The young woman who had just led me to Christ gave me a New Testament and encouraged me to read it. “This is the Word of God,” she said, “and it will change your life. God will speak to you. Read it.”
So I did. Being new to the faith and having never read a Bible before, I didn’t know that it was made up of different books. So like any book, I started on page 1, and found myself in the Gospel of Matthew. Immediately I collided with the genealogy of Jesus and a L-O-N-G list of hard-to-pronounce names.
I was an 18-year-old teenager, and I wasn’t getting much out of this. But I persisted.
The second chapter was the Christmas story, which at least was familiar stuff. Nice, but I still wasn’t hearing God speaking.
On to Chapter 3. John the Baptist, Jesus being baptized…again, familiar but no light bulb moments.
Well, I had gone this far, I might as well continue.
Chapter 4, the temptation in the wilderness. Yeah, I’d heard about that, too.
And then– BAM! I came to verse 16, and the words seemed to SHOUT at me:
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”
“That’s ME!” I thought– and it was. I knew then that God was speaking to me, personally, because I had been sitting in darkness and the shadow of death.
Depression had been part of my life for as long as I could remember. As a child, I didn’t fit in with the other boys. They liked sports; I was a klutz and liked books. There was a lot of painful rejection and bullying, and I spent many sad hours alone.
When I hit puberty, the depression worsened. I began to have terrifying nightmares that left me with a fear of sleeping, so I would stay up watching the late movies on TV until the station signed off the air (I know, I’m dating myself). I’m sure the sleep deprivation did not help my emotional state.
By my late teens, suicidal thoughts were all too common. I would spend hours trying to think of the least painful method. I realize now that I didn’t really want to die; I just wanted the emotional pain to stop.
I’m sure there were warning signs if anyone had bothered to look. But my parents were consumed with their own problems, and I don’t think teachers had much training in mental health in those days. So no one saw the distress I was in.
No one but God, that is.
One evening I ended up at a Christian coffeehouse (an odd name, I thought, since no coffee was served). There I met Marti, who shared the Good News of salvation with me and prayed with me.
I became a born-again Christian, and God began to move in my life. I didn’t have a big emotional conversion experience as some do, but things began to change after that simple prayer. The nightmares vanished, which was a huge relief. And for several years the depression lifted.
But in my early twenties I began to feel more and more stressed about circumstances in my life, and gradually the depression returned. I cried out to God in prayer, but any relief I got was only temporary.
It wasn’t until many years later that I learned depression has many components. One component is physical: some people have a chemical imbalance in their brain, something that the proper medication can alleviate. Another component is emotional: I was still suffering from the verbal and emotional abuse of my past, and counseling was needed to help me deal with that. And the third component is spiritual: we all have an enemy, Satan, who seeks to steal, kill and destroy. If you are suffering from depression, you need to fight the battle on all three fronts.
When someone is depressed, those around them are also affected. My wife was instrumental in convincing me that I needed help. So I went to my pastor and asked if he knew of a good psychiatrist. His answer was terse and unexpected: “Psychiatrists are for pagans,” he snapped. End of discussion. I was devastated by his reply, and a decade went by before I sought help again.
Eventually my new pastor urged me to seek medical help from my doctor. I have been on an antidepressant now for over thirty years. I also went through thirteen years of counseling with several pastors and professional therapists, and I’ve learned how to engage in spiritual warfare and renew my mind. Occasionally I have a bad day, as everyone does. But the depression is under control, and I thank God for that.
There are some important lessons to learn from my story. Fortunately, the Church as a whole has a better understanding now of mental illness. But there is still work to be done to remove the stigma from those who suffer through no fault of their own. Because of the childhood abuse I had suffered, I was terrified of being rejected, and so I hid my condition from even my closest brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pastors also need more training in counseling, and there is an unfortunate shortage of Christian therapists. And Christians need to be educated more about their identity in Christ, because knowing who you are (and Whose you are) is the first step to mental wellness and emotional wholeness.
If you, like me, see yourself “sitting in darkness,” the first thing I want you to know is that there is hope. You have a loving Father who sees your hurt and longs to bring you healing. If you have never asked Jesus to be your Saviour, that is the first thing you need to do. Begin a personal relationship with God.
Perhaps, like me, you are already a Christian but still struggle emotionally. There are steps you can take that will help.
First, I encourage you to seek medical help. Your doctor can perform a mental health screening and prescribe medication that can help. There are a wide variety of options available, and there may be a period of trial-and-error before your physician finds the best medication that will work for you.
Second, you will probably need some good counseling. Depression often has roots in the past, and you may have issues that need to be dealt with. Usually this cannot be done alone; you will need to find someone you can trust.
Third, begin renewing your mind with the Word of God. Learn who you truly are in Christ, and how to silence the lies of the enemy. There are many ways to do this, and many resources that can help. I will share more about this in future blog posts.
The important thing to remember is that you do not have to fight depression alone. Your heavenly Father is there and wants to restore you to wholeness, and He will lead you to others who can help you. I pray for everyone who reads this post, that you will no longer sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. I pray that you too will see that great Light, and find healing as I have.
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