February 27, 2015
Chances are you know someone who is struggling with depression. They may be living under your own roof or sitting in the pew next to you. How should we go about serving those who are struggling in this way?
I have had several people ask, “How can I be a good friend to someone struggling through depression?” Considering the pervasiveness of depression, this is not an uncommon question.
When I am driving through a storm, clenching the wheel, and someone flashes their bright lights in my eyes, it drives me insane. Don’t flash your brights in the fog or storm, it only makes visibility worse and puts the driver in danger. The same is true for helping your depressed friend.
Flashing The Brights
What are examples of flashing the brights?
Taking your friend through a checklist of questions: Have you been reading the Bible? Have you been praying? Have you been exercising? The object of the questions is to reveal to the patient that she has not been taking care of herself and is in need of more things to do. The result? Only more condemnation and guilt on top of what she are already feeling. Not only is she depressed, but you’ve just reminded her that she is failing as a Christian (while little do we know, in that moment, she probably doesn’t even think she is a Christian). But in our quest to help, we become doctors with our prescription pads out attempting to find a regiment that will lift the darkness.
In doing so, we make earnest attempts at giving good advice.
Take some medicine. Take a run. Take up a new hobby. Read the Bible more. Dump your boyfriend. Quit your job. Go back to school and get your Master’s. Join a small group. Go to a Beth Moore conference. Have more sex. Find a new “happy” series to watch on Netflix. Buy a sunlamp. Buy some vitamins (B12, St. Johns Wart, Vitamin D). Get over it. Just be happy. Think positive thoughts. Think of others who are worse off than you.
Most of these things are fine on their own. In some cases, they can offer at least some temporary form of relief. But the wound of depression is so much deeper than this. These things don’t have the power to heal what may be going on in the mind, and what may very well be going on deep in their soul.
The Healing Light
Again, telling someone to do more will only bring additional condemnation to an already bleeding soul. The healing salve comes not through us telling them what they must do, but through telling them what has already been done. They don’t need to hear, “Do this, and it will get better.” They need to hear, “Jesus did everything; it is finished.”
Their heart is in desperate need for you to shine the light of the Gospel, because most likely they are well aware of all the things they have not been doing. They have put their very lives under the microscope of their depression. They are probably driven by performance and find their value (or lack thereof) in it.
Though they feel covered in condemnation, remind them the only thing they are actually covered in is the blood of Christ (Romans 8:1). He does not see someone who fails miserably in every way, nor does he see someone the world would be better off without. No, quite the contrary, he sees his son in whom he is well pleased. Jesus did everything perfectly, and every person that trusts in Christ now receives his righteousness and gets credit for his perfect life. When God looks at one of his beloved children, he doesn’t see darkness, he sees the light of Christ.
They’re not a waste of flesh. God can use them for His glory and the good of others. The world needs them. There are other hurting souls who have no hope of a God that loves the weak, wounded, and broken. How amazing is it when one sick man leads another sick man to hope?
Show Them The Light
Where they are weighed down with sin, remind them of a burden that is light.
Pull back the curtains and let the light of the Gospel warm their hearts. As the light pushes through, eventually, all of the shadows will flee and what looked like monsters will be realized to have only been cobwebs. The Gospel scatters darkness.
Those who are walking around in a coma of depression have forgotten their own story. They are living between once upon a time and happily ever after and it gets kind of hazy. They feel the dragon’s breathing curses and see monsters everywhere. Remind them this is not the land where all of our dreams come true. Tell them their story in Christ. Remind them of who they are in Christ.
As we fight this battle for our brothers and sisters (remembering the war is already won (Col. 2:14-15). We must take up the armor of Christ, and loudly roar the truth of Christ over another prowling lion that is roaring unrelenting with condemnation. Breathe the warmth of the Gospel on wintery hearts and pray that the king of all seasons melts away the ice.
Reason to Hope
Tell them the evidences of grace you see in their life. The Psalmist cries out to God, “Why are you hiding your face from me?” It is common for a depressed person to feel like God is not working her salvation out. It is confusing and scary. Tell her the ways you have seen the Lord move in her life. Even the fact that she sees her need for God and her weakness to change her own heart is, in fact, the Lord’s working in her life. The very fact that you know you need Jesus is a grace in and of itself.
When she feels as if she is sinking remind her of the anchor attached to her soul. Though the waters rise, she will not fall because Christ is in this storm with her.
Point her to a faithful God that will not lose one of his own (John 10:30). Not one. A God that entered into hell so that hell could have no hold on us. She may smell the flames and smoke around her, but it cannot harm one hair on her head. God is not a fair-weather friend, gone when rain clouds start to surface and the earth rumbles underneath. God is not like an insect that is drawn to the sweetest flowers; no, he comes for those who need to taste hope. He comes for the sick.
Remind her that tears are not wasted; they are only preparing desert ground for life. There are storms under the sun but they are sent to bring life. There is hope shooting up through the gloom – tiny seeds opening up and pushing through darkness towards the sun. Life is happening even though it is not seen.
Be a friend, not her savior. Don’t just say you are going to pray, actually pray for her. Combat the forces of darkness on your knees. This will get hard when you see no improvements, but brace yourself and keep bringing her soul before the throne.
Loving a depressed friend takes work. It takes spending time in the trenches of the darkness with them. But can rest knowing that God is stronger than their doubts, fears, and failures. And as Rend Collective says, “God is stronger than our hearts.” Amen.
Annie Leigh Edwards is a homemaker and wife to Jamus, who is the Pastor for Preaching & Vision at Pleasant Valley Community Church. She is a mom, musical theater nerd, lover of dark chocolate, and coffee. Annie Leigh writes on living in The Fullness of Empty at www.annieleigh.com. Follow her on Twitter @AnnieEdwards01.
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