Dismantling Depression: Naming Our (Shared) Delusion

Genesis 11:1-4


Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
James 4:13-16 (ESV)

In last week’s blog here on Every Square Inch – Depression: Joining Battle with Pernicious Lies and Accusations – I confessed that my fight against depression has been lifelong. I also acknowledged that I (unwittingly) fell into the all-too-common trap of silently expecting God to cure me of absolutely all my weaknesses once I gave my life to Christ. In the years immediately following my conversion, it never really occurred to me that it actually might be a good thing for Him to walk with me as I continued to struggle with this issue, that the struggle itself was something He might be pleased to use for my ultimate and eternal benefit and – if He desired – the benefit of others (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).

My vision for my own life is far too narrow, even today, and I frequently must remind myself that Jesus has me exactly where He wants me (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

Last week, I shared how what we moderns prefer to call “negative self-talk” can actually be the enemy of our souls, relentlessly whispering damnable poison into our hearts; I also suggested some tools that have helped me unmask many of the lies I tell myself and counter them with the Truth (John 14:6) and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). As I have traveled this long road, what I have found entirely fascinating about the phenomenon of chronic depression is that many of the people I know who suffer from its effects swing wildly between the poles of two entirely false (and ironically-contrary) beliefs: 1) “I am clearly the worst person that has ever walked the face of this Earth” (i.e. negative self-talk), and 2) its equally-unhelpful opposite, “I am in control, or at least ought to be in control, of everything that comes in contact with my life” (i.e. foolish and sinful expectations of God, self, and other human beings).

You see the paradox, right? On one hand, “I am the scum of the Earth and deserve nothing.” On the other, “I am surprised, offended and genuinely shocked when God does not fulfill His part in bringing My Preferred Itinerary for Today into full fruition.” It’s as if Unrelenting Self-Loathing and Unbridled Hubris got married, had a kid, and decided to name it Unending Misery. From what I have been able to observe, the key ingredient for keeping this sort of self-destructive lifestyle in full swing is, of course, Unending Focus on Self. If someone suffering from this sort of depressive cycle can be coaxed out of self-focus for even a short while – volunteer to join a work crew out in the community, for example – the iron-fisted grip of depression nearly always begins to lift. Not always, of course, but with a percentage of success that makes it at least as worthwhile as yet another antidepressant cocktail.

In my experience, the Big Fat Lie undergirding many a vicious cycle of depression is spiritual, and runs back at least as far in human history as Genesis 3. The fact is, we human beings may say that we “know” we cannot be God, but we nonetheless begin to act upon the deeply-ingrained, sinful desire to be God – to escape God’s universe and circumvent God’s rule. While we may never speak these words out loud, we simply refuse to accept our role as creatures, rather than Creator. The truth is – and we know it, even as we struggle against it – we exist and we perish in complete accordance with God’s will; whether we fulfill our living and our dying as Friend of God or Enemy of God is entirely up to us, but the fact is that we will do both as part of His Created Order. Refusing to accept this simple fact breeds ongoing frustration, which in turn can provide fertile ground into which depression sinks a deep and complex system of roots.

“I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.”
Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
1 Chronicles 29:11

As I said last week, the tools listed below have been extremely helpful for me. Every case of depression is as unique as the storyline of every life, and I cannot pretend to craft a “one size fits all” solution. (Talk about hubris!) Instead, these are some thoughts on how I began to do the long, hard work of uprooting the underlying delusions and half-truths that were complicating factors in my case.

I am a created being, not the Creator.
God is the single-best lover of my eternal soul, and He if entirely free to miraculously intervene on my behalf when and if it suits His larger purpose to do so. I will attempt to conduct my everyday behavior in accordance with His will, yes, but I am bound to screw things up regularly, or fail to understand rightly what He is calling me to in any number of situations. When I mess up, I have Someone to pray to alongside a caring Christian community; both will be glad to help me work out my error-riddled thinking and help me address my foolish words or deeds. My job is to seek His will and apply it, but ultimately He is in charge, not me.

The Lord is still on the throne.
Something has gone wrong, things have not worked out well, and I am tempted to wonder if God has abandoned me. He has not. He has not stuck by me because I am so great, but because He is. His Word is (unlike mine) His bond. Jesus is preparing a room for me right now, even as He watches me mess up time after time. He has not ceased to love me, nor will He. My job right now is to discover where I went wrong – or even if I went wrong – and seek as best I am able to put things right. It may just be that I did everything right but His timing is not my timing. I refuse to get mad at God, but rather seek to uncover which of my thwarted expectations were more about my kingdom and my honor than His.

I am free in Christ to say “I don’t know.”
No one expects me to have the answer to every question. No one expects me to solve every problem. I am not Moses, sitting in the desert day after day judging the people from morning until evening. I am limited, I always will be (in this life, anyway) and, as soon as I admit that to myself, and aloud to others, I paradoxically will become wiser. In the meantime, I should just simply acknowledge that I cannot fix this person or that problem, much as I might like to. I can sit with them, listen to what they have to say and seek to offer any comfort I can, but there is absolutely no burden on me to respond authoritatively, other than the one that I have placed on myself. Some of the smarted people I know in this life say things like, “Yeah, gosh, I just don’t know…but I’d like to find out, too!”

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence“I got no game.”
OK, so I stole this one from Michael John Cusick, but mostly because it works really well. In Christ, we are all free to drop the soul-crushing pretense that we “have it all figured out.” In fact, as you draw closer to Jesus, you actually start to become even more aware of just how much you “ain’t got much of anything” figured out. That’s good; that’s Humility, your new best friend. In the upside-down world of the Kingdom of God, the way up is the way down, and the man or woman who is ready to admit that they “got no game” when it comes to managing the Big Questions in Life has purposefully emptied their ego such that Jesus now has living space to bring His wisdom inside our hearts to do some serious redecorating. “I got no game” relieves me of the far-too-heavy burden of figuring out what’s wrong with me, let alone what’s wrong with you. “I got no game” brings honesty and humility into your corner and does not diminish God’s love for you one iota.

These thoughts may or may not prove helpful as you seek to dig out and destroy your own depressive root system; all I can say for certain is that they have achieved noticeable results for me, personally. That said, I would advise caution before dismissing this approach without careful consideration, or maybe even some experimentation. The Kingdom of God often appears foolish to the fallen, natural instincts of humankind; what initially comes off as “weakness” often brings with it an untapped reservoir of life and power. No one appeared “weaker” or more “foolish” than Jesus as He hung in agony on the cross, yet in His humility He split all of human history in two, and saved us all.

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.”
Job 38:1-3 (ESV)

The Parable of the Wedding Feast
Now [Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 14:7-11

Humility by Andrew MurrayThe lesson is one of deep import: the only humility that is really ours is not that which we try to show before God in prayer, but that which we carry with us, and carry out, in our ordinary conduct; the insignificance of daily life are the importance and the tests of eternity, because they prove what really is the spirit that possesses us. It is in our most unguarded moments that we really show and see what we are. To know the humble man, to know how the humble man behaves, you must follow him in the common course of daily life.
Andrew Murray, Humility

Resources

Please Note: If you are contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Lifeline provides toll-free access to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The diagnosis and treatment of clinical depression, anxiety, and associated disorders requires a qualified mental health professional. Experiences and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of pastors and staff at The Crossing EPC.

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