Julie is a twenty-one year old single woman in her last year of college. She moved away from home to attend college with the hope of finding a young man there who would want to marry her. Now after three years down, and without a steady relationship, she is beginning to think there is no one out there for her. All of her hopes had been placed on finding a husband at school. Her grades had been excellent, but now they are falling. She struggles now to complete assignments and go to class. For the first time she is in real danger of failing a course due to inattention and sloppiness in her use of time. She also has been spending more time alone in her dorm room. She no longer enjoys going to social events or hanging out with her group of friends. Her best friend, realizing that something is not right, approaches Julie and asks what is wrong. Julie says she does not know, but her friend suspects depression.
Randy is a middle-aged computer professional who has remained with the same company in the same position for twenty years. When he graduated from college he had hoped to one day reach a high level management position and the high salary that would go with it. He is now wondering if he will ever get beyond what has become his status quo. His kids are beginning to enter college and his salary has not allowed him to save properly for it. Retirement is also a concern for him. He had hoped to retire early and spend his remaining years living in a cottage in Florida. As he contemplates the future, and all his plans that have not come to fruition, he feels a heaviness that really pulls him down emotionally. Randy is having more and more days where he cannot focus on work, has a serious lack of energy, cannot sleep well, and struggles with feelings of hopelessness. He visits his doctor, who examines him and finds nothing physically wrong. His doctor then suggests that perhaps Randy is struggling with depression.
What is Depression?
Depression can be described in many ways. Many symptoms are value –laden and involve cognitive tasks of thinking, interpreting, and concluding. Frequent components include: suffering, emptiness, sadness, hopelessness, aloneness, isolation, apathy, numbness, anger, spiritual battle, fear/anxiety. While the word “depression” is a relatively new one, the Bible speaks of depression most often using the English word “downcast.” Suffering and feelings of hopelessness are perhaps the most common identifiers.
Example of Depression/Downcast in the Bible
Psalm 42 provides a good example of one who is depressed or downcast. The Psalmist speaks of his “tears,” of being “cast down” and “in turmoil,” of “breakers” and “waves” that have gone over him. He speaks of loneliness as he laments, “Why have you forgotten me?” His sadness is evident as he questions, “why do I go on mourning?” He speaks of “oppression” because of his enemies and of a “deadly wound” in his bones and adversaries that “taunt” him.
In this Psalm we see great emotion that indicate bouts of hopelessness and personal suffering. An inner turmoil is evident as he evaluates his circumstances. He thinks about his life, makes evaluations, and draws conclusions, all of which begin to affect the way he feels and how he then chooses to move forward in his life.
What About My Life?
Like Julie and Randy, many of us experience life in ways that we never expected. Dreams that never come true, relationships that go sour, financial aspirations that fall flat or perhaps the surprises that come with just getting older. Our life story is not ultimately written by any one of us, for we have a God who lovingly writes our story with our good in mind (Romans 8:28-29). Like the Psalmist, we make choices in how we respond to life. Being depressed or downcast may creep into our lives if:
1. You have a strong desire (demand, hope, craving, “need”, etc.) that rules your heart. It may even be, and often is, a ruling desire for a good thing.
2. Your ruling desire is disappointed (or you come to believe it will be).
As we allow strong desires to rule our hearts and when those desires are not met we are then tempted to become downcast due to such disappointment.
Julie had an inordinate desire for a husband. When she began to believe that her desire would not be met, she began to react with hopelessness and despair. Her life began to revolve around her feelings of disappointment, and it became difficult to contain them. Hence, her schoolwork and social life began to deteriorate.
Randy had set ups goals in his life that were not bad goals, but they began to rule his life as the things he “must have” to be happy. When his career, financial, and retirement goals did not play out as hoped, his world began to cave in on him. He was affected in various ways. He no longer had adequate energy for the day, his sleep was often interrupted, and a feeling of hopelessness set in.
What we desire the most will begin to drive how we live. Both Julie and Randy need help. Both decided to receive biblical counseling out of a competing desire learn what God says about how they were feeling. They also hoped to discover ways in which they could think and live differently to please Him.
Okay, Maybe I Am Depressed…What Now?
Solutions can sometimes be presented in over-simplistic terms. And while they can be presented and understood, it is important that we learn to live according to them, not just understand them intellectually. To do this, it is often best to seek counsel from a biblical counselor or friend who can help you to daily apply truths learned.
In Psalm 42 we saw how a depressed person feels. We see as well in that Psalm how a depressed person can respond to those feelings and circumstances in three ways:
1. Focus on God not on yourself, on others, or on your circumstances (Psalm 42:1, 2, 5b, 8)
2. Focus on God’s present and future promises, not his past blessings (Psalm 42:8,11b)
3. Focus on giving adoration to God not on getting explanations from God (Psalm 42:5b, 8a, 11b)
A right vertical focus on God and His power and wisdom in our lives will keep us from placing our hopes in things that He does not promise. As Julie and Randy begin to focus on God instead of their circumstances – focus on God’s future promises for them instead of their misplaced hopes, and learn to give adoration to God in worship instead of asking why they haven’t gotten what they want – they will, with God’s strength, begin to break the cycle of depression in their lives.
What about you? Have you placed your hope in things other than the promises of God? Are you struggling with intense desires that are unmet? If so, will you decide to focus on God and His perfection, on His future promises, and spend time worshiping Him?