Virtually all well known Christians have written and spoke of long seasons of darkness. It happens because of sin or Satanic assault or circumstances that cause personal duress, because of hereditary and other physical origins, and often it’s the result of a combination of many of these. In the days before medical professionals had coined “depression-anxiety”, it was often called “melancholy“.
Richard Baxter, famous Puritan pastor, referred to depression in a way his contemporary medical affiliates understood at the time, “With very many there is a great part of the cause in distemper, weakness, diseasedness of the body; and by it the soul is greatly disabled to any comfortable sense. But the more it ariseth from such natural necessity.”
Baxter goes on to describe some accurate descriptions of the suffering that one with depression or “melancholy” experiences physically: “The disease called “melancholy” is formally in the spirits, whose distemper unfits them in serving the imagination, memory, and affections; the thinking faculty is diseased, and becomes like an inflamed eye or a foot that is sprained or out of joint, disabled for it’s proper work.”
Depression-anxiety changes how the sufferer sees, thinks, and feels. It literally changes the way that experiences and situations are received by the senses and processed by the brain. Depression can not be resolved by shear faith or resolve. Those suffering with depression need proximity.
“Faith, instead of being a help, can sometimes cause extra problems in dealing with depression. There is, for instance, the false guilt associated with the false conclusion that real Christians don’t get depressed. There is also the oft-mistaken tendency to locate the cause of our mental suffering in our spiritual life .” David Murray in Christians Get Depressed Too
I would assert that seasons of intense darkness are not the exception in the life of a Christian, but they are the norm. I have heard the christian mantra that “hard times will come. How are you preparing for them?” I had no idea what that meant. No amount of “preparations” can guard you from the heaviness of melancholy, or a lost dream, a diseased body, the death of someone dear, the shock and disgust and shame of trauma and tragedy, the grief of loss and change. The sorrow of what ought not to be. Or all of these compacted in a short amount of time.
Because change means some sort of loss and loss carries some sort of grief. And when that grief is compounded and hit hard over and over again, the intensity of darkness and depression weigh heavy. And it can take a long time to get out from it, far longer then the sufferer can endure alone and changes far more than he ever imagined.
When depression lingers, you can’t recall joy. You can’t feel the warmth of light and hope. You may know Jesus, love Him, but the personal aspects of knowing Him can feel so distant. As Baxter wrote, depression causes you to think, see, and experience differently. There’s no amount of trying that can imagine or remember or stir up warmth and affection. The brain literally can not recall the feelings of joy and contentment and it’s a hard fought battle to imagine that those are even possible. The person suffering in depression needs continued nearness, needs affections, needs warmth. Physically mustering it themselves is near impossible. The senses are dulled, thinking is distorted. They may need to feel you, when they can’t regulate their own feelings.
So if you love someone who suffers with depression, whether acutely, seasonally, or for a greater longevity, keep speaking words of kindness and compassion and hope into their lives. Keep near to them. Draw them near to you. Hear where they are. Listened to what they need. Ask questions. Read books or articles. Get to know them. Send cards and notes and letters. Be near on the dark days. Fight with them in the sorrow and numbness. Celebrate in the brighter days. Choose to draw in, when the temptation to withdraw from the sufferer is strong. Know that often they need the physical closeness of the light of Jesus in you to sense the love of God near them. Sometimes it’s enough to not have the struggle taken away, but to know and feel not so alone in the fight, in the suffering, in the sorrow.
Because we all hit hard places and depression doesn’t distinguish between race or affluence or “spiritual elitism”. It comes with all it’s facets and changes where you’re going.
Hope unlikely things for them. Speak that hope alive right into their want-to-be-happy-but-can’t-get-there hearts.