the time of her arrest, was placed in an isolation cell for the first few weeks of her imprisonment. Depression and the struggle to maintain a sense of hope consumed her.
“Only to those who have been in prison does freedom have such great meaning. When you are dying – when you stand at the gate of eternity – you see things from a different perspective than when you think you may live for a long time. I [stood] at the gate for many months, living in Barracks 28 in the shadow of the crematorium.
Corrie lived within the smell and cries of the cremation chamber where many of her friends died. Surely she felt isolated and depressed. and yet she clung to all she had, the hope of eventual salvation through Christ, and he miraculously restored her and allowed her story to touch the hearts of millions around the world. She was imprisoned at the hands of the Nazis and by the chains of her mind, but the realness of the hope she held helped her survive. We have the same hope within us. Love those who are battling-hug those who are depressed-comfort them with compassion and if need be, help them seek treatment from those trained in the area of mental stress disorders. Pray for them but don’t dismiss them as weak or immature in their faith journey. No one but God knows the intensity of the battles being fought in a person’s mind. No one but God can shed light on the healing hope in the darkness of warfare.