In my previous post, I shared some of my frustrations with how the Christian community falls short in dealing with those suffering from mental illness, specifically depression. Starting today, I want to share with you the hope I’ve found in God’s word through one story in particular—John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
Trust me when I say that coming back from the throes of depression is no less than a resurrection. God, by his great mercy and through mental health professionals, has brought scripture to life in my family by “bestow(ing) on (us) a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” ( Isaiah 61:3)–not in a week, not in a month, but over time. And I will always be thankful for that particular resurrection and the people who helped us through it.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing how the story of Lazarus offers hope not only for those who suffer from depression but also for the family members who struggle through it with them.
Depression hurts everyone involved. It allows little room for loving care, not because you’re trying to be selfish, though that’s how it seems to those around you. You simply have no energy left. Your entire focus is on getting through the day. Once you’ve sloughed through the mire of meaninglessness, all you want to do is collapse and forget that you have to do it all again the next day.
Important relationships suffer because it feels like a rejection to those closest to you, like you’re turning your back and giving up, which, in a way, you are. Perspective dies and the ability to connect disappears, and your loved ones feel abandoned. Since they don’t know how to fix the problem, they often ask for help, which is exactly what Lazarus’s family did.
His sisters knew he was not well, and they sent for Jesus immediately.
“When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea.’” (John 11:4-7)
Notice that Jesus didn’t swoop in, snap his fingers, and make it all go away. When Jesus heard the news about Lazarus, he waited. He had a deeper understanding of the situation than anyone else, and Mary, Martha, and the disciples were left to trust his judgment.
We must do the same. The Lord doesn’t always work the way we think he should, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working.
Anyone who believes that Christians should magically get better does not have a firm grasp of scripture. God does not perform on demand. Isaiah 55 reminds us that ”[God’s] thoughts are not [our] thoughts, neither are [our] ways [God’s] ways….As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [God’s] ways higher than [our] ways and [his] thoughts than [our] thoughts.”
Though there are many points that could be argued about Jesus’ hesitation in Lazarus’s story, for our purposes, let’s focus on just one: Though Jesus always has a plan, we aren’t always privy to it. Even Mary and Martha struggled, saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (vs. 21 & 32)
The challenge for family members is to remember not to lose hope. Ask for help and encourage your loved one to seek it as well. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, realizing that they need help, but because the depression is so progressive, they hesitate in agreeing to it.
Don’t give up. Keep seeking. Keep praying. And, above all else, offer encouragement where you can. This article suggests some simple options that may help.
Another thing to note from the Lazarus story is that in spite of his sisters’ care, Lazarus still died. That’s what depression is like. It feels like death, and grieving accompanies the loss on every level.
Family members should not blame themselves when a loved one succumbs to depression any more than they should blame themselves when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. You did not cause it, and all your efforts will not fix it. You can seek professional help and offer prayers, love, and support, but only God and qualified mental health experts can provide what is truly needed for recovery.
During my husband’s depression, I often felt bereft—definitely out of my element and confused about what to do. Though I had experienced depression, his didn’t look like mine. Just as we are different, so the manifestation of the illness was different, and I regret to say that I was not much help to him initially.
I was overwhelmed and had few places to turn, but I found strength and comfort from the Bible, specifically this verse:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-8)
I recited those verses every day and made them my prayer. The good news is, God answered!
Do not think for one moment that I handled depression (either my husband’s or my own) without a hitch. We both struggled, agonized, and grieved. Sometimes it was a sad, quiet grief, sometimes it was an angry, frustrated rant, but no part of it was pretty.
The point is, we both got through it, and our marriage is stronger now than it’s ever been. That’s why there’s hope for you and your loved one.
Remember that you are not alone. Over 16 million people in the United States struggle with depression, so help can be found. Check your area for local mental health professionals, ask your doctor for referrals, and talk to a trusted friend or adviser. You can also check the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website to find help online and in your area.
And in the meantime, my prayer for you is this: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)