Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
You may not realise it, but there’s a strong chance you may have something in common with the great composer Beethoven or England’s great statesman, Winston Churchill, or the actor John Cleese, best known for his role in Fawlty Towers and the Monty Python series.
You may share the same road that these significant people took on their journey through life: Oliver Cromwell, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Henry Huxley, John Keats, Vivien Leigh and Abraham Lincoln. The list goes on—Michelangelo, Isaac Newton, Edgar Alan Poe, Vincent Van Gogh and Virginia Woolf.
Is it likely you share something with these greats? If you experience depression, you’ll know what they’ve gone through, because they too have experienced that dark and debilitating condition.
Depression has been described as a pervasive and relentless sense of despair and excessive guilt that brings about a lack of interest in life. It’s often accompanied by weight loss, panic, loss of appetite, feelings of uselessness and sleep disturbance, poor concentration and feelings of suicide. Depression invades every age group.
A Harvard University study found that in America, the rate of increase in depression among children is an astounding 23% p.a. and the fastest growing market for antidepressants is preschoolers!
How depression makes you feel
Depression can be surreptitious. It can sneak up quietly and take charge of your life. Other times it can seize you in an instant and plunge you with the force of a rollercoaster on a downhill run, into what seems to be a never-ending black hole.
People who experience depression describe it as feeling continually anxious, sad or unhappy. They experience loss of energy and enthusiasm. They find it difficult to concentrate, feel worthless or hopeless, lose interest in friends or activities, may lose their appetite, have lapses in personal hygiene and experience suicidal thoughts. Depression is something that most people will experience at some stage in their life.
Actor Gary McDonald, our beloved Norman Gunston, ‘The Little Aussie Bleeder’ and the much-tormented offspring in the ABC series Mother and Son, knows what it’s like. In 1993, whilst filming the revival of the Norman Gunston Show, he found himself sliding towards a breakdown. He said, “I was morose, reclusive, everything was doom and gloom.” However, Gary McDonald sought help and fought back and continues to lighten our life with his wit.
If you’re caught in the dark web of depression, there is hope. Family and friends will usually pick up on the signs and try to help, with mixed results.
If you’re caught in the dark web of depression, there is hope.
Often uninformed and so-called insensitive helpers will say, Snap out of it. They don’t know what it’s like. That kind of remedy can make you feel worse! Others will attempt to cheer you up with humour or an outing. Yes, humour and excursions have their place, but they aren’t always the answer.
I’ve heard some Christians say that if you are depressed, there’s something wrong with you spiritually; there’s a defect in your prayer life or some hidden sin that has darkened your spirit. I don’t believe that approach is all that helpful either, particularly when I remember that Jesus experienced depression, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel. The key to finding a way through depression is first to understand its cause and there can be many.
Depression may be linked to physiological factors that are caused by neurological problems or hormonal changes in the body. Depression may develop due to a period of severe stress. This was the case with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane before the soldiers seized him.
More frequently, depression may be linked to unresolved issues involving unfulfilled expectations, relationships, employment, child raising, and a myriad of other possibilities. You may continually experience feelings of failure. To get up and keep going every day becomes more difficult.
How the Prophet Elijah fell into depression
There was one outstanding prophet of the Old Testament who felt like this. He’d come to the point of saying that he didn’t want to keep living. What was the problem with Elijah?
Firstly, he was tired, deadbeat and physically exhausted. He had just passed through a very traumatic experience. Elijah had won a decisive victory against the prophets of Baal who had supported Queen Jezebel. On Mount Carmel, Elijah had called down fire from God in a contest between good and evil, between the Living God and Baal, the false god. Elijah had won, killing all the prophets of Baal with the sword. Now Jezebel was after him.
He’d run a marathon from Carmel to Jezreel and finally fell to the ground exhausted and crawled under a broom tree. His mind somersaulted. He felt as though he hadn’t won after all. Where had everyone gone, all the fighting men of Israel? Where was God? Why was it so quiet? He was on the edge, nerves frayed, overcome with darkness. There seemed to be no way out. All he wanted to do was to end it all.
Secondly, he had lost his sense of the divine presence.
Up to Mt Carmel, God has ordered every step of the way. Elijah had a close relationship with God. But exhausted, vulnerable, plus a death threat from Queen Jezebel—he was caught in a storm of despair. This often happens. We feel that everyone has deserted us, even God.
Thirdly, he believed he was a failure.
God called to him, and Elijah responded: “I am no better than my fathers. They allowed Israel to slip back into idolatry. I have not been able to bring them back. I’ve accomplished nothing.” Elijah had dreamed about seizing the warm hand of success but felt as though he grasped the cold skeleton hand of failure.
Not only did Elijah feel as though he was a failure, but he believed that his fellow men were failures. He said to God that there was not one good man in the whole of Israel.
When you are depressed, it seems that everyone has let you down.
When you are depressed, it seems that everyone has let you down. You lose faith in your friends. You not only lose faith in yourself but also in your fellow man. If you frown at the world, the world tends to frown at you.
In the eyes of men who lived 2000 years ago, it appeared that the death of Jesus was a huge mistake. For the disciples, it was their worst nightmare—their darkest hour. In reality, as they soon learnt, it was their brightest moment.
The Lord said to Elijah, It’s not your place to keep the books, Elijah, you can’t add up. My additions tell me that 7,000 men have not bowed the knee to Baal. How could Elijah be so blind?
When we are down, we don’t see things as they are. We distort reality.
How God helped Elijah recover
How did God help Elijah recover? Is there hope for me, you may ask? What can you do if you feel depressed?
The first thing God did was to allow him to sleep. For many whose depression is the result of prolonged stress, rest is crucial. Eliminating all non-essential activities to provide physical and emotional rest is foundational to recovery. To continue is to face burnout. So God allowed Elijah to sleep.
Secondly, God provided him with something to eat. An angel of the Lord woke Elijah and told him to eat the bread that had been freshly baked for him and drink from the water jar also provided.
One of the symptoms of depression is a loss of appetite, yet it’s essential to maintain a healthy diet. If you struggle with a poor appetite, try to select tasty, nutritious food that you enjoy.
Thirdly, God revealed himself to Elijah, God came to him, not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper. So often when we are at our wit’s end, believing everyone has abandoned us, including God, God comes to us, not in a big dramatic way, but in quietness, providing hope. God reassures us that He’ll not let us go.
As God reveals Himself to us, we may have a greater understanding of what we need to do. Maybe to address the negative view we have of ourselves, or put a relationship right, ask for forgiveness, or provide forgiveness to someone who has wronged us, to deal with negative feelings from the past. God’s whisper is a healing force if we respond in faith.
Fourthly, God gave Elijah something to do. Elijah had been feeling rather sorry for himself, bathing himself in self-pity. So, God thought it wise, after Elijah’s time of rest and recreation, to send him on a special mission to the desert of Damascus.
After rest and relaxation, it’s essential to have some meaningful activity. Exercise is a necessary part of recovery. Moving the blood around our body, even with a short walk every day, is helpful in the healing process. Sometimes developing a new interest that helps us to re-focus, will provide us with satisfaction and fulfilment and can assist in finding the way back to health again.
If you feel depressed, there is hope
Today, depression is on the increase and touches every age group. There are various forms of depression, so there needs to be a correct diagnosis by a competent doctor, counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Sometimes antidepressants, appropriately administered can assist in breaking the negative circuitry that dominates our thinking. If you suffer from the symptoms that I’ve talked about, don’t give up. There is help available.
No matter who you are, how young, or how old, if you feel continually down, lack energy, are always negative and feel like giving up, it’s possible that you’re depressed.
God was there to bring restoration, healing and hope.
However, there is hope. Have you spoken to someone who is competent in the helping professions to assess you? If not, what’s stopping you? If you have, have you followed through with their recommendations?
Also, have you opened your inner life to the healing power of God?
Even though you may feel God is a million miles away, as Elijah discovered, God had not forsaken him. God was there to bring restoration, healing and hope.