"Somewhere along the way, some of us may have gained the mistaken notion that to address suffering means minimizing sin and capitulating to secular psychology perspective on victimization," writes Robert W. Kellemen, executive director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. "While I understand that concern, biblically it is unwarranted."
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Sure, dwelling in negativity is a self-centered, self-destructive habit. If we’re “just venting” because we “just need to be heard” while we fixate on “just saying what I need to say,” then we’re basically just poisoning our relationships and getting ourselves nowhere constructive. Talking about our problems is a great addiction, as long as that’s all we plan on doing. Diagnosing our issues is not the solution to our issues. Discussing our problems is not the same as doing something about our problems. Even confessing the sin of fallen thinking is not, in itself, repenting of our sin, much less a stand-alone solution to suffering.
Misery does love company, and it’s really tempting to jump in the negativity pit together. But we're not called to crawl into each other’s dung piles and just sit there. We're called to confess to one another and pray for each other so that we may be healed. We're called to speak the truth to each other in love, encourage each other, and build each other up as members of the body. It does us no good to simply stand back at a distance and "give out passages like prescriptions or dispense platitudes like pills” (Jay Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual). We are called to be doers of the Word--not just repeating what it says, but actually doing it, together. That means bearing each other's burdens and bearing with one another in our infirmities, as the Lord Jesus bears with us day after day.
Sometimes, that means having some uncomfortable conversations.
In Scripture, where there's a command, there's a human tendency toward the opposite. When God says, "Don't do that," it's because that's something people tend to do. When God says, "Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you always" (Joshua 1:9), that's not God beating up on people with weak faith or the poor taste to go around admitting fear or discouragement. That's God saying, "I know you're afraid. I know you're discouraged.” And God’s command is directly linked to His promise: “I am with you always. It’s not all up to you--because I’m there, too."
That's a comfort we can reach for and one we can offer. Just now, counting on my fingers, I easily come up with the names of 11 people in my immediate circle of influence who've expressed struggles with depression. That's not an outlandish number of diagnoses, considering the statistics, but it's remarkable to know that many people who are willing to talk about what they're going through. Most of these are people who've come into my life since I came to faith about seven years ago. Some of them have shared with me that the reason they've been able to open up and talk about their struggles with depression in faith is that they've seen me opening up and talking about my struggles with depression in faith.
And I believe them, because the reason I've been able to open up about my struggles is that I've seen other people opening up, too. I’ve seen people examining depression in the light of salvation, and that changes everything about the conversation. For “everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light” (Ephesians 5:13).
As a self-aware being sensing profound moods, we can admit, understand, label, and accept our mood state... As a rational being, we can bring rationality to our emotionality, understanding with wisdom the causes and nature of our feelings and envisioning with spiritual eyes imaginative ways to handle our moods. As a volitional being, we can consciously and courageously choose to creatively respond to our emotional states. As an emotional being, we can openly experience whatever we are feeling, being responsive to God and God's world." ~ Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel-Centered Counseling
But we have a sympathetic high priest who knows the frailties of being human. God doesn't say, "Just stop feeling depressed. You can choose how you feel, and you're being a bad Christian." The Lord says He, too, has been overwhelmed by sorrow to the point of death. He calls us not to sit around dragging others into our misery pit, but to reach for the Father in prayer, right in the middle of it--right when we feel like we can't. He urges us to get up and eat and lean on His strength to do it--because He knows we can't do it on our own.
That's the light we’re called to shine in our darkest hours. I know I sure don’t have it in me to do that, but God does, and He’s proved it--in my life and many others.
So never mind those people who don’t understand or don't want to hear it. Look for someone who’s been through it. Find someone who knew they couldn’t get through it, and did. That's a difference maker. Reach out to a person like that. Join the conversation. Ask them to tell you about the hope they have in them. It might feel like you're asking them to save your life, but you might actually be a part of God saving theirs.
If you’re not sure who that person might be in your local community, then reach out to someone who’s already engaged in the conversation. Look for someone like Marlena, Debra, Tammy, or Glennon. Try someone like Mike, Nate, Mark, or Jarrid. You can read a little more about my story here and then reach out to me here. I want you to identify a person who's come through the wringer clinging to God, and I want you to start talking.
I’m heartened by all the emerging dialogue I’ve seen in this past year, but we're not done yet. Introducing regular depression screenings into the public health vernacular is a great step in the right direction, but it’s not the end of the road forward. The more we keep talking about this thing, the better we develop our vocabulary to confront it together. So let's do that.
By reaching for help, you become a link in the chain of hope. By starting the conversation in your own life, you're breaking a cycle that affects countless lives around you. It's not about being a part of the problem; we can each be a part of healing the whole. You, too, are God's means of ministering healing to a body badly wounded and weakened by its parts.
Psychiatrists, physicians, and pastors can do their very best, with all of the resources they're given, to be there for as many people as they can, caring for as many sufferers as they can. But life-giving grace extends far beyond an hour-long appointment, and the more we give, the more we live.
You do matter. You are worth it.
There is value in what you're going through. It matters to me. It matters to a lot of us. Just ask us.
Next >>> The Dual Realities of Christianity and Mental Health: Truths Exist Concurrently