What do you think? In years gone by we were taught even by prominent leaders in the church that it was sin to be depressed and that it displayed a great lack of faith. I do not agree. Depression is a very difficult thing to work through and it is very common among caregivers, especially those who are “on the job” 24/7 with very little or no breaks. I have to admit my own struggle with this debilitating emotional stress. There are days when I am fine. I might go for a long time doing very well and able to keep my chin up in the midst of adversity. One example of how I “crash” is I might catch a glimpse of some older pictures of Chris, or I see one of his friend’s statuses on Facebook. I wonder what Chris would have been doing right now if the wreck had not occurred. This can send me on a downward spiral that is difficult to overcome.
I think the hyper-faith movement almost stripped us of natural emotions and feelings. We were basically taught to ignore how we felt and our emotions. This could be very dangerous since when we ignore emotions rather than deal with them in a healthy manner, we can end up damaging ourselves, in some cases irreparably. I am thinking that the solution is to hit them head on. There’s no way to act like Chris’ wreck did not occur and behave as though nothing happened at all. Caregivers many times in these situations deal with a living grief since the loved one we knew no longer exists, but they are still living. That cannot be ignored; but it can’t be dealt with one time and then move on either since it is so in your face on a daily basis.
Looking through scriptures I did not find one time when emotions were condemned. Jesus never told anyone “you shouldn’t feel that way.” This takes my thoughts to the beatitudes. Jesus said that those who are poor, hungry, persecuted, and mourn are blessed; but He said, “woe” to those who are rich, well-fed, and well spoken of. That seems sort of backwards to the way early faith-ers taught it. He did not condemn those who mourned but offered promises instead. Somehow I find that comforting. The Jesus I know does not kick people when they are down! And that is exactly what happens when the hyper-faith-ers tell those who are in mourning that it is a sin.
David had his bouts with discouragement and perhaps even depression; and he had every right to. I always think about the story where he was in Ziklag and everything went wrong. He returned from battle to find his wives and children missing, the city was burned to the ground and then everyone turned against him and blamed him for the catastrophe. In 1 Samuel 30:6, David was greatly distressed, especially when he found out everyone wanted to stone him for it! But he strengthened and encouraged himself in the Lord. In no way does this story condemn his distraught feelings. The feelings were real and they were strong. He – like we do – turned to the Lord for strength and encouragement since there was no one there to help him out with that.
As a caregiver I spend hour after hour alone. Sometimes I get to speak on the phone or via Skype to other people; but many times there is not normal conversations day after day. Even when there is, in between there can be many lonely hours. It takes great effort to encourage ones self in the Lord. For me, when I have days that depression tries to set in I’ve found if I change up what I am doing it can help me shift my focus. Sometimes it is as simple as picking up my Bible and finding comfort in scriptures. But to be totally honest – it doesn’t always work that way. There are times I find the scriptures frustrating – yes, I really said that. I see where Jesus healed some – but not all. I see where some prayers were answered – but not all. That can be very confusing especially on a difficult day. It can signal a barrage of questions through my mind – why not my son? why not my prayers? And honestly I find myself more frustrated and depressed than before. Why is that?
Perhaps it is because I was taught this hyper – avoidance of reality “faith” where what you see isn’t real. Well is sure feels real. It can be difficult to shift the thinking to eternity’s bliss when the pain of today is staring you down face to face. So I have learned to deal with these emotions rather than dwell on them or let them take me under. I say that easily – but in actuality it is very difficult. I have to talk myself through the day when it’s like that. Here are some things that I tell myself to help me get through today whole body, soul and spirit:
- Today is not the end of the story
- For today I have everything I need (sometimes for this moment only – I have all I need)
- My soul (and the soul of the loved one I care for) are secure – they have not been damaged or doomed by life’s battles
- God promised to keep my soul safe – not my body – and He has at least kept that promise
- I can create my own world here in my cave – what do I want to keep and what do I want to discard?
- Other people are just not going to “get it” so don’t try to explain – it’s exasperating!
- Take care of your body – sometimes it’s all you feel you have left – and it’s something I can control
Basically, I find some positives to dwell on. I think about the progress my son has made rather than how far he has left to go. Sometimes I can encourage myself by thinking about how God has provided for the journey. Work can be a double-edged sword – I either have too much to keep up with or not enough which can cause worry! I try to find the positives. If I am looking at pictures or Facebook and it’s causing me negative emotions – I change my environment. I might go study, read a book, watch a movie, clean up an area of my house, make soap or take a nap. But changing the moment helps me change my focus. I’m sorry that I cannot find some super deep spiritual panacea that makes the depression go away…I really would like that.
I like Psalm 42 – it’s written by the Sons of Korah who also had reason to be distraught. They witnessed the earth opening up and swallowing all their relatives! Two times in Psalm 42 they remind themselves that their hope is in God. This reassurance follows immediately behind the question, “Why are you in despair my soul?” Verse 9 says I will say to the Lord my rock, ‘why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’ Is it okay for that brutal honesty to be in the Bible? I guess so – it’s still there!
One thing to remember is that we are not alone in our depression even though it’s not a shared moment. No one may ever know — and that’s okay. We are still not alone. It is not unusual and we are not scarred for life because of the battle we face. Dennis Jernigan has a song that has a line which says something about the battle does not define who I am. I’m not identified by the struggles I face – my identity is still in Christ and depression is not the unpardonable sin! It’s just one more thing that we must navigate through in a healthy manner to make it safely through the day.
By changing my focus or actions I can help give myself the tools to dig out of depression before it buries me. Even though there is a struggle I will always run back to Him. Perhaps that parallels the Sons of Korah’s actions as recorded in Psalm 42 – even though they honestly expressed their distress and feelings they returned to say Hope in God. In the mourning, anguish, feelings and depression we can always return to Hope in God, for He is our rock. Faith is not avoiding the conflict – or ignoring the present – it’s returning to Him for help.