Speaking of Depression and Prayer (on the Radio…)

Today at 5:10 EST I’ll be on The John and Kathy Show, on 101.5 FM Pittsburgh. (You can listen to it live online.) We’ll be discussing what I touched on a bit with my post, “Praying When You Have Low Self-Esteem.”

I’m looking forward to this chat, because … well, here’s what I just wrote on the J&K Show’s Facebook page: “I’m looking forward to discussing the challenges of coming before God when we’re feeling particularly lousy about ourselves—which, of course, is when we tend to most want to isolate. How to open the most important door of all, when the last thing we want to do is be seen?”

Because isn’t that the whole thing with God: how to access him/her/it anyway—much less when you’re feeling like God is the last … all-powerful entity upon whose door you should be knocking? (Oh: for anyone with “him/her/it” issues relative to identifying God, see my post, Does the “Average Christian Reader” Need God to Be a “He”?)

I’ve got to cut out of my house here in about ten minutes (today, for one, is my monthly meeting with the San Dieguito Interfaith Ministerial Association: we’re learning today about the Sikh tradition), but thought that before going I’d quickly (and so in a manner much too scattered) share some of what’ll be on my mind this morning as I think about the relationship between being depressed and coming before God. These are just the raw, core thoughts:

God’s in favor of low-self esteem—insofar as it implies humility. Humility is God’s open gate.

God is not someone before whom you need to do everything right. There are no standards with God. If anything, the sloppier the better.

God’s not your boss. He’s your friend.

When you’re depressed, don’t think you shouldn’t be. Don’t run from it, or try to make it better. Do the opposite: Take it more seriously than you might be inclined to. Dive into it. Assume it’s valid. Use God to help you explore your depression, and don’t worry about “healing” it.

When it comes to God, don’t be goal-oriented. Be relationship-oriented.

Give it time. Just sit there. See what happens. Sometimes you need to talk to God; sometimes you need to listen. Take the time to do both. You’re depressed. What else do you have to do?

God’s the ultimate shrink. Believe it.

Assume you don’t really understand the nature of your depression. (You can also pretty safely assume it’s really anger.)

Resenting/doubting God because in the past your prayers haven’t been answered? Often being too focused on what you’re not getting means missing what you are.

Anyway, like that. Tune in if you can/get a chance/want to. Otherwise, I can tell I’m going to be exploring some of this stuff in near-future posts. Love to you guys. (I’ve posted this without editing it. Forgive sure resultant mistakes.)

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Diana A.

    Thanks John! Looking forward to hearing you on the radio again. I agree with most of what you've written down in raw form here–the one thing that I'd question is God being in favor of low self-esteem. I don't think God is so much in favor of low self-esteem as he is against arrogance. They seem to be exact opposites, but that misses a nuance or two.

    Low self-esteem (otherwise known as low self-respect–a term I prefer because it's more down-to-earth), to me, is an attitude of holding oneself in contempt, even hatred. Yes, the Bible talks a lot about how one should hate oneself for one's sinfulness–but think of it this way, you love your wife, correct? So do you want her hating herself or holding herself in contempt? Probably not. In fact, when we love one other, it is painful to us when the beloved hates his/herself or holds his/herself in contempt. I would imagine that God feels the same way about us.

    Arrogance, on the other hand, is putting oneself above other people. So if your wife thought she was doing you some kind of favor by permitting you to hang out with her exalted self and had no real respect for you or what you bring to that relationship, you probably wouldn't enjoy that overly much either. Some people, interestingly enough, do act as if they are doing God a favor by praying to him, showing up in church, etc.–and this attitude is just as bad as low self-respect–perhaps worse.

    Anyway, that's my two cents. I pretty much agree with everything else you wrote. Great post, as always!

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      I totally agree with you. As I said, I just didn't have any time to flush these out. Have moment now. Should adjust that. Will.

      • Diana A.

        Yeah. I was probably a little quick to respond to this post–sorry about that.

        • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

          Your comments consistently enhance my blog, Diana. You hardly need to apologize to me. But thanks.

          • Gina Powers

            Was going to inquire about the God being in favor of low-self esteem thing myself, but then John & Diana took care of it. Thanks, you guys!

  • Kara

    When you’re depressed, don’t think you shouldn’t be. Don’t run from it, or try to make it better. Do the opposite: Take it more seriously than you might be inclined to. Dive into it. Assume it’s valid. Use God to help you explore your depression, and don’t worry about “healing” it.

    Ah, John… I think it's more complicated than this. Not all depression has the same cause. Sometimes recognizing it as depression and working to heal it is the best thing to do. I speak as someone who lived with serious depression for years, trying to pray myself better (or just functioning) and failing.

    To me it sounds like you're telling people not to hope or have faith that it will ever be better. And sometimes that hope is all someone has to hold on to.

    God’s the ultimate shrink. Believe it.

    Sure. But sometimes you need a human "shrink" too. The best thing I ever did was go to therapy. Just sitting with your depression isn't always the answer; it won't work for everyone. My low self-respect (love the term, Diana!) was something I needed to overcome. It wasn't from God, and I fully believe it broke God's heart.

    If you're talking about feeling depressed, that's one thing, and I can agree with your advice a bit more. But clinical depression is a serious, dangerous problem, and in my experience, what someone who's clinically depressed should do is seek help from a professional.

    Depression is psychological torment. I don't believe God has anything to do with causing torment of any kind. I think God hates it, and would want us to do whatever it took to return to a place where we're healthy and whole.

    As always, JMO, and I may be totally misreading what you said. If I am, my apologies.

    • Argy-bargy

      Thank you, Kara, for this.

      John, I think I understand and agree with most of your points here. However, I too have struggled with decades of depression–at times very serious–and I thank God that there are medicines and therapies that take care of enough of the depression to function.

      I have begged God for years to take this from me, but He hasn't, and I can't even begin to understand the reasons why. To keep worrying about the why just makes me crazier than I am, so I have to let it go. If God is God, then there must be a reason and plan for it. If there isn't a reason or plan, then God is a cruel being to bring this world into being where this could happen. I focus on what I can do, which is seek the treatments that will help. I agree, Kara. You can't always rely on God The Shrink. He doesn't speak to me, at least, in the ways that give me the practical help I need. Hopefully, God puts people in my life that can help me do that.

      I think that's the difference between situational depression and psychiatric depression. Situational depression is a person's natural reaction and response to a profound sense of loss of something. Relying on God the Shrink might help more in this way. For my body's evident inability to produce or retain enough amounts of certain neurotransmitters, I have to rely on more tangible and physical help.

      Diana, I love your example of John's wife. It's making me think a bit more of how God must feel about my self-contempt and that He must indeed share my pain. That is a comfort, although it feels very distant.

      I wish I understood the why, but the closest I've gotten is the what.

      • Sushi

        John has suggested therapy in posts where he's answered letters, so I highly doubt his intent is to shun professional help. The fact that he points to anger as the underlying source of depression shows he understands the nature of psychology.

        Depression means there is something that one needs to address, so John is right when he writes, "When you’re depressed, don’t think you shouldn’t be. Don’t run from it, or try to make it better. Do the opposite: Take it more seriously than you might be inclined to. Dive into it. Assume it’s valid. Use God to help you explore your depression, and don’t worry about “healing” it."

        As part of the psychoanalytic process, success means one will face his or her greatest fear, but that is after one has uncovered the layers of emotion to discover what that real fear is. To actually go through the layers requires self examination, a lot of "feeling" your feelings and a lot of talking. If one approaches this with a timeframe of "total healing and recovery" then process is sacrificed, and the process is what is required to heal.

        • Sushi

          er…nevermind. just read what he wrote below. Sorry, JS

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Good, helpful thoughts, Kara and Argy. Great stuff. For my part, I think maybe you missed this bit of the post: "These are just the raw, core thoughts," "quickly shared."

      • Argy-bargy

        And…upon further reflection even before this post of yours, point well taken. I, like many, read things through a prism, and I was only perceiving one color…until the crystal shifted. Coming from a person who's "raw, core thoughts" often don't progress beyond that (me), you are already ahead of me.

        And, no, I don't think you were discounting biochemical depression or its nature. I think you are absolutely right to not run from depression, but to embrace it. It is part of who I am and what I am, but it doesn't define all of me. My "black dog" as Churchill called it, follows me always, but isn't me. A tag on my soul, so to speak, but not my soul.

    • DR

      I speak as someone who lived with serious depression for years, trying to pray myself better (or just functioning) and failing.>>>

      Kara,

      You explained the torment of Depressives so artfully, there's not much else to add. I'm thankful that it's not a chronic experience for me, but I have enough Depressives in my life for which it is and the battle they fight is a huge one.

      When I read this post from John it seemed like what he might be suggesting was that a lot of Christians feel like they actually do have to get their depression "healed" through prayer, etc. when in fact, that approach sometimes minimizes the reality of what Depressives often experience and need medication-wise.

      • Jeanine

        DR,

        I had a sister-in-law (not a Christian), she was diagnosed as bi-polar, she was on many different medications, and nothing seemed to help her. In the end, the depression overcame her and she took her own life. Unfortunately, I was not a Christian at the time, and short of loving her and trying to understand, I had nothing else to offer her.

        Now I have a Christian friend who suffers in a really similar way with the same diagnosis. He prays and prays and prays and also takes medication. I have watched him struggle over the years, but he continues to overcome and at times really thrive. The difference between him and her is like night and day – even though they struggle with the same thing. He maintains the hope of being healed, yet still has enough grace to make it thorough each day without giving up.

        When Jesus healed people during his ministry; he very often told them to do something. For instance, "pick up your mat and walk', 'wash in the Jordan river seven times', etc. Or, he would ask them questions about what they believed, and then heal them. The woman with the issue of blood had to reach out and touch him. The officer with the sick daughter had to go and seek him.

        The healing came because the person actively particiapted in seeking out Jesus and doing what he said to do. And when I think about it, he did not do the same thing for everyone; it was very personal.

        Actually, that sounds like a very interesting Bible study – the means of healing Jesus used and how that pertained to the person being healed…..and ultimately to the healing we might be seeking.

        • Robert Meek

          I'm truly sorry for your sister-in-law, and glad for your friend, but I genuinely think this oversimplifies it greatly.

          I remember my first stint as a RN on a psychiatric until, and I saw patients, who were genuinely God-fearing, loved Jesus, in such emotional pain and agony, pacing, crying, holding their Bibles, praying, wondering why they had to be in this pain, agony, depression, psychosis, that they were in.

          This was one of the first things that shook my childhood theology, which was totally warped – it was that if you loved God enough, if you were spiritual enough, if you committed your life to Him enough, you would not go through these things, and the extreme of that, which some took to, but I never did was that psychosis, hallucinations, MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder), etc., were all really matters of "being demon possessed," which I that was a wretched and callous thing to teach and preach.

          I'm sorry, but one cannot say that a successful bipolar is because he/she is Christian and one that failed is because he/she is not.

          If you research it deeper, you will find bipolar people of all faiths that succeed and fail.

          • Robert Meek

            TYPO ERROR:

            "which I that was a wretched" should be "which I thought was a wretched"

            Sorry.

            Apologies.

  • berkshire

    For the most part, I think I get what you're saying, but I also think you're talking about "sadness" more than "depression".

    Depression can be "explored", but as someone who works with depressed patients and in the past has battled it myself, true depression (not mere sadness, grief, or dissatisfaction) is not something one can think one's way out of. It is not always obvious in its cause. Indeed, it may not adhere to our usual notions of cause and effect at all. It is often physiologically based. It can be recalcitrant, and it can be deadly.

    This is not say that depression doesn't affect self-esteem; it certainly does. And the stigma others attach to it adds to that. But true depression is not merely low self-esteem.

    This is also not to say that God has no place in all this. God certainly does.

    One of a spiritual bent might argue that God has had a hand in guiding the work of those who have found pharmacological and, increasingly, non-pharmacological approaches to deal with the physiology of depression, to restore and save lives.

    I agree with you when you say, "When it comes to God, don’t be goal-oriented. Be relationship-oriented." But when it comes to depression, I agree even more with "Take it more seriously than you might be inclined to." That, to me, means get professional help along with the spiritual help of God and community. Depression affects cognition as well as emotion, which can make it very hard to hear whatever God, or anyone else, might be trying to tell you–including how much you are deserving of love and acceptance, and how much you are, in fact, loved and accepted. Even an ordinarily healthy self-esteem can get buried by the brain's chemical messengers.

    Good luck on-the-air.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Good, helpful thoughts, B. Great stuff. For my part, I think maybe you missed this bit of the post: “These are just the raw, core thoughts,” “quickly shared.”

      • berkshire

        Nope– I saw that, and figured that, since you have written other things on this topic that show you "get it".

        Just responding to what was there, rather than trying to intuit what wasn't.

        It's good that you're talking about it at all, and your commenters are offering what they are offering–especially the ones who've fought this battle in their lives. I think this is the only way for people to deepen their understanding of depression and stop thinking about it as a character flaw, or a weakness, or simply blaming the person who is suffering. Dialog about the subject is always welcome and helpful.

        So thanks.

        ;-)

        • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

          Everything you said was spot-on.

    • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

      Thanks to all you guys! Good stuff to inform our discussion (if not, because I'll only be on for 15 minutes or so, certainly my thinking about this stuff).

  • Tim

    As someone who struggles with depression, the fact that it often keeps me at arm's distance from God makes me all the more determined to tuck in my arm and fall into HIs bosom. And yes, I see God in the masculine simply because Jesus (a man) is the object of my worship.

    1John 3:1-3. "Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God…" One gem that comes out to me is that if God is the perfect Father, He generally gives us what we need as opposed to what we want. I suppose we are expected to grouse about like small children after being held down by our parent for a painful innoculation. Nevertheless, if we gain enough maturity, we start to see that though we don't like a lot of the things that come into our life, we will eventually appreciate how those things benefit us in the bigger picture. Yes, depression has me at a distance from God all too often—but maybe that's because He realizes that the communion after the break is that much sweeter. The pause…Selah…was the musical break that David put in his Psalms. Maybe not so much for us to meditate about God, but for God to meditate about us. We are His beloved.

  • http://www.facebook.com/narnar Natalie

    "When you’re depressed, don’t think you shouldn’t be. Don’t run from it, or try to make it better. Do the opposite: Take it more seriously than you might be inclined to. Dive into it. Assume it’s valid. Use God to help you explore your depression, and don’t worry about “healing” it."

    As someone who lives with depression, I couldn't agree more with this statement, John. In my case, it wasn't just thinking that I shouldn't be depressed, it was feeling guilty (hello, I was raised Catholic – what do you expect?) about being depressed. How could I be depressed when I have such a good life and people who love me? Aren't there people around the world suffering more than me? Acceptance is the hardest part of any mental conflict. I should have used God, I think it would have helped me through it. But, my faith in the Catholic god was abandoned long ago, and while I now have faith in my own personal God, in my darkest times I felt like I had no one, not even God. I never felt like God had abandoned me, but rather I felt like I wasn't worth paying attention to. So, if God wasn't going to make me happy, then I must not be worth it. Looking back on it, it really doesn't make much sense. But I believe it's so important to really explore your depression, think on it seriously – rational thought will definitely NOT come first, but it will eventually come. It's best not to ignore it.

  • katie

    As someone with clinical depression, I understand what the posts above are saying – there is a difference between clinical depression and a prolonged period of feeling sad. I am currently dealing with both. On top of my clinical depression (which is under control, most of the time), there are circumstances in my life right now that are making me sad and angry. Luckily, some of the tools that I can use to combat clinical depression can be used in this situation. But in a lot of ways, its quite different. I already have the meds taking care of the chemical part, but these tips were helpful in dealing with circumstancial sadness. However, I have found that exploring the depression (praying, talking to friends, thinking about one’s subconscious) are good ideas, but after a while you have to pull out of it. Focus on the good, etc. (Easier said than done).I don’t think we should feel bad about bouts of sadness, but we shouldn’t get stuck in them either. Thanks John for the post, it gave me some things to think about!

  • Robert Meek

    Depression: my first bout was mixed – living at home late into my 20′s feeling confined (for reason I shan’t go into here), struggling with gay feelings but trying to deny them.

    Long story short, as my late sister said, I was emotionally, although not actively, suicidal. I used to pray to God that He would let a car run the red light, as I went through on a green light, and take me Home to heaven, or let my car run off a bridge during the rain, and ditto same result.

    With tears in my eyes, running down my face.

    One day, I realized I needed counseling, got it, and came to the following conclusion: when I tried to change myself, that was when I felt suicidal, but when I accepted myself for whom I was (a gay man), I was not suicidal.

    It was after that my first depression lifted, I began to hear the birds sing with my heart as well as with my ears, and began to see the the sunrises and sunsets with my heart, as well as my eyes, again.

    My first bout with depression that required temporary medication was after an employer fired me/demanded that I resign, and I felt sorely abused and mistreated by it, as I was a very dedicated RN working ICU there. I had issues with them, and their new computer system which had serious problems, and they did not like what I said, confrontation-ally, and got rid of me – short version of it. In the long run, it was good, because I was already very unhappy with them, but I couldn’t see it at the time.

    At my new job, I went into a depression that was classic, but I couldn’t recognize it. I knew I had no energy at all, that I fell asleep sitting up charting, that all I did was eat, sleep, bathroom, sleep, work, sleep. I also knew that the air around me felt thick as old Jello, and it felt as if I was having to force my arms, legs, and body, through it, because of the energy it took to move, and how exhausted I constantly was.

    My then primary doctor did $300.00-worth of lab tests, which in those days was a LOT, and told me if she didn’t find anything then it was classical endogenous clinical depression.

    I scoffed. I also told her that if she put me on an anti-depressant, I didn’t want one of the new ones. I didn’t trust them. It seemed like every time we turned around those days (it’s only gotten worse since then) that new medications would be approved, six months later or so they’d say “Oops! We killed off 6 people’s livers. Sorry folks. Recalling it now!” Etc. I said I wanted something that was tried and true, that she knew would work, and wouldn’t kill me.

    She agreed. She gave me Pamelor which is ancient. The only difference was it took up to 1 month for it to work, and the new ones bragged they worked in 2 weeks.

    Almost a month to the day, I was sitting on my couch, watching TV with my then significant other, something funny was on, and I laughed out loud – hard. I turned to him, amazed, and said, astounded, “I’d forgotten what it felt like to laugh!” He smiled, and merely said “Good!” knowing it was working. My doctor’s response was the same. She kept me on it for 9 months. I wanted off then, because I believed I didn’t need it anymore. Grudgingly, she gave in, only with me promising that if she confronted me and said go back on it that I would do so. I promised, but she never felt the need to take that action. I did fine for years after that.

    I did pretty well, over all, until my father died. Taking on taking care of my non-driving still-domineering anti-gay but very loving mother who was terrified that her son was going to burn in hell for eternity was traumatic for me, and I got counseling, but not medication.

    When mama died, I got depressed again, but over all, coped. I do remember one friend snarling “You’re just depressed!” which rather ticked me off a lot. I told him off, in no uncertain terms, that his time would come, when he would lose first one parent, and then the other, and then he would know how utterly life-changing that was, regardless of your age.

    He never really spoke to me again, although he claimed that was me doing that.

    Whatever.

    I learned the hard way to not discuss it with people who had not gone through it. Both depression, and the loss of a parent. Doctors, counselors, are exceptions, of course.

    When my one and only sibling, sister, died unexpectedly in a motor vehicle accident, I was floored.

    She had come to live with me, to be near me, to help me, to take care of me. We both knew that someday I would die, having HIV, and I was 6.5 years older, overweight, diabetic, and a smoker. Like I told her, I could control the HIV, and diabetes, lose the weight, and stop smoking, but statistically speaking brother would probably not outlive her, and I needed to know that she would be okay.

    Likewise, we had many conversations, and she dedicatedly and lovingly assured me completely that when my time came, she would be there, beside me, to hold my hand.

    Then, she died.

    Consequently, I was terrified. Who would take care of me? Who would hold my hand?

    I was, and am, alone.

    Except for some dear friends who have stepped in, and I know I’ll be okay now. But as far as what family I do have, most of them ignore me, and are far away.

    Anyway, this was before then.

    My doctor asked me if I had chest pain. I just glared at him, silent. He glared back, and asked sharper, and added “You would tell me, right!?”

    I retorted, “Why!? So you could do a stress test, send me to the regional medical center, do a coronary bypass on me, so I could live longer, and die of AIDS!?”

    His eyes bugged out, and he said, “Oh, my God! You ARE depressed. We have to do something about this!”

    I snarled, “You asked!”

    Well, I accepted an anti-depressant, and counseling. Then I realized I had talked all the talk that there was to talk, and that it was time to take action, or shut up, so I forced myself out my front door, beyond work, pharmacy, doctor, groceries, into the world, and faced it, even though I didn’t want to do so.

    What motivated me was the realization that sister would not want me to self-destruct like that, and that was exactly what I was doing, lingering around, waiting to die, depressed. That she would want me to enjoy life as fully as I could.

    So I did.

    Nowadays, disabled on oxygen, I am semi-homebound voluntarily not driving, but over all, I am still okay. Sometimes the mundane repeated sameness of each day gets to me, other days, not.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      I always appreciate your contributions around here, which I find, for me, insightful, as you come from place with a perspective so very different from my own.

      I feel such sympathy for your experience of life; though I cannot comprehend what life in your shoes is like, I empathize to the extent I can imagine.

      Robert Meek, I admire your perseverance, your resilience, and I admire your faith!

      God bless you, Mr. Meek!!!


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