When Life Seems Unbearable

A pastor friend once wrote me: “Spurgeon said, in his lectures to his students, that ‘depression goes with the territory.’ I had just finished a rigorous two-year study leading to my doctorate. The course of study was completed and I was being awarded my hard-earned degree. Both my wife and I were excited as I walked across the platform. As we left to go home, I sensed in my body a letdown that I had never experienced before. Despite achieving at long last what I had worked so hard to get, the exhilaration of victory was no longer there. Instead, a sense of despair had entered in. I had gone from the mountain top to the valley in a matter of hours. I didn’t understand it. Over the next few weeks, that despair deepened and turned to darkness. Unbeknown to me at time, I had entered into a state of depression. Things were going well at the church. My marriage was stable, warm and affectionate. My body was free from disease. At the same time, things were beginning to fall apart inside of me. The process began with sleeplessness; then a dreadful sense of emotional despair entered my soul; then a series of events took place, which included ‘weariness in well doing;’ a dread of Sundays coming; long periods of crying; a loss of appetite, accompanied with a loss of weight; aloofness, along with a touch of paranoia.” (Used by permission)

I am a pastor, not a psychologist, so I approach this subject from that perspective.  I know depression is real; that it can cripple believers; that its causes are sometimes physiological and not necessarily spiritual. I have, through the course of my ministry, counseled godly people who suffered from depression, but my counsel was never given with the intent that the sufferer need never seek the assistance of a professional clinician. I was quick to offer spiritual counsel with biblical support, but I never presumed that all who suffered depression were suffering solely from a spiritual malady. My pastor friend whose testimony I have shared sought and found good medical counsel and, following a month’s rest, returned to resume his successful pastorate of many years. He is still ministering the Word of God more than 30 years later.

Too many times, I have been made aware of the debilitating effects of depression.  A few years ago, I received a lengthy, anonymous email from a lady who was reaching out in desperation for help. A few of her pleas were, “I’m in trouble. I keep thinking about not wanting to live and the thoughts are scaring me. I am a new Christian. I know God lives and I experience His presence daily; People say pray and praise (there are days when it is an effort to even open my eyes). Most days I want to be dead and with God. I dread being alive.  All I have ever been is someone else’s emotional punching bag or dumping ground. People who I never did anything to have hurt me. My parents reminded me I was worthless….”

I have other similar expressions of people who have been rendered emotionally, physically, and spiritually incapacitated by what is commonly called depression.  It is real. It is no respecter of persons. Some people will never be bothered by it, just as some folk never get the flu or a common cold or appendicitis, while others do. But, for those who are attacked by it at some time or other, the common symptoms are not foreign to them:  loss of sleep, appetite, and weight; loss of energy, interest and drive; incoherency; memory loss; excessive anxiety and psychic pain (just as real as physical pain), among others.

A man after God’s own heart knew what it was to suffer depression. David pulls back the curtain and lays bare his own experience in Psalm 77. He recalls a time in his life when he was emotionally, mentally, and spiritually distraught, and “my soul refused to be comforted…my spirit was overwhelmed.” (Ps. 77:2, 3) He felt as though the situation was hopeless, could not sleep or speak, spent a lot of time thinking on the past with thoughts that turned inward, and even questioned God’s mercy and grace (vss. 6-9). For David, his spirit was about as low as it could go.

In arriving at a solution to this insufferable personal dilemma, David declared: “And I said, this is my infirmity.” He put everything into perspective, and in so doing ceased to blame God and others; he affirmed that he would meditate upon the “years of the right hand of the most High; the works of the Lord, the wonders of old and… meditate also of all Thy work, and talk of all Thy doings.” Interestingly, in the first 12 verses of this Psalm, David used the first-person pronoun 25 times, more than two times per verse. But in the last eight verses, he used the third-person pronoun 16 times, twice per verse.  He got his eyes off of himself and onto His Sovereign God, whose way is “in the sanctuary,” and whose arm “redeemed thy people.” (Ps.77:11, 15)

Godly men and women have suffered from depression. Alan Redpath, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, once sank into the depths of despondency following a near-fatal stroke. He prayed: “O, Lord, take me right home!” At that point, Redpath later testified, it was as if the Lord said: “It is I, your Savior, who brought this experience into your life to show you that this is the kind of person—with all your sinful thoughts and temptations which you thought were things of the past—that you always will be, but for My grace.”

Cathy Rice once wrote of a time when she was home with four lively little children while her evangelist husband was on the road, and all of the children were sick at the same time: “I felt I could take no more and was almost ready to give up!  I was miserable…one day I was desperate and full of tears and began to read my Bible, which opened up to Proverbs 3:5, 6: ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.’ That was just what I needed.”

And that is always, for the believer, the first and best place to go to for help! God’s Word. Sometimes you will and should seek the help of a counsellor; sometimes it might be necessary to access medical or clinical help. But don’t forget what David said when he was so far down, he could only look up: “I remembered God…I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old; I will meditate also of all Thy work, and talk of Thy doings.” (Ps. 77:3, 11, 12)

“Look around and be distressed.  Look inside and be depressed.  Look to Jesus and be at rest.”

Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you.” (I Peter 5:7)

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