Depression is “just this detached, meaningless fog where you can’t feel anything about anything.” Depression is a malady that has hit close to my heart, as family members and close friends have struggled with it. Although I’ve personally not battled with intense and pervasive bouts of depression, there have been at times a certain melancholy that seemed to take up residence in my soul. People who have struggled with depression have likened it to a “little piece of hell” or an “intense sadness and listlessness” that seems to continually claw away and presence of hope, joy, contentment, or peace.
In no way will I be advocating in this post a cure-all or end-all approach to depression (I don’t think there is one). What I will do is pass on some truths from Paul Maxwell’s book When Your Twenties Are Darker Than You Expected that I hope and pray (truly) will be beneficial to you the reader or whoever you may pass this post onto. Maxwell’s words, taken from the Bible, give freedom and permission to the individual in the throes of depression to be gut-level honest about where they are. I believe most will find his words refreshing.
- Lament. This is where you simply cry out to God, “God, I’m not okay.” He states, “the only way we will see the way Christ truly encounters the depressed is if we stop insisting that he must tie everything up neatly for us at the end, with a nice little bow” (24). “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is” (Lam. 3:17). “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lam 3:22). “The Lord has swallowed up without mercy” (Lam 2:2). “God gave us these words to us. We rush past them. We cherry pick ‘his mercies never come to an end’ in order to helicopter out of Lamentations into some exuberant Psalm.” (25).
- Meaning. Don’t believe the enticement of sin that says, “there’s no meaning to what is going in your life.” That’s a fool’s errand. There is meaning to everything. “Rightly facing the darkness of depression is a matter of rightly receiving the gift of life as a whole from God as he has given it. Can we control whether we are depressed? Sometimes, yes. Other times, no. Can we control whether we are affected deeply by depression’s meaning? Absolutely not! But we can control whether we remember its meaning. And perhaps, if we have the grit to remember, it is that loop of remembrance that will synchronize us into a cycle of steady growth” (29).
- Correction. Maxwell captures this well in an exchange that Ed Welch (licensed psychologist and biblical counselor) has with a depressed friend. “I’m going to stop you for a second. Can you hear what’s happening? The more you talk, the more you despair. I can see it in you. In fact, I can feel it in myself. Here is a plan. From now on, when I see the wave of depression and, actually, unbiblical interpretations of life crashing down on you, I am going to point it out and try to run from it with you.”
- Grit. This is a posture, a mindset, a resolve that says, “Just. Keep. Going. Come On.” (31). With the attack of depression or the settling of depression in our heart, we often lose sight of Jesus. When our eyes are removed from the author and perfecter of our faith, we will inevitably lack the desire and endurance of spirit to “keep going.” “But when we look at Christ, we do not see a smile that mocks our sadness, but he who took one more step, a thousand times more than we could: ‘Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ (Heb. 12:3). When we are depressed, we vomit out all of the trite rejections of our sadness, because we know that the sadness is real.” BUT, and it’s a big but, “what Christ does for us is not critique the voice which depressions speaks per se, but he denies it the final word” (32). And for that reason (and many more) we are called to show grit.
- Joy. I would imagine that for an individual who has struggled and succumbed to depression that a word on joy would not only be counter-productive but may, in fact, be downright offensive. And yet, Maxwell’s candidness about the reality and misery of depression and its impact on his own life makes this word on joy not only relevant and powerful but also endearing. He asks a question and then elaborates, “Can God give you joy? Yes. One of the greatest lies that depression will spin in your mind is: ‘This will last forever.’ We despair in our depression because we cannot imagine a future without it. It has become so much a part of our way of experiencing the world that we feel that is has sealed our escape hatch out into the real world where joy exists. Not joy itself, but a belief in future joy, is the grace that sustains the depressed today” (34).
Maxwell’s book is an absolute goldmine. I wholeheartedly recommend you grab a copy (not just for the twenty-year-old that came to your mind) and read it. His ability to be jarringly honest, while also tethering real emotions to the realities addressed by Scripture (and by the gospel specifically), make the book a tremendous resource.