This could quite possibly be the most important post I’ve ever written. It could save a life. It’s based on Sarah Robinson’s excellent post here (not an affiliate link). Sarah is a personal friend in our writer’s mentoring group and a very strong believer. Please read her article, share it, and then come back and read this post.
Before we get to the 3 ways we can help someone with depression, we need to understand a little more about it, and how we as the church often, unfortunately, miss critical opportunities to be Jesus.
Is the gospel “Try Harder!” or is it “God loves you. You matter.”?
Listen to the common responses I’ve heard Christians give to people suffering from depression:
- “You just need to choose joy!” Translation: “Try harder!”
- “You just need to believe and live the word!” Translation: “Try harder!”
- “Take those dark thoughts captive to Christ! Apply 2 Corinthians 10:5 to your life.” Translation: “Try harder!”
- “You just need to pray, read your Bible, and/or worship more!” Translation: “Try harder!”
Yes, we all have choices to make. Yes, no one is arguing against believing and living the Word. Yes, learning to take our thoughts captive to Christ is a skill we as Christians need to learn. Yes, intimacy with Jesus through prayer, Bible reading, and worship is critical.
But what if someone does all those things and more, and they’re still depressed? What if they do everything you tell them perfectly with all their heart, and yet they still feel the crushing blackness?
I think most of us would tend to say, “Well, you have to fight for it! You have to contend!” And then we’d quote them some verse about God’s faithfulness. Translation: “Try harder!” And the truth is, for most of us, we get very uncomfortable about now because what we thought should be working isn’t working.
The sticky wicket is, those things are all true. God is faithful, and we do need to contend. But that’s not what they need to hear right now. That’s not how to be Jesus to them right now.
Before we dive into the 3 ways to be Jesus to them, we need to understand WHY all the good, solid, Biblical advice and scriptures we’re quoting at them aren’t working.
The Wrong Answer
The obvious (but incorrect) answer is, they’re not doing it right. We think if they were doing it right, these things would work. So we conclude they must not be doing it right. And we tell them to try harder in all of the Biblically accurate, kind but self-righteous ways we can muster.
At the end of the day, we’re preaching Works Righteousness. We don’t mean to, but we totally are. “If you were doing it right, it would work. Try harder!” We may not say it, but we’re thinking it. That’s works righteousness.
There’s a natural reason why we do this. We need our world to work. We need to at least pretend it’s a safe place. Say our neighbor’s child commits suicide or something really bad happens to them. We search for a reason to believe they were bad parents. Or he’s an alcoholic. Or she’s whatever. Something negative. Because if we find that negative, and we avoid it ourselves, then we can secretly believe that bad thing can’t happen to us. Our world works.
That’s works righteousness, and it’s a false hope. The truth is a lot messier and uncomfortable. The truth is, the world doesn’t work. It’s not a safe place. Bad things do happen to good people.
The Right Answer
Here’s the uber-counter-intuitive secret of why quoting the Bible verses and all the good Christian principles don’t always work. Ready? Here it is. God’s not letting them work. What?!? God’s not letting his own Word work? That makes no sense at all!
Hang with me a minute here. Let me explain. If God allowed quoting the Bible verses to work, if he allowed doing all the things to relieve the pain, we wouldn’t search for deeper healing. There’s something else God wants to do in our lives, some deeper level of healing and anointing he wants to give us.
Maybe there’s wounding so deep it happened before we had language. Often, we come out of the womb with wounding, or someone did something to us very early in life. That’s not our fault. The sin done to a child is never the child’s fault. Our responsibility is the judgments we make afterward, and the lies we believe about ourselves, about God, about others and how they will treat us, as a result of our wounding.
That early wounding can manifest in our lives in a lot of different ways; unfortunately, some of them are less socially acceptable in Christian circles than others. Depression is often not accepted in the church, and that’s an injustice we need to correct.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we ignore or sugar-coat stuff in people’s lives. But I am saying we need to accept the person without judging their pain.
There might be no wounding at all. Maybe God wants to give them a powerful anointing over depression to help others. The good news is we have authority over what we’ve been delivered from. The downside is we have to pass through the darkness to be delivered from it to get that authority.
So what’s Biblical? Inner healing? Counseling? Deliverance? Medication?
They are all just as Biblical. We tend to tell people with depression if they just had more faith they wouldn’t need that medication. But we won’t dare tell a diabetic that, and for good reason. It’s the same thing.
Medicine is not unbiblical. Penicillin was discovered completely by accident. Someone left a petri dish uncovered by an open window. It got moldy overnight, ruining the planned experiment, but there were no bacteria around the mold. That’s how Alexander Fleming, in 1928, discovered the medicine that’s saved millions of lives and changed the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penicillin#Discovery) How much do you want to bet an angel opened that petri dish and moved it by the window?The same angel probably opened the window, too! The discovery of medicine and the wisdom to use it is from God.
Yes, God often heals miraculously without medicine. And, personally, in the West, I think we turn to medicine too quickly. It should be our last resort, not our first. But there’s nothing wrong, and everything right, with taking medicine if you need it.
It’s not “either/or.” It’s “and.” Often, a person needs medication first to get leveled out enough to receive inner healing, counseling, and/or deliverance. Sometimes deliverance needs to happen first to remove spiritual blockages that are keeping the medicine from working. Sometimes inner healing goes first. They can go in any order. None are contradictory, and they are not all always needed. It just depends on what God’s doing with that person.
Yes, sometimes with depression there’s something else going on, but sometimes there’s not. Either way, Christian shaming about taking medication is not Christ-like! We need to stop it.
So How Do We Help People in Pain?
How can we be Jesus to our brothers and sisters suffering from depression?
Look at how Job’s three friends handled it, in Job 2:12–13:
When they saw him [Job] from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
Job’s three friends typically get a bad rap, but they actually got it right for a whole week! Then they opened their mouths in Chapter 4, and it was all downhill from there.
So what did they do during that first week?
- They went to him. They didn’t let him be alone.
- They shared his pain. They wept with him.
- They sat with him in the middle of it, in the wreckage of his life.
We need to get comfortable around each other’s pain.
People don’t share their pain with us because we judge it. Too often, we’re quick to whip out Bible verses or some Biblical principle because we’re honestly trying to be helpful. We don’t realize it, but we’re actually trying to fix them, and it’s not helpful. People want to be healed, not fixed.
We have not been taught how to be around hurting or grieving people. We don’t know how to process someone else’s grief. We’ve been taught, falsely, that real Christians don’t hurt or grieve. But Jesus said just the opposite (see Matthew 5:11, John 16:33, et al.)
So we tell them, “This too shall pass. It’s only a season.” And while that’s true, that’s not helpful to them. Because they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s around a corner. All they see is the blackness. Instead of trying to fix them, we need to love them through it. Love, with no expectations, is healing.
Three Ways to be Jesus to Someone with Depression
1) Honor them by letting them be hurting. It’s ok for someone to be hurting. Let them grieve. We don’t have to be afraid of their pain or try to fix them.
2) Tell them they matter. To us. To God. That he loves them. That we love them. That we will walk through the dark with them. They are not alone.
3) Do something kind. Ask the Holy Spirit what you can do to show themthey matter, that these aren’t just words. What can you give them? Maybe it’s time — just having coffee, or a phone call. Maybe it’s a gift, something they would enjoy, or just a card. The Holy Spirit knows. Ask him until he tells you.
That’s being Jesus. That’s living the Word. We let people grieve, we let them be hurting. But we don’t let them do it alone. We get in the ashes of the wreckage of their life with them, and just sit there. Yes, there’s a time to speak into someone’s life, but there’s also a time to be silent and earn that privilege (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). By just being there. By just loving them.
How about you? Have well-meaning Christians been complete idiots? Or who was that special person who made all the difference? Tell us your story in the comments. And if you are suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK (8255), or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. God really does love you. You matter.
Does your heart need healing? Learn how to go to the root and find healing in your own life with a fun, engaging, short story. Download Dave’s FREE ebook “The Runt: A Fable of Giant Inner Healing.”