(Note: I wrote this on a flight Monday afternoon—Aug, 12. But I didn’t have a chance to post until today. So this post actually preceded Robin Williams death. As I listened to broadcasters/announcers/commentators on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but wonder: how can they know so little and make at times so uncaring and judgmental statements….?)
How do we help those experiencing what we experienced? Should we speak to the person? Can we speak to the person? What shall we say? Do we become intrusive by even asking such questions?
In one sense, if the experience is too close to what I lived through, my tendency is to back away. Am I reliving my experience through that other person? If so, is it that person’s experience that I want to fix, or my own? And what if I have misread the signs? What if I am projecting my own battles onto someone else?
Most often, this is not my problem. Rather people seek me out because they have read about what I have experienced with depression. That really is better—for me and for the other person. That way, the person needs help and seeks something to deal with the problem. And I do not have to intrude into the person’s inner life. No, this invitation for help is far better.
Over the last four years since I began writing about depression and the Christian life, several people have contacted me about depression. They had been battling it for months or years.
For some the fear is that a Christian should not have a problem with depression. Some view it as a sign of weakness or lack of faith. Others see a continuing rerun of the same thing. For some depression seems to establish a life of its own that seems to never end, rearing its ugly head time after time.
Survival, Relief, or Cure
I know for me, the reaching out for help was survival mode. I wanted to make it through one more day, one more week. I wanted to know if there was any hope at the end of this dark tunnel.
As I lived through medication and counseling, survival gave way to needing relief. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather a progression from desperation to a sense that something changed, maybe not even sure what, but it changed.
But what changed really was far greater than my own experiences, greater than the medicine, greater than counseling. These were all necessary and helpful. But something behind and greater is there..
Change behind that
All three (survival, relief, and cure) share the ultimate same change. The change was to know that the God who I thought had abandoned me during the whole tunnel of depression had not, in fact, abandoned me. In my darkest days, the only word I seemed to hear was: Why are you so weak? Why are you giving into despair. I could only agree with those (and many more) accusing questions.
The change was to hear God’s Word for God’s proper work: saving, redeeming, forgiving, restoring work for humans. For me. God’s good counsel of hope, love, mercy, favor were spoken to me, the broken, depressed, forgotten person. Not because I had conquered depression, but because I couldn’t conquer it.
That change I knew intellectually, academically, and could have taught it to others prior to the depression. But in the depths, I couldn’t know it. It was a lost word, a voice through too many other voices, my own in particular.
But God sent faithful people to me to speak his saving, redeeming, forgiving, restoring words, loving words. Repeatedly speaking to me. And in that process God worked the hearing ears to believe what he declared. As our one son repeatedly asked over the past 36 years: “How can you keep loving me?” I was saying those words to God. His answer needed to be spoken again and again. I have shown you how much I love you: look at my Son.”
And this was not “God’s Son” as I imagined him to be, how I wanted him to be. Rather, this was God’s Son revealed in his Word, in his baptism of me, in his body and blood, in his spoken word of absolution. There Jesus promised to be. There Jesus gave concrete evidence of his presence. And that was what I could cling to, the only thing I could cling to.