Faith Fridays: The Slough of Despair

Today’s Faith Friday is about something rarely talked about in the church. What part does depression have in the life of a Christian? And furthermore, is it a sin to be depressed?

The short answer? No.

The long answer? It really depends on the situation, but for the most part it is not a sin to be depressed. I want to encourage those who struggle with depression – even Christ was distressed with the situation of the world. Take Luke 19: 41 – 44 for example. He is actually crying because they aren’t seeing what’s right in front of them – a Savior. He weeped over his dead friend. It is not a bad thing to be sad or depressed. The world is in a sinful state. Bad things are happening. People are dying and in pain and suffering. It is not wrong to be distressed about the state of the world around us. It is not wrong to want a perfect world, as that is what we were made for.

There is a scene in Pilgrim’s Progress early on, in which Christian (the main character) gets stuck in a bog from which he is unable to get out without help. He was not departing from the path when he entered it. He was going the correct way. Christian himself asks about this, why it is not removed from the path if it stops people from going on their way. Help responds,

“This miry slough is a place that can’t be repaired. It is a low-lying place where the scum and filth that comes with conviction of sin drains and collects as the traveling sinner becomes aware of his lost condition. It is the fears, doubts, and discouraging apprehensions about oneself that arise in his soul. […] The King is not happy that this place remains so bad […] there are certain good and substantal steps placed through the very midst of this bog to offer a sure way, but this place spews out so much filth that changes with the weather, so that these steps are hardly seen. […] But the steps are there and the ground is good once they get in at the gate.”

It is, for the most part, the sinful state of the world that causes most depression, not a person being sinful. There are exceptions to that, but we’ll get to them later.

Regarding chronic depression, there are a few reasons both scientific and spiritual. On the physical side, there could be any number of reasons, including a lack of serotonin flowing, Vitamin D, and/or group of friends. My prayer leader at university (something similar to a hall pastor) is one of the most spiritual guys I know. Yet he struggled with depression and it didn’t ebb very much until he started taking pills. Why? His serotonin flow was completely off-kilter. Nor did he have much of a support system. We were made to be social creatures, enjoying God’s green earth. And when our brains aren’t working properly either, God’s original intent is thwarted clearly.

On the spiritual side, there are reasons as well. This is not meaning that depressed people are less spiritual. In fact, oftentimes the more spiritual ones tend to be depressed. Why is this? Few people may have told you this, but if you are being hammered down with depression, it is incredibly possible that you are seen as a threat by the evil spirits of this world. Therefore, they are doing all they can to make sure that you are not a threat anymore. Depression is an excellent attack on God’s people, as it cuts into the deepest part of our psyche. It makes us less willing to do anything spiritual. And without Biblical support and accountability, it can only get worse.

And this is where it becomes a matter of sin: pride. If your pride keeps you from finding help when you know you should (and if you are depressed, you should), then you are acting in sin. We are not made to be alone, or to fight temptation alone. So if you are stuck in depression, don’t let pride get in the way.

In closing, here are a few DOs and DONTs of depression:

Don’t: try to fight it alone. You can’t.
Do: get help. Whether that be contacting the suicide hotline – which is 1 (800) 273-8255 and open 24 hours – or calling out to a friend, or praying to the One who can help the most, you need help. As Galatians 6:2 says,

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Don’t: focus on the world.
Do: focus on Christ. The world will constantly disappoint. But Christ is the same constantly, and He never disappoints. Are there times when it seems He is silent? Yes. But He is there, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Don’t: treat this lightly.
Do: get medicine if needed. Depression is a serious illness, and should be treated as such. I know, it’s a bold and scary thing to get a prescription for it, but oftentimes it’s for the best.

Don’t: have unrealistic expectations.
Do: Treat yourself right. Often we think we can do things that we can’t. We set the bar too high. Doing this is like trying to bench two hundred pounds the very first time you go to the gym. You can’t do it! Take small steps towards your goal. And rely on Christ, because we can’t do anything otherwise.

Don’t: sit around.
Do: exercise and be outside! Exercising and a bit of Vitamin D will help in ways you cannot imagine. Join a jogging class, hit the gym, do some work! Why? Because it helps release endorphins in your system, which are a natural God-given antidepressant. The best things in the world are not made by human hands. And if you’re living in a place that’s consistently cloudy, like Seattle, WA… you might want to do the hard thing and just move out.

Don’t: get stuck on past faults.
Do: look towards the final goal! As is said in Philippians 3:13,14:

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Christ does not view us by our failures. Why should we be stuck in them? Instead, keep on looking towards what you can still do rather than what you have already done.

This was a very tough piece to write, as I myself struggle with depression. I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but it’s been pretty clear from multiple things. I have to remind myself constantly to do the same things I’m telling others to do here. I hope that these words have been helpful to those who read them!

Keep following the blog for Faith Fridays, writing tips, short stories, and weird happenings in the life of me, Gabriel Penn! Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter as well!

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