February 17, 2016

God’s surprising treatment for depression

I’ve never suffered from more than mild, short-term depression, but have friends who struggle with this debilitating condition. Yet even the mild versions say something about human nature and the way we have been created. That is, emotions and the conditions of life have extremes. While there is a balance, those extremes are important. People who try to suppress or deny their negative emotions wind up losing all of those positive opposites also. If I reject sorrow, I cannot experience ecstasy. If I refuse to feel discouraged or depressed, then I would not easily feel exaltation or the heights of joy. I might not want ever to be upset, or angry, or grieving, but without those feelings, I also lose contentment, peace, and gladness.  

Elijah, one of God’s Old Testament prophets, was depressed. He’d experience a victory, but soon after that his life was threatened. He ran a long distance in fear, wound up alone in a wilderness, and wanted to die. What would God do for His servant in this situation? His answer is a surprise:

And (Elijah) lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” (1 Kings 19:5)

Most of us would expect the angel to give Elijah a vision of what would happen next, or enlighten him from God’s Word, or tell him to rise up and conquer. Instead, the angel told him to have some lunch.

While not everyone is the same, those who suffer from depression usually lose their desire to eat. Even mild depression steals my appetite, even turns me from other ordinary necessities and pleasures. Yet as Chambers says, when God comes, He motivates us to simple things that we might not imagine Him asking, things like unloading the dishwasher or making the bed. As I do those things, He is there and lifts my spirits. Maybe it is because the simple things are easy enough for a depressed person and the doing of them gives a sense of accomplishment. I’m not sure why it works, but God knows how we function best. Eating lunch or doing laundry works wonders for those having a serious “down-day.”

These may not have the same results for clinical or deep depression; I cannot speak to that, but I rather suspect that “if the Spirit of God makes us feel intuitively that we must do the thing, and we do it,” the depression will be alleviated. This is why grieving people or those very worried might bake cookies or go work in the garden. If God gave them that inclination and they do it, it works because whenever anyone rises to obedience, they enter a higher plane of life. It seems almost too simple, yet when life gets complex, simplicity is vital.

Learning to heed the inclinations that God puts on my heart goes hand in hand with listening for His voice. Both require practice as well as solitude, silence and meditation on His Word. It means unplugging the ear buds, turning off the radio, being alone, praying, but most importantly, tuning my mind to listen-mode instead of “Oh, this might work” mode.

Such discipline is totally worth it. If I cannot hear God in the quiet times, I’ll never hear Him when life goes sideways. Besides, if He has something to say, I’d rather hear Him whisper than require a smack on the side of the head with a 2x4 to get my attention!

Bob had a medical test today that went well. He has two more on Friday. He feels fine, but is not supposed to drive yet. I am now a chauffeur as well as chief cook and bottle-washer. Life is more fun when my to-do list has fewer personal decisions to pick from!

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