I think we need to talk more openly about depression and anxiety in our churches.
Several weeks ago I mentioned in a sermon that I have struggled with anxiety throughout my life. Immediately after my sermon a woman came up to me and asked me to pray for her because she was struggling with anxiety. She said, “I’m glad you mentioned it, because it made me feel like I could come up and ask for prayer.”
Think about it for a second. Millions of people around the world struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, and millions of people within our churches struggle as well. Many women go through a period of strong depression following the birth of a child. Many great Christians of the past have struggled with depression, such as Charles Spurgeon, William Cowper, and David Brainerd.
And yet for some reason, we don’t like to talk about it. It feels weird and uncomfortable. Why is it such a taboo subject? I think that there are a couple reasons.
We Don’t Understand It
Most of us have not and will not experience true depression and anxiety. Yes we get sad and yes we get worried, but this is just isn’t the same. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating and crushing in ways that normal sadness and worry are not. Because we haven’t experienced it, we have difficulty understanding those who are sinking in the darkness, and we tend to compound the matter by saying, “I do understand.” And when people feel misunderstood, they are hesitant to talk about their struggles.
We Misapply the Doctrine of Sin
The biblical doctrine of sin is one of the most helpful, life-giving doctrines available. The Bible informs me that my heart is sinful and deceitful, and that there is a war taking place within me between the Holy Spirit and indwelling sin. But, the doctrine of sin is one that must be handled with kid gloves, especially when dealing with topics like depression and anxiety. When someone is struggling with serious depression, it doesn’t automatically mean that they are sinning in unbelief or failing to believe the promises of God. There may be some element of that, but it is also likely that there is something physically wrong with them as well.
After all, the Bible tells us that sin has affected every part of man, both soul and body. 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Our outer man, including our brain, is wasting away.
Depression is not just a matter of the soul. It really is a matter of the body as well, and we need to understand that. When someone tells me that they have a splitting headache, I don’t immediately ask them how their soul is doing. I may get to that, but not immediately. When someone tells us that they are struggling with depression and I immediately move to spiritual diagnosis, I’m not helping them, I’m discouraging them, and tempting them to close down.
So what exactly am I proposing? Tomorrow I’ll put up some more specific suggestions, but for now let me propose this. Let’s try to create a culture in which our friends who are depressed or anxious feel comfortable talking about it. And that starts with listening to them as they describe their struggle and being quick to offer comfort and slow to offer solutions.
More on this tomorrow.
+photo by Sander van der Wel