(I am doing this Desperate discussion today, so I can have a Valentine's post for tomorrow. Somehow, "depression" did not seem the right topic for Valentine's Day!)
"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
This quote is the way Joy began her history report about Eleanor Roosevelt. Seems Mrs. Roosevelt had much in life to get down about. Her parents expected a boy when she was born, making her feel like a disappointment from the very beginning. Her mother told her she was homely, and she died when Eleanor was just eight. Her father was an alcoholic and died just a year later. She married FDR and he was disloyal to her and had an affair off and on throughout her marriage. There were other issues, too, but this amazing women decided that it was up to her to take hold of life and conquer all of her sadness. She left a legacy as one of the most hard-working presidential wives, and began and developed many wonderful community services and organizations that helped many unfortunate people. She was beloved by thousands and of course is still remembered today. Her life has been captivating to Joy. She has talked and talked about her over the past several years. "I really want to be like her, Mom. She could have been a victim, but she chose to rise above her circumstances and do great things." I have to agree with Joy.
Depression and discouragement are rampant in our culture today. Many people are sad and overwhelmed about finances, divorce, immorality, broken relationships, loneliness, illness, contention, and so many other things. We have had quite a bit of disappointment in our lives, but some of it I may never be able to write about out of loyalty and keeping integrity with those close to me. In the midst of a mission trip a few years ago, after having been in four different countries working with so many wonderful leaders and missionaries, I was struck by how many were depressed and disappointed with life. I realized that it would be very easy for most of us to be disillusioned in a fallen world. The issues each person was struggling with in those countries were similar to the ones I so often heard about at home: difficulty in marriage; less-than-perfect children, prodigals, compromised marriages and great disappointment, and the baggage that goes with rebellious teenagers; meager finances, loneliness and all the things I mentioned above. As I sat pondering this on a park bench, I realized that my own life was filled similarly with disappointments, but that I did not want to be sad all my life and I knew God did not want me to be a victim.
I will be writing about this whole issue of depression in a three- part series about Depression and Darkness, so stay tuned for the following articles!
As I have studied scripture, it is very clear that there is a way to find joy in life and move from the darkness of depression to the light of Christ. He Himself said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." He is the way--not just to God and to redemption, but also the way to live on this path of life. He is with me on the way. Studying His life showed me secrets to follow to maintain my own joy and move toward contentment, and I want to share some of them over the next few days.
Disappointed expectations are at the root of depression. Sometimes we think that something will be one way, then find that thing disappointingly inadequate. We feel hopeless to change it, or to believe that something different or better can ever come. In order to work with our depression, we must put our finger on the sources that have caused the heart anger and frustration and hopelessness in order to be able to mount up over it. There are several specific things that have helped me in this area over the years, and these are what I'd like to share with you.
1. Don't let the nay-sayers get you down. Disappointment in relationships is one of the biggest reasons for depression. Feeling hurt, unloved, unappreciated, or scared by others who should love us but have shown us anger instead--these are major sources of disappointment. There are plenty of people around who are immature and are readily available to criticize, say hurtful things, reject us and argue with us, or let us down. I call these people nay-sayers, or Job's friends, or thorns! The nay-sayers want to disagree with you: your ideals, your spirituality, your personality and so on. Job's friends are those who smugly sit by, feeling free to say hurtful things or offer critical opinions in their Pharisee robes. And many in our lives have emotional scars, are selfish and immature or damaged themselves. Though it is certainly okay to be saddened by people who hurt us, we don't have to take their criticism or hurt to heart and we do not have to let these define us. I have some irrational people in my life who will be, and have been there forever! But even if they become angry or hurtful, again, I don't have to let their words or behavior enter into my soul or allow them to determine how I feel about myself. Sometimes it takes years to heal and to begin learning how to mount up over these relationships. But, slowly, I have learned not to take in someone else's anger, insecurity or immaturity. Jesus told Peter to forgive 'seventy times seven". Bitterness in our hearts only injures us further and steals our time and our joy. I can, instead, trust in the one who will always love me to build me up, to affirm me and to comfort me. Jesus did this: " ... and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" 1 Peter 2:23.
And so, each time I am hurt or discouraged by one of my "thorns", I have practiced giving it to God and asking Him to hold to hold it for me. I then seek to find my center and live in God's love and affirmation and freedom. I talk to my brain and fill it with God's truth, rejecting those destructive thoughts and hurtful words, and replace them with God's word and His peace. Redeeming the situation by refusing to take the hurt into my heart--or body!--has given me the ability to be healthy in spite of my circumstances.
2. Don't live by guilt. So you blow it once in a while (or perhaps often!) accept God's forgiveness and move on--wallowing in self-condemnation only leads to more depression. You are forgiven--live in His forgiveness and don't rehearse your problems over and over again in your mind. Take your thoughts captive and put them in jail, never to bother you again. Jesus did this, too--He just trusted God. He put the situation in God's hands (I picture it as God's filing cabinet) and then closed the drawer for God to deal with in His time. I have a choice about whether I will be bitter and mean-spirited back to those who hurt me, or to be a peacemaker and just to practice 1 Corinthians 13-- "Love is patient, love is kind," and so on. If it is true that what we sow we will reap, then if we practice love and peace-making and sow seeds of kindness and grace, we will certainly become more kind and gracious and our souls will be filled with satisfaction.
Does this mean that the mean people will go away, or that you'll never again feel guilty? No, there will be sad times ahead, but I don't have to be a victim--or take it in.
1. What are the sources of greatest discouragement and depression in your life?
2. What about motherhood makes you feel stressed and depressed?
3. How can you take responsibility for your own happiness and make plans that will help you find encouragement, pleasure, friendship and fulfill your need to be understood?
4. Is there anything you need to get rid of in your emotional life--bitterness, a broken relationship, pride or anger at God-- in order to move on in life and to become free? What will you do to deal with this issue so you can have a clean slate?
Did you know that God cares so deeply for you? He sees you, and even collects your tears ...
"You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?" Psalm 56:8
Remember, nothing and no one can separate you from His love. (Romans 8:38-39) I am praying for those who read here today. May you truly know you are not alone or invisible to God. He hears, He loves you and He will lift you up. May you be blessed.