Originally published April 23, 2017:
I had coffee and scones with a good friend the other morning. One thing I greatly value about our friendship is that we quickly dispense of pleasantries, moving right to prayer and the sharing what is deepest in our hearts.
I told him that after a lengthy period of emotional and spiritual high, I had fallen into a depressive low. At my peak, I was spending as much as three hours a day in intensive prayer and Bible study. Lately, however, my time with God had become desperately pleading for some sustenance in a verse or phrase of Scripture – “Get up and eat,” “Jesus wept,” “God is love,” and the like.
My friend, who has some close loved ones battling mental health issues, asked me a very sincere and poignant question, “How can I best respond to someone who is depressed?”
I thought back on my own dark seasons and what had been most helpful to me. I said one fear I carried through my depression is that I would bring others down. Misery may love company but I needed assurance that my misery would not make others miserable. The best thing my (ex) wife and children did for me when I was down was to demonstrate they would still dance with delight, not become paralyzed in my mood disorder.
How do we respond to someone who is in despair? There are as many answers to this question as there are persons who are depressed. Nothing irritates me more than pseudo-psychological advice often in the guise of quick solutions. “3 Ways to Conquer Depression,” “5 Steps to Feel Better About Yourself,” “10 Things to Do To Be Happy.” Rarely, if ever, do these pat answers work for people who have serious mental illness. I have stopped reading them because invariably they make me feel worse because I don’t achieve victory, find peace, become happy.
What can, and often does, work is when I let the words of Scripture dig deep into my empty well.
I look at Psalm 56, for instance. The Psalmist is under enemy attack and cries out to God for refuge. When I read about enemies in the Psalms, I often think of my mental illness. My greatest enemy is often not someone “out there,” but something “in here.”
So, how does God responds to our cries?” Here’s what the Psalmist discovers about God:
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8, English Standard Version)
God does not belittle our tears, as our enemies do. Neither does God desperately try to wipe them away, as some well-meaning friends do. No, God honors them. He cherishes them. He saves them as a precious offering of our deep affection for him as our Father. God knows us like no one else. We can cry with him because we can trust him with our tears.
What response has been most helpful for you when you are depressed?