Lessons Learned from the Dark Valley of Depression
Yesterday’s post, The Mind, Body, and Medications, concluded with mention of the experience of Bob Somerville whose lengthy testimony concludes Dr. Laura Hendrickson’s chapter in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. Dr. Somerville is an ACBC-certified biblical counselor and professor at the Master’s University in Santa Clarita, California. In this gutsy testimony, Bob shares how the grace of God brought him through a deep, dark, and unexpected encounter with depression.
In today’s post, I ask you to listen to Bob as he shares the lessons that God taught to him as a result of his time in the valley. But first, here are two quick bullet point lists of the external factors that contributed to the onset of depression, as well as the spiritual disciplines that Bob sought to maintain while in the fog of depression.
‘Life Factors’ that Contributed to the Onset of Depression
- Excruciating back pain following his return from teaching overseas, making it difficult to walk.
- Emotional drain from intensive counseling of a person in crisis
- Full teaching load at college
- Local church ministry
- Back surgery to repair a herniated disc, which re-herniated, leaving him on his back for two months
- Loss of 50 pounds and all muscle mass
- Heavy pain medication plus medication for insomnia
- The resulting inability to teach and preach
Disciplines that Continued while in the Valley of Despair
- Daily time in the Word
- Reading many books on the cross, the gospel, and hope in Christ
- Helped by Ed Welch’s book, A Stubborn Darkness
- Sought counsel from a biblical counselor
- Encouragement of a faithful wife who hardly left his side for months
Engulfed by Darkness – “…but still the depression engulfed me to the point that I become nonfunctional. I had no feelings whatsoever, even of being saved—which was the worst feeling of all, not being able to sense God’s saving grace. I had constant thoughts of suicide. Everything was black and hopeless. I truly believed I would never preach or teach again.”
“The depression became so severe that I was taken to the hospital completely out of touch with reality. After receiving a combination of psychotropic drugs in the emergency room that morning, it appeared by that afternoon that I had come back to normalcy. However, within a few days the effect wore off and there was need for further medication. We sought counsel from a respected biblical counselor/doctor, who advised us that medicines were in order. My colleagues concurred. They saw that my condition was not the result of sin that had had [sic] sent me into a downward spiral, as Job’s comforters had assumed of him, but a matter of response to the pain medication and the impact of what had transpired physically yet was also exacerbated by what was going on with me emotionally. Reluctantly I took the medicine for a six-month period, along with seeking to learn and grow spiritually from the situation. The medicine helped stabilize me so that I could think rationally and apply biblical principles to my situation.”
6 LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE DARKNESS
- Deeper Empathy for those who Battle Depression: “My experience has given me a much deeper empathy and understanding for those who suffer in this way than I ever had before.”
- Recovery Is Sometimes Slow and Gradual: “While the physical issues—the back problem and the level of serotonin in the brain—were being addressed through physical therapy, rest, and the antidepressant medications, the issues of the soul were being addressed with continued biblical counseling and pursuing God through His Word, biblically based books, and prayer. Our family was very supportive, as well as our church family, ministering to us with calls, cards, meals, and prayers. My recovery was a gradual process that took place over a period of six grueling months.”
- Idols of the Heart—Previously Hidden—were Exposed: “I came to the realization that desiring comfort and to be in control were things I had idolized and needed to confess as sin. Suffering was part of God’s plan to produce the holiness that He was seeking to work out in my life….”
- Growth in Humility and Awe: “I grew in my awe of the unsearchableness of our humanness. It humbled me to know that I wasn’t in control of what was going on in my mind and emotions and that I had to trust in God’s good purposes in them, knowing that He would see my through those issues that were out of my control, and that He would do so partly through a medical means.”
- Greater Dependence upon Grace: “I needed to seek only Him and rest in what He has accomplished through His sacrificial death, resurrection, and intercession on my behalf. My entire salvation and sanctification is solely dependent on His grace.”
- Joy Comes in the Morning, after Mourning. “What praise I offered to God for His amazing grace when I was finally able to go back to teaching and preaching again! My emotions have returned and I have an irrepressible joy over my Savior and a story that I can’t keep quiet about.”
It is that final sentence from Bob that convinced me that I should write this unplanned sequel to yesterday’s post. May we all be humbled by this transparent testimony of how God graciously restored joy at the end of a deep valley of depression and may we ask the Lord to teach us to be more compassionate toward one another!
[As I said yesterday, when I blog through books, which is often a practice of mine, I do so by my own volition—based upon my own personal growth needs and ministry interests. In the case of this book, Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, I am especially appreciative of my colleagues at the Biblical Counseling Coalition who are responsible for compiling this important collection of essays on theological and methodological issues in biblical counseling today.]