A few weeks ago I bought this MiniZine from Matthias Media and I finally made time to read it over the weekend.
It has 2 excellent articles on depression, one from a sufferer describing his experience and the difference the gospel makes to those who struggle with Depression & Anxiety.
The other (by Mark Baddeley) is titled ‘Dos and don’ts when dealing with the downcast’ and is an excellent starting point for those who haven’t suffered from depression and find themselves not knowing how to best help those who do. There were 2 things that struck me particularly – probably because I’ve done such a bad job in past.
So if you’re strong and you’re faced with someone weak, your job is to bend down, get down where they are, and lift some of the burden and carry it for a bit. It isn’t to say, “Cheer up mate! Things aren’t as bad as you think. Be strong and trust God.” That is the perennially instinctive thing to say, and it is so because it is cheap.
It is the same kind of love that says “Be warm and well fed, and, by the way, God loves you” when faced with a homeless person. It costs nothing, but just tries to fix the problem quickly in order to remove its challenge to love that person in their concrete situation. It is like the person who intervenes in a supermarket to give the upset child that lolly they’ve just been denied. That person doesn’t care about the child’s welfare; they just want to stop feeling bad because the kid’s upset. The person who really loves the child did something costly and told them ‘no’ when an easier path was clearly open. In biblical terms, such cheap ‘love’ is ‘hate’ that has simply learned to ape its betters. It is faith that is dead, but dead before rigor mortis sets in.
Carrying the burden will look different for different people, but usually it means letting the weak person talk frankly about their life at the moment—listening rather than offering solutions, allowing them to suck some of your emotional energy away, and giving them some of your excess, even if it puts you in the red for a bit.
The priesthood of all believers means that I am your priest and that you are mine at the same time. I can be an instrument of the grace of God to you, and you can be one for me. I can pray for you and you can pray for me.
There are times when I can stand before God on your behalf when your faith fails you and you need someone to do for you what you cannot do for yourself, but what you so desperately need to have done. Like the four friends of the paralytic, we can carry the crippled, rip open the roof and present our friend right in the presence of the throne of grace (Mark 2:1-12). And like in that account, it might not always be entirely clear whose faith was the instrument for the grace of God to operate.
What does such faith operating on behalf of someone else look like? It is faith that is active, doing what that person would do if they could do it, and doing it in such a way that it overflows and feeds them.
So rather than encouraging them to pray, you pray for them, and as best as possible, try and express their feelings and perspective to God, and hand the problem to God. Do that with them present. Acknowledge and give dignity to their downcast experience by articulating it in prayer. By doing that, you implicitly show that it is not the final word.
So rather than calling on them to trust God, give them a reason to trust God. Just talk about how great and good God is; how his mercies are ever renewed; how we don’t have to muster up faith to get access to his grace; how he holds us up even as we trip and fall; how the Father who gave up his eternally loved Son for us when he and us were at each other’s throats is a Father who is really there for us now that we are his children. Just talk about God to them—as though that is life itself. And don’t finish by saying, “So buck up and trust him, okay?”; finish by saying, “He’s on your side; he’s going to carry you through this, however bad it gets”. Sometimes it’s okay to just declare the promises of God and not ask for any response in the short-term.
According to a 2007 national survey, there are around 1 million adults and 160,000 young people in Australia living with depression. This is roughly 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 8 men (info from beyondblue.org.au).
Depression is an issue that is going to effect each of us in some way so I highly recommend these articles as a great place to start understanding it better and learning how to care for those around us. You can buy a paper copy here or PDF here. Mark Baddeley’s article can also be read online here.