BCC Staff Note: You’re reading Part One of a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series on depression. In addition to today’s post by Lilly Park, this series will include Depression, Catastrophizing, and Elijah by Pastor Pat Quinn; Depression…Is It All in Your Mind? by Sherry Allchin; and Disciplines of a Depressed Soul by Pastor Paul Tautges.
Where Do We Go?
You’re at your desk and you open the folder containing the counseling form for your appointment next week. At the top of page four, it states to check off relevant problems. The person you will meet with placed a check mark next to the following descriptions:
- Diminished interest in all, or almost all, activities
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Fatigue nearly every day
- Recurrent thoughts of death
At the end of the form, the person states that depression is the reason for counseling.
Where do we as biblical counselors go from here?
First, we aim to be holistic in our approach. Is this person a Christian? Has this person seen a doctor? Are there relevant circumstances in the past or present? What about medications and side-effects? And so forth.
Maybe in the process of gathering data, we realize that grieving (or something else) is a more accurate description than depression. Once I met with a woman who had been married for almost 40 years. She became a widow two years before our meeting and up to that point she had believed depression was her problem. As we talked about her husband’s death, she finally allowed herself to grieve, which became a turning point in her life without him.
A Holistic, Comprehensive Approach
We also should keep in mind a holistic view of human nature. Christians wouldn’t support a reductionist view of human nature, yet sometimes our responses to depression would indicate otherwise. Do we focus on chemical imbalance and antidepressants more than anything else? It’s helpful to know the latest research, but it still does not change the Christian’s goal in life.
The temptation is to find an answer that will explain everything, but God doesn’t work that way. I would say that the issue of chemical imbalance is secondary to the doctrine of humanity—a biblical/theological anthropology. Why? Regardless of the latest scientific research or successful methodology, this person, sitting across from your desk, has been created in the image of God. Remembering this theology can prevent counselors from approaching depression in an imbalanced way.
Whether a person takes antidepressants or not, the Christian goal in life remains the same: to glorify God (despite how I feel).
Avoiding an Imbalanced Approach
A balanced approach means guarding against two extremes that result in oversimplifying or complicating the issue. Here are some examples of an imbalanced approach:
- •Overly focusing on suffering. We acknowledge depression to be an overwhelming struggle and respond with gentleness and love. At the same time, we are careful not to allow the struggles to eclipse the Christian’s obedience to God.
- •Overly focusing on the usage of antidepressants rather than the person’s response. More importantly, is this person trying to change and please God?
- •Overly focusing on the spiritual issues. Let me clarify. I am not saying that the gospel, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines are not important. They are! However, we unintentionally convey that we don’t “get it” or understand the problem when we talk mostly about God or the Bible without addressing practical changes, such as completing a long overdue task or making that difficult phone call. Another potential misperception is that we don’t believe their physical or emotional struggles to be “real” or important when we don’t adequately address them. Here are some helpful comments: “I believe you.” “It’s okay to cry.” “You don’t have to apologize.” “Is there anything else you want to share or talk about?”
Does knowing more about our bodies and struggles make it easier to glorify God? Maybe. It could provide relief, some answers. At times, it is helpful to know in order to make a wise decision. In the end, however, we are left with a decision as to whether we will allow pain and suffering to determine our response to God’s will: to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10). What makes this possible? A stronger body? Good feelings? Maybe you are in a very difficult situation and it doesn’t look like changes will occur, but how will you take a small step in pleasing God today? Ultimately, it’s a choice. Our choice reflects our belief about God’s character and purposes.
Our health and emotions do affect us but are not more powerful than the work of the Holy Spirit in us. I do want to be sensitive about physical and emotional struggles and acknowledge their realities. But, again, do we allow those struggles to become an excuse?
I’ve met some people who struggle with depression and they live a defeated life. Their diagnosis and emotions are more powerful in their minds. They start attending church less, fellowshipping less. Life is too hard, they say.
Living by God’s Grace
Thankfully, following Christ is by God’s grace. Yes, we do our part by seeking God’s Word, praying, and fellowshipping, but everything is by God’s grace. When we are living obediently, it’s by God’s grace. When we attend church even though we don’t feel like it, it’s by God’s grace. When we fall, we stand up by God’s grace. Sometimes, we forget that God is at work in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Where is our confidence? Is it in our strength, health, or emotional well-being? Not until we place our confidence in God and His grace do we experience a lifting of our soul––a theme of the Psalms.
His grace is sufficient to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3). A life without pain doesn’t make it easier to live a godly life, but, a godly life does make it easier to endure pain. As we minister to someone struggling with depression, may our goal not be merely alleviating pain because the Christian life is so much more.
Our message to those struggling with depression is that it is possible to live life to the fullest for those who know Christ as their Savior and Lord. We can assure them that their usefulness isn’t dependent on their health or abilities. Their greatest hindrance to living life fully has been victoriously won at the cross. Now, it’s a matter of living in light of this reality.
Join the Conversation
As a counselor, how do you seek to balance the physical and the spiritual (the whole person) when counseling someone struggling with depression?
As someone struggling with depression, how do you seek to respond to your struggle by balancing the physical and the spiritual (the whole person)?