Depression: The Only Way Out Is Through
We all know what depression is. In fact, we could probably write the book on it. Sometimes we call it “the blues” or “the blahs” or “feeling down and out.” Bunyan called it “The slough of despond.” St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul.” The Army calls it “battle fatigue.” Psychiatrists call it “anxiety neurosis.” Most people call it “being down in the dumps.”
But the Psalmist, not knowing precisely what to call it, simply described it: “Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee, 0 Lord. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? Why art thou disquieted within me?” That’s depression—and it is a feeling we have all experienced at one time or another. The question is: What causes it and what cures it? Where does it come from and how do we get out of it? Well, I want us to look together first at some of the causes of depression, and then I want us to focus on the cure. Or to put it in more clinical terms, let’s look first at the diagnosis and then at the remedy.
Let’s begin with THE DIAGNOSIS.
First, physical problems can cause depression. We are whole persons. God made us that way. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of our existence go together. We are all of one piece. What affects the one, influences the other. Therefore, sometimes depression is caused by physical problems like exhaustion or lack of sleep, by an infection or a chemical deficiency, by a weight loss or a weight gain, or by a glandular or hormonal imbalance. Physical problems like these can send us into an emotional tailspin. They can cover us over with a heavy blanket of depression.
Second, tension can cause depression. Dr. Robert Hoffmann of New York says that our world’s three major killers are not heart disease, cancer, and accidents, but rather calendars, telephones, and clocks. The tyranny of an accelerated life! Some years ago, the Heart Association put on a program for the leading business people in Chicago. They placed before these wheeling and dealing executives four large glass containers, each containing an actual human heart. The first heart was of a man who died in an accident—and, it appeared exactly as a heart should appear in a man of the middle years. The second heart was swollen to twice its normal size—it was the heart of an aggressive, arrogant, hot-tempered, hard-driving businessman who died while arguing with a client. The third heart belonged to a man who lived under continual tension and who refused to relax or delegate responsibility—he went out with a coronary thrombosis. The fourth heart belonged to a man who had suffered a heart attack but who had recovered and had altered his lifestyle—he enjoyed many more years of normal living. Now this graphic lesson of the four hearts was so traumatic to those business leaders that it literally slowed down business for a whole week in the city of Chicago! The tensions of our hectic way of life cannot only affect our hearts physically, but also emotionally. Tension can drag us down into depression.
Third, feeling rejected can cause depression. The feeling of rejection, whether real or imagined, is one of the most devastating blows to human personality. It can “pull the rug out” from under the strongest of us. That’s why when a marriage ends in divorce, it can be more traumatic than losing a marriage partner to death. If your mate dies, you feel hurt and loneliness, but the trauma of divorce adds to the hurt and loneliness a feeling of rejection, the feeling of being unwanted, discarded, not needed—that is hard to handle. And sometimes older folks are made to feel that way in our youth-oriented culture. Then, too, when tragedy strikes, some people feel as if God Himself has rejected them. Of course, He hasn’t, but they feel that way, and that can be depressing.
Fourth, spiritual hunger can cause depression. I have to confess to you that I am more prone to depression when I have drifted away from God. When I neglect my prayer life, when I short-circuit my study of the Scriptures, when I become so caught up in the demands of everyday that I lose sight of the Lord, I am much more susceptible to self-pity and depression. It’s interesting to note that many of the great heroes of our faith have battled deep depression before they made significant breakthroughs which brought them closer to God, and indeed changed the history of the world. Think about it. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea—all were depressed because they were spiritually hungry. They were hungry for God, and when they found Him, God made them prophets. I can see Paul trudging somberly down the Damascus Road, troubled, burdened, thinking deep, depressing thoughts, when suddenly God exploded into his life so powerfully that Paul, and the whole world, could never be the same again. Martin Luther was depressed for years because as he put it, he was “scared to death” of God. But then as he studied Paul’s works in Romans about “justification through faith,” Luther realized that God loved him already and he didn’t have to try to earn that love. Luther basked in the glow of that discovery and the Protestant Reformation was begun. John Wesley was so hungry for God that he was greatly depressed. He couldn’t seem to get close to God. Then there came the warm heart of Aldersgate and Wesley became a powerhouse for the Kingdom. I am convinced that one of the first questions we need to ask ourselves when we feel depressed is this: “Have I drifted away from God? Is this depression a warning signal that I am thirsting for God like the writer of the 42nd Psalm?”
Well, those are some of the causes of depression, at least as I see it. But now I would like for us to focus on the cure. When you study Psalm 42 carefully, you begin to realize that the only way out of depression is through. You’ve got to take the steps that will get you through it.
Let’s look at THE REMEDY.
Step Number One: Add up your assets. Assess your own individual worth. I saw an add on TV the other day letting us know that the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz,” is now available on videocassette. The ad noted that that movie has been seen by more people than any other movie in history. Now why is that true? I think it is because it is the story of a group of people looking for what they think they don’t have only to discover that in fact they have had it all along. You remember the four main characters: Dorothy, who wants to get back to Kansas; the Cowardly Lion, who is looking for courage; the Scarecrow, who wishes he had intelligence; and the Tin Woodman who is trying to find the capacity to love. They go off together looking for the Wizard, hoping to find some magical solution to their problems. But as the story unfolds, you
discover that the most courageous one in the group is the Cowardly Lion. And who thinks up the best ideas? It’s the Scarecrow, who thought he had no brain. And who shows the most compassion? Why it’s the Tin Woodman, who thought he had no heart. And Dorothy? Well, she never left Kansas in the first place. It was only a dream. You see, each character discovered that they actually had the very thing they felt they lacked. That’s what Christianity is all about. That’s what this church is all about. We are here to help you discover everything that God has given you the capacity to be. The message I preach is that you are of infinite value to God and that God has put a tremendous treasure within you. God believes in you! You are not second-rate in any way shape or form. You have about you the dignity of divine creation. You are made to enjoy God and to enjoy life. God has made a major investment in you—He gave His only Son for you. And don’t you ever forget that. So when depression takes hold of you, start by adding up your assets. You will discover that you already have the very things you felt you lacked.
Step Number Two: Learn to laugh, especially at yourself. Don’t take yourself, or your circumstances, so seriously. To be able to laugh at ourselves is one of the clearest marks of emotional and spiritual maturity. Part of the reason I love my job is that it regularly humbles me and makes me laugh at myself. Some years ago, for example, I was asked to speak at a special city-wide patriotic service to honor our military forces. I felt rather smug about the invitation. Well, the man coordinating the event was all excited as he prepared to lead me to the platform. He said to me: “Now, Reverend Edington, you will speak first, and then the firing squad will come after you!” Any thought I may have had of my own importance went out the window after that! We need to learn to laugh, and we need to learn to laugh at ourselves, especially in those times when we are feeling blue.
Step Number Three: Regain the right perspective. Did you see that letter in “Dear Abby”? The letter read: “Dear Abby, about a month ago, we had a flash flood and I lost all of the treasures I had saved for 45 years: albums filled with pictures and snapshots and letters and clippings. None of it can be replaced. Part of my life is gone. I am heartsick over it. I am sixty and have had a good life. Our children are married and doing well. But I just can’t stop dwelling on what I have lost. Abby, have you ever lost any treasures, and if so, how did you get over it? (signed) Depressed.” Here is how Abby responded: “Dear Depressed, I lost my beautiful mother in 1945. She was 57. A few years later, I lost a wonderful father at age 62. Not a day passes that I don’t thank God for letting me have my parents for as long as He did. I know many who were not nearly so blessed; and I think also of those who have survived a far greater tragedy—losing their children. Now what was that you were saying about clippings and pictures and other treasures?” My friends, seeing our problems from a more enlightened perspective is an important step in finding our way through depression.
Step Number Four: Lean on God in Jesus Christ. The Psalmist cried out of his depression: “Why is my soul cast down? Why is my heart so troubled?” But notice that the Psalmist did not stop there. He went on to say: “Hope in God! His name will I praise.” That’s the ultimate step to take in getting through a time of depression. Recognize that God is with us here. He is beside us in Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from Him or from His love. He is with us and He is for us. Read the Bible closely and you will discover that this is the thread which holds it all together: God loves us in Jesus Christ and He will not fail or forsake us. G. Ray Jordan tells of a great old saint in his congregation whose Bible was filled with notes in the margins. By some of the verses, the man had written just the initials “T. P.” When asked what “T. P.” meant, he replied: “Tried and Proved.” When you feel depressed, nothing helps more than remembering that you can lean on God through Jesus Christ in your life. It’s T. P.—tried and proved!
Let me bring the point home like this. Years ago in Europe, there was a religious mystic named Johann Tauler. One day, he encountered a poor beggar on the street and he said to the beggar: “May God give you a great day, my friend.” It was a kind of a patronizing statement, at least the way he said it. But the poor beggar replied: “God has given me a great day already, but then I have never had a bad one.” Johann Tauler was dumbfounded. He didn’t quite know how to respond to that, so he said: “Well, then may God give you a happy life.” Again the beggar declared: “He already has. I can’t think of a time when I really have been unhappy.” Tauler was caught completely off-guard. “What do you mean by that?” Tauler asked. The poor man answered: “Well, when the sun is shining, I thank God, and when it rains, I thank God. When I have enough, I thank God; and when I am hungry, I thank God. Since God’s will is my will, and since what pleases Him pleases me, why should I be unhappy?” Now Tauler was really stumped. “Who are you?” he asked the beggar. The beggar replied: “I, sir, am a king.” Exclaimed Tauler: “A king! What do you mean ‘ a king’ ? Where is your kingdom?” Do you know what the beggar said? He said: “In my heart, sir. That’s where my kingdom is. It’s in my heart.”
The next time that you are feeling depressed and down in the dumps, remember that you are royalty. You are a queen. You are a king. I know that’s true because Jesus Himself said in Luke: “The Kingdom of God is within you.” When you remember that, then you will discover that the way out of depression is to go through it with Jesus Christ…