Walking with Depressed Loved Ones (Pt 2)

Great strides have been made in the areas of diagnosing and treating clinical depression. For this we should be thankful for God’s grace and common grace that allows for discoveries into the human heart and psyche.

However, much wisdom in this area can also be gained by looking into various writings within the last 400 years or so. Recently I came across one such resource contained in the book written by Archibald Alexander titled, “Thoughts on Religious Experience.” Alexander was one of the founders of Princeton, which originally existed for the equipping and training of those who would be pastors. He was brilliantly insightful into the Christian life and all that entails, including the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart.

In one chapter Alexander discusses some of the various spiritual and psychological maladies which we can encounter, including deep depression. This chapter mentions several prominent Christians who struggled greatly with depression and how they worked through such dark nights of the soul.

A very prominent focus of this chapter contains the insights of Rev. Timothy Rogers. Here is how Mr. Alexander described his condition: About the close of the seventeenth century, the Rev. Timothy Rogers, a pious and able minister of London fell into a state of deep melancholy; and such was the distressing darkness of his mind that he gave up all hope of the mercy of God and believed himself to be a vessel of wrath designed for destruction, for the praise of the glorious justice of the Almighty. As can be imagined, many interceded in prayer on his behalf and God did grant Rev. Rogers complete deliverance from his debilitating condition.

As a result of what he went through, Rogers published many treatises concerning what depression looks like and some of its causes. One of his most helpful treatises centered on how to be a blessing to those who were suffering from depression. I will quote here his insights.

“1. Look upon your distressed friends as under one of the worst distempers to which this miserable life is obnoxious. Melancholy incapacitates them for thought or action; it confounds and disturbs all their thoughts and fills them with vexation and anguish. I verily believe that when this malign humour is deeply fixed and has spread its deleterious influence over every part, it is as vain to attempt to resist it by reasoning and rational motives as to oppose a fever, or the gout, or pleurisy….”

“2. Treat those who are under this disease with tender compassion. Remember also that you are liable to the same affliction, for however brisk your spirits and lively your feelings now, you may meet with such reverses, with such long and sharp afflictions, as will sink your spirits….”

“3. Never use harsh language to your friends when under the disease of melancholy. This will only serve to fret and perplex them the more, but will never benefit them….”

“4. If you would possess any influence over your friends in this unhappy state of mind, you must be careful not to express any want of confidence in what they relate of their own feelings and distresses. On this point there is often a great mistake….”

“5. Do not urge your melancholy friends to do what is out of their power. They are like persons whose bones are broken and who are incapacitated for action. Their disease is accompanied with perplexing and tormenting thoughts; if you can innocently divert them, you would do them a great kindness, but do not urge them to anything which requires close and intent thinking; this will only increase the disease….”

“6. Do not attribute the effects of mere disease to the devil; although I do not deny that he has an agency in producing some diseases, especially by harassing and disturbing the mind to such a degree that the body suffers with it. But it is very unwise to ascribe every feeling and every word of the melancholy man to Satan, whereas many of these are as natural consequences of bodily disease as the symptoms of a fever, which the poor sufferer can no more avoid than the sick man can keep himself from sighing and groaning….”

“7. Do not express much surprise or wonder at anything which melancholy persons say or do. What will not they say who are in despair of God’s mercy…?”

“8. Do not tell them any frightful stories, nor recount to them the sad disasters which have overtaken others. Their hearts do already meditate terror, and by every alarming thing of which they hear they are the more terrified, and their disordered imagination is prepared to seize upon every frightful image which is presented….”

“9. Do not, however, think it needless to talk with them. But do not speak as if you thought their disease would be of long continuance, for this is the prospect which appears most gloomy to the melancholy….”

“10. It will be useful to tell them of others who have been in the same state of suffering and yet have been delivered. It is, indeed, true that they who are depressed by such a load of grief are with difficulty persuaded that any were ever in such a condition as they are….”

“11. The next thing which you are to do for your melancholy friends is to pray for them. As they have not light and composure to pray for themselves, let your eyes weep for them in secret, and there let your souls melt in fervent holy prayers….”

“12. Not only pray for them yourself, but engage other Christian friends also to pray for them….”

“13. Put your poor afflicted friends in mind continually of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ. Often impress on their minds that he is merciful and gracious; that as far as the heavens are above the earth, so far are his thoughts above their thoughts—his thoughts of mercy above their self-condemning guilty thoughts….”

Over the next few blog posts I will interact more with some of these principles, but I hope that, like me, you are sufficiently impressed with the insights of this dear brother. I also hope and pray that you will find insight and encouragement to walk with your loved ones who are suffering.

Walking with Depressed Loved Ones (Pt 1)

During our current and challenging times, most of us have personally had to interact with issues such as fear, anxiety, grief, and depression. We have also had to deal with friends and loved ones who are struggling with one or more of these issues. As followers of Christ how do we understand these issues and how do we find the help we need to deal with these struggles with power and hope?

As a starting point I wanted to focus on depression. Now, depression takes place on a continuum that encompasses situational depression to clinical depression. For the sake of discussion I will take a look at clinical depression. A person who is clinically depressed is one who typically has great difficulty sleeping, eating, and functioning with common day-to-day activities. They find themselves having difficulty enjoying things that used to be easy and fun for them. For those in the throes of clinical depression, even such mundane tasks as brushing their teeth can wear them out physically. For them, the future looks bleak and one of their greatest fears is that they will stay this way forever with no way out.

How do we love and serve those whom we love who are struggling with this debilitating psychological and spiritual malady? For the uninitiated this can easily feel overwhelming. So, it is imperative that we gain insight into what is going on and what clinical depression entails. We must remember that this level of depression contains biological, genetic, and spiritual components. There is something going on with their body chemistry as well as their hearts, or souls. Biblical anthropology tells us that we are embodied souls, so we must take the physical and the spiritual aspects into account.

If they have not done so already, they should be encouraged to consult their physician about their situation. They might be good candidates for being placed on anti-depressant meds, which can help to lessen the severity of their symptoms so that they can return to some semblance of normalcy. Finding the right kind of medication and the correct dosage can take some time, but it often results in enabling the patient to be able to function better so that they can focus on working on some vital issues that are going on in their hearts.

As a counselor to those who were going through clinical depression, I want to be able to focus on delving into their heart and life issues and often the meds are necessary to enable them to have the energy and motivation to tackle some difficult issues.

It is important to emphasize that this can be a long and winding journey. Depression is not like treating a broken bone that needs to be set or treating a physical wound of some sort. No, depression is much more ethereal than this. We cannot put a hand on it and treat it accordingly. We cannot touch It. It is a great mystery and does not usually conform to rules of logic. We must never take the attitude that the depressed person just needs to “snap out of it.” A vital aspect of loving our depressed neighbor is that we must take their suffering seriously. As I tell my depressed friends, I don’t know what this journey will entail, but I am willing to walk through it with them.

Love means being committed to the process. Love means showing up and walking with them. We are not there to be experts who will give them some magic bullet that will enable them to
”snap out of it.” Love perseveres. This is the beginning point and the commitment we must make as we vitally depend upon prayer and the grace of God.

As we continue this discussion I will share with you some great counsel that was written over 300 years ago. Stay tuned.

Power is a Person

When it comes to biblical counseling, we at KAINOS believe that it must be biblically-based, Christ-centered, and grace-driven. You can find out in more detail what these concepts mean by reading the respective blogs here on the website.

The ultimate goal of this kind of counseling is to lead people to see particularly how relationship with Jesus is the source of the necessary power for transformation. In other words, while we might just want our struggles to be FIXED, Scripture teaches us that God has a much better plan for us since He desires for us to be renewed and continually revived through the power of the Spirit of Christ.

One of the analogies that Jesus uses to teach us this principle is through his teaching on the Vine and the Branches in John 15. There we find that Jesus works in us in order to bear fruit. This fruit encompasses impact on the lives of others and our bearing the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus, namely, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We do not produce that fruit. No, the Holy Spirit produces that fruit in us through the continual renewal of our hearts. Our job is to abide, seek after, and cling to Jesus. He produces the fruit in our hearts and lives through the work of his Spirit. We are not passive in our abiding. But, we are passive in terms of the production of the fruit.

One of the great pictures that Scripture teaches us is that being in Union with Christ is not unlike being one in marriage. I have been married for 33 years now and I have been greatly changed through that union. My lovely wife and covenant companion has contributed much to my life and understanding through my “abiding” with her all these years. How much more is this true through my being in union with Jesus. Jesus imparts to his “branches” the life-giving “sap” that enables us to be changed more and more to reflect his character.

We are taught in Scripture that this process of transformation and change is called sanctification. While this is a messy process it is also a definite process that is leading us to God’s ordained ends. I love how David Powlinson described this process when he compared it to a person walking up some stairs while playing with a yo-yo. To us the up and down of the yo-yo is what our sanctification feels like. However, progress is being made up the stairs. So, we are on a definite trajectory of metamorphosis that takes place over time. IT IS WITHIN THE PROCESS OF THIS WORK THAT WE AT KAINOS SEEK TO COUNSEL AND GUIDE OTHERS INTO WHAT GOD IS DOING.

One of the reasons why this process can be so messy is because we are doing battle with sin in the world and the sin that is within our own hearts and lives. However, we have hope and power for this process. Read through Romans 6 and you will find that because we have DIED with Christ, we also LIVE in Christ. This means that sin no longer reigns over us. Outside of Christ we were under the dominion of sin. The evil one, flesh, and sin WERE our master. But, now, with Jesus as our Master, we have authority and power over sin and temptation.

Hear Paul clearly from Romans 6. He asks the all-important question, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” He answers this question with a resounding NO, in that living in sin is completely contrary to living in Christ. How do we have this power and authority? In Christ, we have been baptized in Jesus’ death. This is in order that we are enabled to live in newness of life. Our old self, who we used to be, was crucified with Christ. This brought about the reality of our “body of sin” being brought to nothing. Through these means we are no longer enslaved to sin. Hear Paul’s great crescendo: For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

So, in each and every instance of temptation, we must give and present ourselves to God as instruments for righteousness. For these reasons sin will have no dominion over us.

We are in Christ because of the work of God. The work of transformation is definite and it is the Holy Spirit’s work. We trust in this work, we abide in Christ, we seek all of the means of God’s grace, and we live in the hope of our definite transformation through the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

All of this is because of being in union with this Perfect Person, the very God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.