From The Depths Of Despair

Psalm 130:1 – From the depths of my despair I call to you, Lord. (GNT)

She was at the lowest point that I had ever seen. It was mid-winter, and her Seasonal Affective Disorder (SADS) was visiting the full force of its power on her. At first, I did not know how to help her to fight her way through the deeply felt depression. However, after some reflection, I said, "When I get to that place, the only thing that brings me through is the knowledge that God loves me no matter what." She replied, "Unfortunately, I don't believe in God."

As we sat there in silence for a few minutes until the therapy hour came to an end, something happened. The cloud hanging over her had begun to lift. She still didn't believe in God, and she was still depressed, but something about my assertion (perhaps it was that she knew that I understood the depths of her despair) and the way that I shared it allowed her to trust that she could and would emerge from the blackness, or at least could cope with it. Notice that I didn't tell her that she would get better if she believed in God — or that God was able to heal her. I simply witnessed to her experience and to my experience.

I remember someone who would say, as autumn faded into early winter, "See you in the spring," and true to their word, they would go into hibernation for three or four months and be back at church in the spring. This person had learned how to live with their SADS.

Then, there are the many people in the psychiatric hospital where I was chaplain, whose depression was devastating for them and for their families. Sometimes, medication and/or electric shock therapy (ECT), with psychotherapy and/or occupational therapy, helped them to overcome or live with their depression. Sometimes, it didn't. A mystery — a painful mystery. Perhaps, in time, an answer will be found.

There are many kinds of depression. There is a continuum between grief and existential sadness or situation-related despair at one end of the spectrum, with SADS in the middle, and psychotic depression and bipolar affective disorder at the other end.

At the extreme end and in the middle, medication (sometimes ECT) and professional therapy is essential. Our brain biology is not functioning the way that God intends it to function, and we need to use these God-given ways of trying to facilitate healing.

When someone is dealing with grief, existential sadness, or even situation-related despair, having someone come alongside them so that they know they are not alone may be all they need. It is not, of course, helpful, to tell a depressed person to "cheer up". They simply need to know that we are there, that we have some understanding of their pain, and that we care.

Whatever way healing occurs, we can be certain that God is there, acknowledged or not, in the healing process.

Scripture Prayer: Loving God, I always stay close to You, and You hold me by the hand. You guide me with Your instruction and at the end You will receive me with honour. What else do I have in heaven but You? Since I have You, what else could I want on earth? My mind and my body may grow weak, but You are my strength; You are all I ever need. Amen. (Psalm 73:23-26 GNT – adapted)

1 comment on this post.
  1. PresbyCan Feedback:

    Good advice, John.

    Hi John. Thank you for your message and for sharing it.

    Thank you for your devotional this morning. Depression runs in our family.

    Many thanks for your explanation re depression and the treatment of such! It provided a better understanding for me and I hope to be more so regards myself and others. Blessings.

    Thanks for this, John. I wish people would understand that it is okay not to feel joy all the time. I have struggled with depression!

    Thank you for your insightful and helpful devotional. May God continue to bless you and your ministry which is so greatly needed.
    As an “old nurse” and one who is usually on the care-giver side, this devotional is a “keeper”!
    Praise God that He is always with us.

    So good to hear your message re depression. Sometimes it feels like nobody understands. Years ago I felt if I just had more faith in God I wouldn’t be depressed. Now I accept it as it comes and I have strategies that work for me. I am fortunate enough to head south in the winter and get myself into some sunshine. It does make a difference.

    Hello John
    This was a very good and informative devotional, thank you. I have 3 adult children who have difficulties with depression on different levels and different reasons. Yes, to show them they are not alone and we have some understanding of grief etc. is better than “Cheer up.”
    God bless.

    Hi John,
    So right. I lead Spiritual talks at the local Long Term Care Centre and I find that quite often the ones who are depressed won’t come, but the people who do feel better just by listening and being in a group of likeminded people.
    Thank you for writing.

    Dear John Carr,
    Thank you for helping us to understand the functions and misfunctions of some persons’ bodies/minds.
    I pray for you who work with these persons and for the persons affected.
    I’m sure God is powerfully present to help. I pray that He will give us effective ways to help– by bringing them in touch with His power – and His sunshine.

    Dear John:
    All you say is true but there is another aspect already discovered and very healing for mind and body. There are serious nutritional deficiencies in our food. That leaves us hungry so we overeat. We don’t eat enough dark green vegetables. All pop and packaged fruit juice should be avoided. God provides good food and growing wisdom.

    Greetings John,
    Thank you for this devotional you submitted. Having worked in the field of Mental Health and Life Skills for several years I relate with all you said.
    Depression is a difficult illness to overcome and showing quiet understanding and care to those dealing with their affliction helps a lot.
    Prayers for them are comforting and in your position as chaplain your prayers are appreciated.
    Blessings to you.

    Thanks for sharing this devotional with us. You brought back memories of trying to help my brother through his very deep depression that had become psychosis. He eventually landed in State hospital, but kept saying that he wanted to die. No medication brought him relief. He died while hospitalized. He was younger than me. So very sad. My heart broke for him. He simply couldn’t see the beauty of this world. All he saw was the despair. All he could feel was hopelessness. I pray a cure can be found for those who are so severely afflicted by this horrible disease. Thanks for sharing your experience with this difficult to treat disease. Blessings.

    John, how nice to see the name of an old friend on this excellent devotional. It was a chaplain who encouraged me to see a psychiatrist many years ago, who assured me my mood swings were a result of brain chemistry and said, “I wish all my patients were as sane as you.”
    He said I was “Psychlo-thymic” a mild form of bi-polar, or manic-depression as it was called in those days. He was not at all religious but was a great help to me and I am convinced God is at work in all these situations and was definitely so in the conversation you describe. I am sure you have helped many people today. And yes Jan and Feb is cocoon time for me, plus mindless mysteries and chocolate! And as I meet my deadlines I know the heaviness will lift.