When my husband and I were thrust into our teen’s battle with depression, we never felt more ill-equipped to respond. Though I myself have sailed the seas of sorrow many times in my teen and adult years, I never imagined our child would take such a journey.
It broke my heart to discover she was walking down a road that I had traveled. I felt guilty, as if I could’ve done something to protect her from the melancholy. I felt regret, as if my history with depression had infected her emotional and physical composition.
Most of all, I felt helpless. I wondered what God was doing in the midst of my teen’s inner turmoil. As days passed and heart-breaking conversations ensued between us, the Lord began to show me just how little control I had over my teen’s experience of despondency. The complicated nature of depression, coupled with my inability to fully understand my teen’s inner turmoil, tempted me to become impatient and bitter about the situation entirely.
With the help of the Holy Spirit, rather than stew over what we did not have the power to change, my husband and I turned to what we could know about the work God was doing under our roof and in our hearts as parents. Over time, we found our footing by focusing on key biblical truths about God’s will for us in the context of the challenges our teen was facing.
If you’ve found yourself caring for a depressed teen, maybe you’re wondering what God is up to in the midst of this heartbreaking time. While we cannot know all the ways that God intends to work in your teen’s despondency, the Scriptures do tell us what his goal is for you in this season: your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Here are four ways (though certainly not all the ways) God is working in this situation to bring about your spiritual maturity in Christ:
- God is training you to become a spiritual first-responder. You are on the front lines of your teen’s battle, strategically placed to minister the gospel to him or her during this season of sorrow. This positioning is no accident, but rather a specific, intentional calling you’ve been singled out for. Serving your teen as a spiritual first-responder will require sacrifice on your part—it will constantly challenge you to lay down your life, alter your plans, and swallow your pride for the sake of another. Through this, God intends to train you to walk by the Spirit, in love, as Christ did when he humbled himself to a cross and surrendered his life for yours (Philippians 2:8, Galatians 5:16-25, Ephesians 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 1 John 2:6).
- God is teaching you to love others humbly and gently. If loving a sinner is no easy task, then loving a suffering sinner is even more difficult. As your teen struggles to navigate emotional fluctuations, conflicts will likely arise in the home. Your child might push you away or snap when you inquire how he or she is doing. Watch yourself, lest you match daggers with daggers (Galatians 6:1). Growing in Christlike humility requires we train to put off our prideful responses such as impatience, anger, or bitterness, and put on the new self created after the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:22-24). This trial is teaching you how to image God’s loving forbearance: for while we were still sinners, Christ volunteered to die for us (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10).
- God is working to replace idols in your heart. Caring for your depressed teen will be a trial all its own. The Scriptures inform us that God uses the trials we face in life to humble, test, and teach us. Deuteronomy 8:2-3 reminds us that the Lord uses hardship not only to reveal our hearts’ spiritual allegiance, but to reorient our worship back to himself. Therefore, it should not be a surprising to discover that previously hidden idols lodged within your heart become exposed during this time. God is working through his Holy Spirit to draw you into periods of fruitful self-reflection, where you examine your thoughts, desires, and motivations through the lens of God’s Word. Cooperate with this work by inviting any wicked ways to be revealed, and drawing near to the throne of grace through confession and repentance (Psalm 139:23-24, Hebrews 4:16, 1 John 1:9).
- God is proving your need of him. Feelings of helplessness serve to reveal our need for help from outside ourselves. We are not powerful enough to rescue our child from their pain and suffering. Only the Lord is sovereign over the hearts of our children and the lives they lead. While you care and love your teen as best you can—according to the wisdom of the Scriptures and empowerment of the Spirit—you’ll always fall short providing everything your depressed teen truly requires. God is using this situation to prove that apart from him, you can do nothing (John 15:5). With him and his help, you can do precisely what he is asking you to do: to love your dear child as yourself (Mark 12:30).
God has equipped you for this hard calling. Through this trial, you’ll come to lean upon the Lord’s wisdom, grace, and strength in ways you never knew were possible. Your teen will learn about the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), who alone has the power to restore his or her crushed spirit and weary body. Together, you’ll walk side by side, and learn that the faith that weeps while it waits is not weak. It is not the strength of our faith, but the object—Jesus Christ—that gives us the hope necessary to endure this challenging season.
**Today’s post is written by Christine Chappell, author of HELP! My Teen Is Depressed.