First things first: depression isn’t a choice. You aren’t depressed because you did something wrong, you didn’t pray enough or because God is teaching you a lesson. If you have been told those things, I’m sorry, none of that is true. I remember hearing those words when I was depressed and they really shook me. At a time when I needed God, those inaccurate statements fostered distance between me and God. If you hear nothing else, hear this: Whether depression is clinical or situational, God is with you as you go through it. God isn’t mad at you, he’s not disappointed in you; he is near to you.
The God of the Bible is familiar with sadness, and though depression isn’t only sadness, the word depression is fairly new and doesn’t exist in the Bible. However, Jesus interacts with severe sadness more than a few times in the Gospels, he is not a stranger to those deep feelings. I think there is a strange myth that Christians should only feel joy and if they don’t, they aren’t connected with God. What’s ironic is that in Isaiah 53, one of the most referenced sections of the Old Testament when talking about the future Messiah, he is called a “man of sorrows.” Dwell on that for a second. The Messiah’s identity is tied with sadness. Jesus is multi-layered and feels his emotions, he is not a robot who only feels joy, and neither are you. You two are together in feeling deeply, Jesus understands it and isn’t offended by your sadness.
Jesus is intimately connected with these emotions. In the book of John, he loses a close friend, Lazarus. Jesus was well-connected with the whole family, so when Lazarus got sick, his sisters, Mary and Martha, let Jesus know what was going on.
John 11:1-3: “Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’”
Jesus’ disciples don’t want to visit the sisters because Jesus had received death threats the last time he visited that region, so they try to convince Jesus to reconsider. The disciples didn’t think going to Lazarus was worth the risk, and yet, Jesus sees the risk differently. He sets off to Bethany to see his sick friend, but by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died. Jesus was walking into a very emotionally-charged situation. His friend has been in a tomb for 4 days, there are mourners all over the city, and Lazarus’ sisters were very mad at Jesus for not coming sooner to save their dear brother. This is not an easy thing to navigate, and yet Jesus doesn’t run away from their emotion, he actually seeks out Mary and Martha to be near them while they are in the depths of sadness.
“She went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11: 28-32)
Mary is honestly speaking out of her pain and tells Jesus that she is mad at him. She doesn’t hold back, she doesn’t cushion it for him, she hands him the deep sadness and anger she’s feeling. This is a great example for us to follow as we choose to allow Jesus into our own feelings. Are we telling Jesus what’s really going on in our hearts? Mary doesn’t pull any punches, she lets Jesus see it all. This sort of vulnerability is so brave, she lays it all out there and Jesus doesn’t run from her and he doesn’t shush her feelings. Jesus chooses to come close to her and be with her in it all.
Here’s the amazing thing, Jesus knew what was next. He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the grave (spoiler alert), and yet he didn’t correct Mary’s emotions. He didn’t remind her to change her perspective or to have joy in the middle of sorrow. He didn’t try to stop her feelings; instead he does something incredibly empathetic and human.
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Jesus wept” (John 11:32-35).
Can you imagine? The God of the universe, the one that will destroy death and sin on the cross, huddles in near a dark tomb with the brokenhearted and weeps with them. Can you see that this is Jesus’ reaction to pain? He weeps with us. He knows about Heaven and God’s power and has hope beyond this world, and yet Jesus still weeps with those who feel sadness. My friend, Jesus looks at our pain and huddles in close with you. Jesus wasn’t mad at Mary when she was honest about how frustrated she was with him, and he wasn’t shushing her tears as she wept. He joined in. Sadness is a song Jesus has sung many times, he will join you in the chorus.
Drawing near to God is not a cure to depression, but it is a safe place to go in the pain. He gets it. You are not alone, he will be the warm light in the darkness, and hold your hand as you walk through it.
The Psalms are like a spa for the soul at times. The people who wrote those words were familiar with pain and tried to seek God in the midst of the pain. Read Psalm 56. How does God come near to those in pain in this psalm, how do you know he cares?
If your feelings of hopelessness have become overwhelming and you are considering self harm or suicide, please call the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255. Someone is waiting to talk to you and shine the light of hope into your darkness. There is hope and help for you!
While some of you may resonate with these stories and experiences, we understand that no two stories are the same. Our enemy is cunning and knows exactly which lies to whisper in our ear to pull us back into isolation and depression. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and we encourage you to wield it as a sword against the lies of the enemy—but don’t do it alone. There are times when we are so weary from battling the lies of the enemy that we don’t have the strength to stand. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” Find friends and community who will speak God’s truth to you and over you. You are not alone in this fight.
In closing, Please take advantage of some of the resources listed below. In his infinite wisdom, God has chosen to work through ordinary people to accomplish his eternal purposes for our good and his glory. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mentioned Ecclesiastes 4:9 earlier; the very next verse says, “Woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Too often, we wait until we have fallen and have no one to lift us up before we seek help. God can work through organizations and resources like these to provide you with the tools and friends you need to ensure you have help when you need it. And if we can pray with you and for you, we would love to do so. You can submit your prayer request here.
Spurgeon’s Sorrows: Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression by Zack Eswine
Come Matter Here by Hannah Brencher
The Mindful Way through Depression by Mark G. Williams
The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb
Image Credit: Lydia Supinger