Listen: Pastor and author Chris Cippoloni didn’t set out to write this book. Stephen O’Doherty was reluctant to interview him about it. It turned out to be one Open House’s best conversations this year.
Chris Cippoloni didn’t set out to be ‘that guy who wrote a book about depression and Christianity’; it sort of just happened.
The beginnings of the book were a few thoughts scribbled down to himself during a particularly bad episode. In fact it was while he was in hospital, trying to work out what the Bible said that might make any sense of what he was going through: serious bout of depression. Those thoughts have now become a book: Down Not Out – Depression, anxiety and the difference Jesus makes.
When my producer suggested we interview Chris for Open House, I didn’t say yes immediately. To be frank, I was cautious. As a Christian who lives with depression I’m always supposed to “rejoice in the Lord”, aren’t I? But in those moments when I can’t rejoice, because even my own thoughts have turned against me, what does that say about my faith? It’s like this: I know that Jesus loves me – and how much. But there are times when I can’t respond to that truth. Realising that, can just make things worse.
This conversation was going to be very close to home. It probably won’t surprise you to know, however, that it turned out to be one of the most helpful I’ve had for some time. (Isn’t the Christian life just like that!)
An Authentic Conversation
What I really appreciated was the authenticity of both Chris’s faith and his experience of depression. He thoughtfully and carefully locates the experience of people with depression in a gospel-centred view of life.
“It should not surprise us [as Christians],” he said. “We have a world view where we live in a broken creation. We have a Christ who has a victorious resurrection, but has to go through a painful crucifixion to get there. Following Jesus is not just following him to his glory, but following him into his suffering too. In the Garden of Gethsemane he endured enormous mental and emotional anguish.
“The gospel at its core, is recognised need. To recognise our own weakness should not be an affront to our world view—in fact it should confirm our worldview.”
Chris’s book helpfully addresses that dissonance between thoughts and feelings which, for believers, become a spiritual dissonance.
“Our feelings at times will betray reality,” he said. “We need to be ready to challenge our feelings. You can feel hopeless, but it doesn’t mean you are hopeless. You can feel unlovable but it doesn’t mean you are unlovable.”
Giving and Serving, From our Weakness
There’s no quick fix for depression. Treatment and management have come a long way, and thankfully we are moving beyond the days when medication was regarded with suspicion. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, please don’t hold back – seek medical and psychological advice. Even with treatment, people with a chronic condition have up periods and down periods. For example, for myself, winter is particularly difficult.
Chris Cippoloni says we need to be realistic about our capacity during these times, and so should those around us. Too often, we fall into the trap of the world around us – that our worth comes only from our achievements, the position we hold, or function we perform. We know that’s not how God see us, but it can be hard for that to cut through.
I found Chris’s reference to the parable of the widow’s offering, particularly helpful.
“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’ ” (Mark 12:41-44)
“There’s a financial parable there about relative versus absolute generosity,” said Chris. “But at times I’ve thought about my own depression forcing me into the widow’s status. I was once the one giving abundantly into the temple collection, and here I am with just two coins – emotional coins, if you like.
“All I can spend it on is getting out of bed that day and then I’m done. Has that day been wasted? No, because I’ve used what I’ve got to honour Christ.”
For Family and Friends
There’s advice in Chris’s book, too, for family and friends.
“It’s not always easy to be around someone with depression but you also need to remember that whatever you’re observing about them, they are living with on the inside. They can’t remove themselves from themselves,” he said. “When I’m in the pit of depression I am not feeling worthy of anybody’s love. I’m not loving myself at that moment.
“So the antidote needs to be the love of God. The cross of Christ confirms what God says: that he would not even [save the life of] his own son, for me. I am worthy of his love; I have enough dignity for him to have done that, and even when I am at my worst I’m still worthy of it,” he said.
Our prayer is that this conversation will be helpful to those living with depression and those supporting them. Listen to the audio of this conversation in the player at the top of the page, or head to Open House podcasts in iTunes.
If you’re struggling or need someone to talk to, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14