Psalm 130:1 – From the depths of my despair I call to you, Lord. (GNT)
She was at the lowest point that I had ever seen. It was mid-winter, and her Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS) was visiting the full force of its power on her. At first, I did not know how to help her to fight her way through the deeply felt depression. However, after some reflection, I said, "When I get to that place, the only thing that brings me through is the knowledge that God loves me no matter what." She replied, "Unfortunately, I don't believe in God."
As we sat there in silence for a few minutes until the therapy hour came to an end, something happened. The cloud hanging over her had begun to lift. She still didn't believe in God, and she was still depressed, but something about my assertion (perhaps it was that she knew that I understood the depths of her despair) and the way that I shared it allowed her to trust that she could and would emerge from the blackness, or at least could cope with it. Notice that I didn't tell her that she would get better if she believed in God — or that God was able to heal her. I simply witnessed to her experience and to my experience.
I remember someone who would say, as autumn faded into early winter, "See you in the spring," and true to their word, they would go into hibernation for three or four months and be back at church in the spring. This person had learned how to live with their SADS.
Then, there are the many people in the psychiatric hospital where I was chaplain, whose depression was devastating for them and for their families. Sometimes, medication and/or electric shock therapy (ECT), with psychotherapy and/or occupational therapy, helped them to overcome or live with their depression. Sometimes, it didn't. A mystery — a painful mystery. Perhaps, in time, an answer will be found.
There are many kinds of depression. There is a continuum between grief and existential sadness or situation-related despair at one end of the spectrum, with SADS in the middle, and psychotic depression and bipolar affective disorder at the other end.
At the extreme end and in the middle, medication (sometimes ECT) and professional therapy is essential. Our brain biology is not functioning the way that God intends it to function, and we need to use these God-given ways of trying to facilitate healing.
When someone is dealing with grief, existential sadness, or even situation-related despair, having someone come alongside them so that they know they are not alone may be all they need. It is not, of course, helpful, to tell a depressed person to "cheer up". They simply need to know that we are there, that we have some understanding of their pain, and that we care.
Whatever way healing occurs, we can be certain that God is there, acknowledged or not, in the healing process.
Scripture Prayer: Loving God, I always stay close to You, and You hold me by the hand. You guide me with Your instruction and at the end You will receive me with honour. What else do I have in heaven but You? Since I have You, what else could I want on earth? My mind and my body may grow weak, but You are my strength; You are all I ever need. Amen. (Psalm 73:23-26 GNT – adapted)
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Listen while you read: "Where Cross The Crowded Ways Of Life" (Lyrics)