Are you looking forward to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s? Does this seem like a strange question? The majority of individuals do enjoy the celebration atmosphere of these special days. However, statistics tell us that about 10% of our population dread the coming holidays. One woman said to me, “Everyone is running around so happy and I wonder why I feel so sad.” For many the holidays are a time “to just get through and be done with!” I wonder, Friend, am I talking about you or about someone that you know and love?
Holiday depression is not uncommon. I spend the majority of my time ministering to women and I have found that depression linked to a holiday is often because of painful memories in their childhood home. Memories of holidays filled with fighting between parents, alcohol induced abuse, arguments over money, intense loneliness, loss of a parent, or some other tragedy. Many love the Christmas season and look forward to big family get-togethers but, for others who have no family with which to share, it is a dreaded time of year.
Would you listen for the next few minutes? Would you allow me to share with you my heart?
Depression is no respecter of persons. We are told that Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, missionary to the American Indians, David Brainerd, Bible translator, J.B. Phillips, the great reformationist, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon as well as John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church struggled with depression. As I’ve studied the Bible I see that David the Psalmist, Elijah the prophet, Job, Jonah and even Jesus experienced depression and times of deep sorrow. When Jesus prayed in the garden prior to his crucifixion He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” For those who suffer with depression, that definition fits well the feelings of their heart.
Depression has been described as a heavy blackness, a feeling of emptiness, numbness, and excessive fatigue. It has been compared to being buried alive. Charles Spurgeon likened it to “the horror of a soul, forsaken by God.” He also described it this way, “Depression is a leak through which the soul’s force wastes itself drop by drop.” (Bright Days, Dark Nights, Skaglund) One author said, “The flatness of life feels like it is killing you.” (Edward Welch, Depression)
Whether you suffer with holiday depression or depression in general, you have probably felt that just making it through the day is quite an accomplishment. Depression often brings about an inability to sleep or if you do it is restless sleep, which leaves you exhausted when morning comes. Life has lost its sunshine and your days seem colorless and grey. You seem driven toward isolation. Clear thought patterns seem impossible. You are filled with self-defeating thoughts such as, “I’ll never be happy.” “No one cares if I am here.” I can’t do anything right.” No one loves me.” Negativity characterizes every word that you speak and think.
For some, depression is a life-long battle; for others it comes in seasons that may last weeks or months. The Psalmist, David, wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23) Friend, depression, most certainly is a valley. It is a dark valley and in that valley are shadows. Have you ever been walking around at night and been frightened by a shadow? The shadow may in truth be nothing more than a tree, a bush, or a reflection of yourself, but your imagination goes wild and you become frightened.
Shadows can lie to you or me but they feel real. The shadow of depression can also lie to you. It can make you believe things that are not true like…”God doesn’t care how I feel” or I must not be saved because Christians aren’t supposed to get depressed” or “my family would be better off if I weren’t here.” These feelings seem true during times of depression but they are in fact lies. Satan, the father of lies, desires to steal, kill and destroy. He will use whatever means he can to accomplish this end. He attacks at the point of your present weakness with the intent of stealing your joy, killing all ability to think truth and destroying all hope.
Several years ago I became very ill and as a result spent 10 days in the hospital and several weeks at home recuperating. One day, while still in the hospital, I picked up a Daily Bread devotional that my husband had put on the bedside table. I opened it and my eyes fell on these words from the hymn, Under His Wings.
Under His wings, O what precious enjoyment
There will I hide ‘til life’s trials are through.
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me
Resting in Jesus, I’m safe evermore.
As I laid there, I started to cry. I repeated the words, “No evil can harm me,” over and over again. Emotionally and physically I was very weak but the truth of that song encouraged me day after day. David encouraged himself the same way when he said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, THOU ART WITH ME!” Note that David said “through the valley.” Isa. 43:2 reiterates this truth,
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.
When we are in a valley of any kind it feels like a permanent condition and that we are alone. God is saying you are not alone, “I am with you” and together you and I will go THROUGH this valley. You do not have to stay in the shadows of the valley.
When you are in the valley, and the shadows of darkness close in, those shadows can cause you to believe Satan’s lies. I want to share some shadows in the valley of depression.
Shadow #1 All Depression Is Sin
All depression is not sin. Depression can result in sin if we allow it to, but our emotions were created by God and are not sinful. If we allow depression to cause us to react in ways that are disobedient to God or in ways that do not bring God glory then our depression has become sinful. Depression, like any trial, is a test. When the people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness, it was a test. Deut. 8:2 says, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or not.” Trials of any kind reveal our hearts.
Shadow #2 Depression Can’t Be God’s Will
I Thess. 3:3 “God has appointed who shall suffer. Suffering comes not by chance, or by the will of man, but by the will and appointment of God.” When you are in a trial of any kind, your belief about God’s sovereignty will determine how you react to the trial. If you believe that God is in control of every thing both in Heaven and on earth and that nothing can come into your life unless it passes through God’s hand and Christ’s hand before it comes to you (col. 3:3) then you know it has come with purpose.
John Bunyan, the English preacher, and author of “Pilgrim’s Progress” wrote these words during his twelve year stay in prison, I had not in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now (in prison). Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before were made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen Him and felt Him indeed…” He further said, “I have learned to live upon God who is invisible.”
Shadow #3 Feeling, The Deceiver
When in depression you may want to run or avoid or disappear or die. Though these are common feelings when depressed, you must act according to truth rather than acting on what you feel at the moment. Recently, I read an article from a crisis pregnancy center (It was located next door to an abortion clinic) about a young girl who came in pregnant. She thought she was at the abortion center. When she discovered she was at a crisis pregnancy center she got up to leave. One of the crisis counselors said to her, “Would you like to see a picture of your baby before you leave?” She broke down and cried. That child is now four. The girl’s feelings changed instantly when she was confronted with truth. She had convinced herself that what was in her was just unwanted tissue. If she had acted on her feelings that child would have been destroyed.
Acting on principle or truth is a choice not to believe Satan’s lie. Acting on truth is to believe and act on what God says in His Word rather than on what you feel. You may not feel God loves you at this moment but you can, by faith, choose to believe He loves you because I John 4:10 says that before you loved Him He loved you. The Bible always tells the truth. Your feelings will not always tell the truth. When you live according to your feelings you are usually living contrary to the Word of God
French O’Shields wrote a book entitled, Slaying the Giant. Mr. O’Shields has several theological degrees, is an ordained pastor and pastored 28 years in Presbyterian churches U.S.A. He had degrees in psychology and also studied psychiatry. He had struggled with mild depression for years. In 1982 he stopped pastoring churches, due to a voice impairment (laryngeal dystonia). He became clinically depressed. Here is how he described his feelings while in depression.
“My concept of myself was so low, I felt I could sit on the edge of a sheet of paper and my feet would not touch the floor. I was convinced I had failed in every aspect of my life: as a son, husband, father, friend, pastor, and a complete washout as a human being. I developed an uncanny skill to discern something bad in everything. As my depression deepened, so did the desire to withdraw. I had no interest in doing anything. Even the smallest task seemed like Mt. Everest—utterly insurmountable. Even though I was surrounded with love I felt unloved and rejected. I became very introspective. I could think of no one but myself. I was saturated with self-pity. My self-centeredness was obvious to others but I was blind to it. I was filled with anxiety, couldn’t sleep, felt agitated and because of my gloomy shades crying came easily both day and night. I felt alienated from God”
French O’Shields has been free of depression for many years and now gives workshops on overcoming depression. He did not find his answer in his degrees, nor in secular psychology but in the Word of God. Due to time I will not be able to fully cover all the aspects of depression. I would encourage you to order Mr. O’Shields book. But, what I am praying for you to see is how Satan uses lies during depression to deceive and to destroy. The lies FEEL real but they are lies. “Distortion of reality is what depression is all about. There is no better way for Satan to steal, kill, and destroy a person’s life, reducing it to a miserable existence void of hope, joy, peace, and purpose, than through depression.” (O’Shield’s, Slaying the giant, p., 83)
Shadow #4 The Shadow of Destructive Thought Patterns
One of the ladies I counseled came from a very distorted and destructive background, not of her own choosing. For year she refused to deal with the pain associated with her childhood. She came to the Prasso class I was teaching at the time and as a result I began seeing her one-on-one. She had a job and was quite successful as the manager of a store but when her work-day was finished she always had 20 other forms of activity going so that each night she would arrive home about 11:00 p.m. I asked her why she filled up every day so full, she said, “so I don’t have to think.” I knew that but wanted to hear her say it.
I asked her to cut back on her activities and spend some time being quiet. She said, “I can’t, my mind goes crazy.” I told her she had to re-train her mind. She said, “How in the world do I do that?” I told her she would have to break out of the cycle of automatic thinking and learn to purposefully think. Purposeful thinking takes practice and it involves thinking on things that are true according to God’s Word and refusing to think on dark, defeating and hopeless thoughts. II Corinthians 10:4-5 describes these defeating thoughts as strongholds (strongholds are habitual patterns of destructive thinking or habitual patterns of destructive behavior.) These strongholds of the mind keep an individual in depression. Listen to God’s plan for victory . . .
“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, (carnal is the old ways you have used to meet your needs) but mighty through God, (mighty through the principles and truth of the Word of God) to the pulling down of strongholds (remember strongholds are habitual patterns of destructive thoughts or habitual patterns of destructive behavior); Casting down imaginations (destructive thoughts and lies that come into your mind that you dwell on until you convince yourself they are true) and every high thing (could be your belief system or your opinion or your perception) that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (in other words it does not measure up to the truth of the Word of God), and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
Do you see that learning to re-train your mind takes work and it is work that you must do. Someone else cannot do it for you. You must put up a fight to regain control of your mind. It is spiritual warfare. Your weapon is the Word of God.
Shadow #5 The Shadow of Unforgiveness
When we say, “I can’t forgive, we are really saying, “I won’t forgive” because forgiveness is a choice. Unforgiveness is a major cause of depression. Holding onto grudges, past offenses, and hurts may seem justified but in reality they put you in bondage. Forgiveness gives you freedom. When you forgive it does not mean that the person is not guilty, or that you will never cry again, or that you will never think of the event again, or it will not hurt anymore.
Forgiveness is about obedience, obedience to God. God declares, “If you don’t forgive those who trespass against you, I will not forgive you.” No offense is worth estrangement from God’s forgiveness. Unforgiveness that lies in your heart will eventually become bitterness and bitterness will become depression. Through unforgiveness we give Satan access to our lives. Through forgiveness we not only obey God but we take back the ground that we gave to Satan through unforgiveness.
I have described the shadows found in the valley of depression so that you might see Satan’s deception and the weapons he uses to keep you bound in that dark valley. Depression is about existence. The promises of God are about life. In fact Jesus said this, “I have come so that you may have life and have it more abundantly.” I am going to give you some practical steps to take so that you may experience abundant life during this Christmas season. Jesus came to give you life. He left Heaven to give you life. He was born in a dirty stable so that you may have life and He died on a cruel cross so you may have abundant life. Will you right now say, “Yes, I will take these steps whether I believe they will do me any good or not.”
You will need a notebook or journal to write in. You will need a pen and Bible, that’s all. In your notebook draw a line down the center of the page. At the top of the left side of the page write “MY TRUTH” and at the top of the right side of the page write, “REALITY CHECK-GOD’S TRUTH.” Under the heading “MY TRUTH” start listing every negative thought you presently believe to be truth. They may not come to you all at once. Keep going back until you can think of no others.
Set aside 30 min. each day to spend time searching out truth from the Word of God. Perhaps you wrote as one of your thoughts under “MY TRUTH,” God isn’t here to help me.” Hebrews 13:5b says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Under “GOD’S TRUTH” write out Hebrews 13:5b. Continue this exercise until you have refuted every negative thought with truth. NOW daily, morning, and evening read aloud God’s truth so that your mind and heart can hear the truth. I would recommend you read the books of James, I Peter, Philippians, Ephesians, the Psalms. You are looking for truth. You are re-training your mind to think truth. Remember healing is a process. It will take time. Healing is not relief it is “restoration to usefulness for God.” It is about God and his glory.
You may want to download “Changing Sinful Thought Patterns” from myprasso.com to help you through this process. Each lesson is divided into six, one-day segments. Each one will help clarify the importance of re-training your mind to think truth. God’s Word has a purifying effect on our hearts and minds when applied. Jesus prayed to God, the Father, in John 17:17 and He said, “Sanctify them (set them apart) through Thy truth, Thy Word is Truth.”
The first place Satan targets is your mind. That is why you must take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Psychological depression is an outcome of wrong thinking, unbiblical thinking. No one would choose to be depressed but by allowing yourself to park on defeating wrong thoughts you are allowing depression into your life.
John Bunyan wrote while in prison, “The key to suffering rightly is to see in all things the hand of a merciful and good and sovereign God, and ‘to live upon God that is invisible.’ There is more of God to be had in times of suffering than at any other time. (John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God)
Friend, I promise you that if you will allow God and His Word to work in your life you will have a blessed Christmas and a blessed year. He came to give you abundant life. Will you do what it takes to experience life abundant? Remember you cannot change without God and He can only change you if you let Him.