Saturday, October 10, 2015

How My Depression Became an Unexpected Encouragement to My Soul

For My Friend Fighting Depression


Thank you for entrusting to me the reality of your struggle. I’d love to give you a simple solution, but we are multi-faceted creatures; our attributes mingle and entwine. A “solution” may not be right around the corner for you. Indeed, “solutions” may seem inadequate by themselves. Easy answers may contain elements of truth but only touch small dimensions of an overwhelming struggle. In the end, you need multi-faceted applications of the truth, and probably every moment of the day.

I say this because I have experienced it. I know depression well. And I say that carefully. Talking about depression among depressed people is risky. Some welcome the connection. But not all. I’ve learned that many depressed people are very territorial about their depression. It is sacred ground to them, and they are not ready to admit that others have experienced it the same way, to the same depth, and with the same effect. I trust you are not in this category! I trust you welcome the testimony of others and the reality that your experience is more common than you might think.

A part of the risk comes from opening your story to the scrutiny of others. Like discussing wisdom teeth, everyone has a harder case than yours, and they’re willing to tell you every detail.

But here goes my testimony—at least a glimpse, anyway.

I sat on a couch across from a counselor in 2009. He listened to my story, and there was a lot to tell. I just gave him the facts. I didn’t open up about emotions or thoughts. I just told him what was.

“That,” he said, referring to the whole of what I just shared, “must have been very hard.” He let it sink in for a minute. No condemnation or fix, no judgment or dismissal. Just permission for me for the first time to admit that experiences had been terribly difficult. “Tell me, how long have you struggled with depression?”

Silence. No one had ever asked me that. I was shocked he was able to perceive that reality when I never used the word. I’m the rabid optimist, the energetic go-getter, but something in the course of my honesty had opened his eyes to the very thing I didn’t want to admit.

“A long time,” I said, and immediately started to weep. And I HATE weeping. But he was right, I had struggled for years. I had an abundance of reasons to be depressed, and a variety of reactions and effects, but had never shared in detail what I was experiencing. And I won’t share it here—the ways that depression showed up and how it burdened my days. It’s not necessary. But I’ll say this: I don’t think I would have ever admitted to depression if someone hadn’t pointed it out in me. I was too proud.

I’d like to say that admission was the first step to healing, but I don’t think it was. My struggle deepened following that session and has been a prominent part of my existence. I don’t think many people know that about me. I don’t share it here to be melodramatic. I certainly don’t have a chemical cause for being depressed. I’m in embarrassingly excellent health. But there are days when the weight of everything is a crushing burden to be endured.

It’s been several years since that first admission. Now that significant time has passed—time that I have spent fighting depression, not necessarily getting over it—I have learned some things about myself that are actually very encouraging. They don’t obliterate the depression, but they help me see why God allows it, what He is accomplishing through it. I share them with you because I believe you will have the same experience. You will come to a place where you look back and rejoice over what you see.

Be careful here: I don’t mean to trivialize depression. I’m not coaching you to “get over it.” God has His own plan for your course. And mine. I just realize now that many dimensions of this struggle actually prove good things about my life, my spirit, my soul. Let me list a few here.

1. I really am a Christian.

Remember the parable of the seeds? And the plant that grew up among thorns and weeds? It died, choked out by the “cares of the world.”

That plant is not me. My faith in Jesus and my love for His word has not been strangled by weeds—it has been ignited by them. I am the kind of Christian who not only affirms the historical truths about Jesus (Eternal God made Man, virgin birth, bodily resurrection, substitutionary death on the cross, etc.), I cling to Jesus every day. I have a genuine relationship with Him in which I depend on Him, seek Him, long for Him, ask Him for resolution, and fall into His grace, unashamedly waiting for the moment I will see Him face to face. I am that kind of Christian, and the struggle with depression has proven it to be true and made it all the more real and critical for every day.

I wonder how genuine my faith would be if I had no need to restate it every morning? How rich my connection would be to His Word if I didn’t hunger for it so completely?

Depression has hardened my resolve to trust Him and wait on Him. Damn the weeds. I’m holding fast to Jesus.

2. I’m healthy enough to mourn.

Jesus was “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” If I want to be like Him, shouldn’t I expect to feel the weight of this world? He taught, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Shouldn’t I expect a constant level of sorrow in my life? I look around and see a world rejecting Jesus. Shouldn’t this bring me to weep? I look inward and see sin and that stubborn rebellious bent toward wandering away from Him and trusting in myself. Shouldn’t that recognition bring me pain?

It is a strange kind of Christianity that seeks to eliminate sorrow from life. Jesus wept. Shouldn’t we?

The Bible calls us to rejoice, but that call is given in the context of suffering and pain. Mourning and joy live side by side in the heart of the believer. It’s not abnormal. It’s healthy.

I’m not saying all depression is healthy. But within depression, if I find myself sorrowing over the things that grieve God, is that a bad thing?

3. I’m starving for depth.

Trite spirituality does nothing for me. Sappy Facebook memes and shallow worship songs turn my stomach. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. I desperately need truth on which to hang the hours of my day, truth about God’s sovereign, providential, gracious, wise hand at work in my life. And the best you’ve got for me is, “Your love is relentless! Your love is relentless! Your love is relentless!”

Are you kidding? That SONG is relentless.

I need more than that! I need deeper than that. I deal with life and death every day. If I’m resolved to cling to Jesus, I need fuel, not candy.

But I see this: the craving in my soul is a good thing. Like a deer craves water in the wilderness…

That’s healthy. And the depression stirs that craving. So I thank God for soul-stirring depression. If that’s what it takes do drive me deeper, than on with it!

4. I’m a more compassionate person than I was.

Well, I think so. I hope so. I just think, “If I, the positive, happy-go-lucky kind of guy can hurt so much inside, and sometimes suddenly and without warning, others can hurt too.” And it gives me just a little more patience and a little more empathy. And that’s healthy too.

Friend, it may be a while before you see good things in your struggle. But you will see them. Be willing to. Let God point out how this humbling sorrow molds you into Christlikeness and increases your ultimate resolve to trust Him.


  1. Jim, you are a gifted writer and a relentless follower of Jesus Christ! I applaud your authenticity and transparency. It seems as if Jesus was well acquainted with sorrow, so should we; however, that is not the story I would write for your life, nor mine. Proverbs 24:16 says though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again. To fellowship in the sufferings of Christ is to know Him and to somehow grasp the power of His resurrection seems to be more than platonic requests of Paul (Phil 3:10), but a deep longing to be like Him which is to know Him and love Him more.

    Continue to be you. Broken and restored. Sharp and sagacious. Recondite and relentless!

  2. Jim you're truly gifted as a writer. I love your honesty and your openness to discuss this issue. Most of all I love your holding fast to Christ!

  3. Thank you so much. I'm wrestling with depression right now and you gave me valuable perspective. And I couldn't agree more with you about sappy surface stuff. Can't take it.

    It's difficult to write the truth about one's experience honestly without self-pity. But you have done that. This really helped me. Printing out to reread. And may God encourage you through knowing you encourage others.