Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Hope: Light in the Darkness of Depression

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A few weeks ago we had our annual counseling conference at BCC. This year we had a special Youth and Young Adult track titled Pathway to Life. In this track we covered 5 main topics which we are now going over during our IMAGE Sunday School class. Next week’s topic will be “Hope: Light in the Darkness of Depression” so I wanted to discuss it a bit more for our youth parents this week.

According to online statistics, “Depression affects about 20% of adolescents by the time they become adults.” Along with this, “Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth 10-24 years of age in the United States” 1 These statistics are serious and many claim both to still be on the rise. All that said, this is a very relevant topic to be thinking through as we seek to shepherd our children not just through big life decisions & actions, but also their inner thinking & emotions.

In our conference discussion we used Webster’s definition of depression as, “…marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” Notice a few things. First, depression is defined most by its results or manifestations. Second, the multifaceted affects of depression vary and may not all be present in every circumstance. Third, some of the affects are even opposing like the areas of food intake and sleep being exaggerated to either side of the spectrum with overindulgence or extreme lack. Understanding that, it is worth noting and keeping an eye out for especially a grouping of these affects in our kids and even in each other.

Further, in our discussion we recognized depression is not uncommon nor is it only experienced by those “weak” in their faith. Consider some biblical examples like Elijah (1 Kings 19) or the sons of Korah (Ps 42), & David (Ps 6) who were serving the Lord as a prophet and worship leaders. Other well known believers who struggled in a similar manner are missionary David Brainerd, author C.S. Lewis, and pastors Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon to name a few. Thus, feelings of depression are certainly not always able to be traced to a weakness or sinfulness of the individual. They are a sufferer and to be cared for as such first and foremost.

This chart helps demonstrate a lot of possible sources that can encourage depressive feelings in someone.
 Some of these sources a person may be suffering from are Physical Issues (external) like a thyroid problem or lack of sleep or food, Difficult Circumstances (external) like an illness or death of a close friend, Abuse (horizontal and external) like in cases of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse, and Unconfessed Sin (vertical and internal) like David after committing adultery and murder. Some of these sources can be changed by the person suffering in depression, others can’t. Where possible to change their circumstances it would certainly be wise to do so. However, God sometimes allows us to suffer without the ability to change our situations and even allows our suffering to continue like Job's.

In those circumstances it is especially key to remember two facts. First, suffering does not equate to God’s displeasure with us or “paying us back” for our sin. Jesus Christ is proof of this for us where the Father loves the Son perfectly in the Godhead yet allows Him to fully suffer in His death on the cross. The book of 1Peter deals a great deal with this topic actually as another point of reference. Second, suffering does not preclude us from God’s call to still live for Him in spite of how we feel. In fact, I would suggest the majority of the Christian life might be described as consistently choosing to live and walk in Christ-likeness believing God’s truth instead of our emotions. For example, when I’ve sinned and then asked God’s forgiveness do I choose to wallow in my feelings of guilt, or do I choose to get back up and walk in the truth of the forgiveness God promises in 1 John 1:9? Feelings are great, but God ultimately calls us to live based on His truth informing our thinking rather than on our emotions. God gives a clear picture of this in Jeremiah 17:5-9,

5Thus says the Lord,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
6 “For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.
7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
8 “For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
9 “The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?

Notice the life results... The one relying on his feelings is desolate and blown everywhere like a tumbleweed. In contrast, the one trusting God for her view of life is given life, bears fruit, and is stabilized, rooted in His Word. Thus, whether we ourselves are struggling with depression or we are seeking to help others like our children walk through that darkness, ultimately we each need to be going back to God’s Word and truth to find hope.

How does pursuing this hope look practically?

1. Memorize and Meditate on truths of Scripture. Think upon God’s promises of His nearness (Ps 34:18), faithfulness (2 Tim2:13 and Jude 24), and sufficient grace (2 Cor 12:7-10 and Eph 2:8-9). Along with God’s present promises, ponder the future hope of eternity and the temporariness of present sufferings (2 Cor 4:16-17). Consider finding songs or other sources of truth to remind you of these things as well. Invite friends and others into your life who will bring these things back to mind for you when your bent would be to forget.

2. Act. God calls us to act on His commands in spite of our feelings. Amazingly our feelings often seem to follow what we do from resolve. This can be seen in other areas like feeling lonely as well as suffering, where obeying God often times brings feelings of joy, peace, and contentment though the circumstances are no different. One major way to obey God and a very helpful tool to get our minds off our present suffering is serving others. Be intentional to volunteer at your church. Commit to things that you will have to do even when you don’t “feel” like it to put provisions for service in place for when you are going through dark times.
All that to say, a few questions you might discuss with your child as you seek to delve deeper into this topic with them might be…
  • How would you define “depression”?
  • Do you think there is a stigma with depression? If so, what?
  • How do think someone who struggles with depression typically looks?
  • What do you think are some possible things that might encourage someone to feel depressed?
  • What do you think are some possible results of “feeling” depressed?
  • How do you think someone struggling with depression should deal with it?
  • The dictionary defines depression as, “…marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.” By that definition would you say you’ve ever felt depressed?
  • How have you responded to feelings of depression personally?
  • Have you ever felt so depressed you weren’t sure life was worth living?
  • Have you ever contemplated suicide? Did you have a plan or ideas of how to pursue that?
  • What do you think God says about depression? How might He give us hope in that darkness?
Here is a link for the audio of this session with Scott O’Malley: https://www.bethanycommunitychurch.org/resources/docs/2503-pathway_to_hope.mp3

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13)

 - Phil

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