The other evening, in His kind providence, the Lord brought to me a gentle, empathetic counselor in the form of a small booklet that I had purchased at the Shepherds’ Conference this past spring. Facing Depression Together, from Matthias Media, is a practical beginner’s guide not only for those who struggle with depression and anxiety (often together, thus the author’s use of “D&A”), but also for those who desire to come alongside to minister God’s truth and grace to them as they battle these soul maladies.
This booklet is divided into two parts. The first is for the person who is struggling to trust God in the midst of dark valleys and the second for those who would learn to be more helpful to those who struggle. Finally, the booklet ends with a very brief review of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s classic work, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure, followed by a one-page discussion guide for use in small groups.
Facing Depression Together is an honest look at the problem, primarily through the eyes of a fellow struggler, and helps us to renew our minds in a number of ways.
Some counsel for those who struggle
- Depression & anxiety are frequently experienced by the same persons. I had not beforehand seen the connection between these two heart struggles in my own life, how my fear (anxiety) in a number of areas creates expectations that, when not met, often lead to discouragement.
- These struggles do not exempt a person from personal responsibility. Thank you, Paul Grimmond, for not letting any of us off the hook, even slightly!
- One of the most widely experienced aspects of D&A is a profound sense of guilt and failure. Therefore, we must continually remind ourselves that “the assurance of God’s love is grounded in the objective reality of the cross, not in religious performance….the gospel is the answer to guilt and failure.”
- The sin of unbelief is often a root cause. “[T]here is an element of unbelief involved in clinging to our guilt in the face of God’s declaration that we have been forgiven.”
- Depression & anxiety are often connected to overwork. “In a world where employers constantly seek a competitive edge, we are trained to think of the value of life in terms of productivity. But the kinds of personalities [read: persons] that are more naturally prone to D&A tend to turn this into an ideal for Christian living: we must squeeze more and more ‘value’ out of ourselves for Jesus’ sake. This is not biblical thinking….The gospel teaches us that we are not machines, we are creatures…we fool ourselves into thinking we are God.”
- Perfectionism goes hand in hand with depression and anxiety. “As a creature, I am called to worship him with all that I am. But I am not called to become something I am not.”
- We are free in Christ and already accepted by God. “He does not sit in heaven calculating how we might have done more….The gospel teaches us that we are free in Christ, and challenges our perfectionism at its heart.”
- Corrupt motives often “drive a repeated pattern...to delay rest and take on responsibility until I reach a point where I fall apart….my external appearance of godliness (I was always doing good things) masked a deep ungodliness: I wanted to say yes in order to feel good about myself…I knew other people were watching…and partly because I wanted to make a name for myself.”
Some practical pointers for those who would be more effective helpers
- Talk to God for them: Pray for the depressed and anxious person in their presence. Preaching to them is not necessarily what they need the most when they are at their lowest moment. “Like the four friends of the paralytic, we can carry the crippled, rip open the roof and present our friend right in the presence of the throne of grace.”
- Talk about God to them: “So rather than calling on them to trust God, give them a reason to trust God…Just talk about God to them–as though that is life itself. And don’t finish by saying, ‘So buck up and trust him, okay’; finish by saying, ‘He’s on your side.'”
Of course there is a time for words of exhortation (we counsel with words), but many times we may fail to dispense encouragement to the depressed person by means of grace-filled presence with them and faith-filled prayers for them. Then, when the timing is appropriate, we need to faithfully serve them with the biblical message of faith that they most need to hear and act upon.
One clarification needed
There are three sentences near the beginning of the booklet concerning how “our biochemistry and psychology affect each other” that could use further clarification. It seems to me that it would have been better to wait until the end of the first article, rather than the beginning, to encourage the depressed person to “seek medical help” or “a professional diagnosis.” Not only does this counsel jump out to the reader as being premature (before soul-related issues are addressed), but the author’s meaning of these terms remains unclear. Together, these two factors make this specific part of his counsel less helpful than it could have been had it been given some definition and qualification.
With that one caveat aside, I recommend you consider getting yourself a copy of this resource and ordering a few extras for fellow strugglers.