What is your experience with Christians dealing with depression? I’m asking because in the past I’ve dealt with severe depression and anxiety, and my treatment by different pastors or Christian counselors varied. Most of the pastors I talked to were very understanding and sympathetic. But they also cautioned me not to tell anyone in the church aside from them about my depression.
The Christian mental health counselors I talked to were, however, another story. I told one that my depression and anxiety had become so bad I was considering suicide. Her response was that if I committed suicide I’d go straight to hell and be separated from my family forever. That made me feel so much worse.
The problem was at that point in my life I couldn’t stand going to church. I couldn’t read the Bible without feeling ill, and seeing anything religious made me anxious. So I wasn’t sure where to turn or who to talk to or what to think.
So also I wanted to ask if you’ve ever run into people with the same problem?
Yes, sadly, such people write me often. It’s heartbreaking. So many Christians are burdened with the conviction that they’re supposed to be immune from depression and/or low self-esteem. They’re stuck in what I call the Happy Christian Syndrome. They can’t show the world (much less their fellow Christians, much less their pastor) that they’re unhappy, since (they feel) that would show that they’re not spiritually fulfilled, that within them there’s a dearth of Holy Spirit. So they lie about who they really are, and how they’re really feeling—which makes them feel even worse inside, which makes them pretend even harder.
Meanwhile, Jesus himself is openly so “very sad and troubled” that he cries:
Jesus saw her crying. He saw that the Jews who had come along with her were crying also. His spirit became very sad, and he was troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. — John 11:33-35
I was once told by a pastor friend that depression and low-self esteem is pure egoism. “It’s putting yourself ahead of God,” he said. “The only psychotherapy anyone needs is the Bible.”
The pastor was painfully wrong about that. But I could forgive him for what he said, because I knew it was coming from the same place that anger and a lack of compassion always come from: fear. He was afraid. He was afraid of the truth that deep down inside so many Christians are so afraid of they won’t even allow themselves to be aware of it, let alone accept it, which is that Christianity doesn’t have all the answers. It’s not a cure for everything that plagues your body and soul. It’s not a fast track way to get happy. You can’t just open your Bible and have all your childhood traumas disappear.
Life is, and remains, a bitch, no matter who you are ,or where you come from. A whole lot of things about a whole lot of life are a whole lot of traumatizing.
What we have to all realize is that that’s okay. It’s okay to be hurt. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s healthy, even, since ultimately the long path to wisdom must wind through many miles of suffering.
Hang in there, friend. Listen to your emotions, take your time, claim the truth that the journey you’re on is yours and yours alone, and have faith.
And remember: If Jesus can cry, despair, and even rail against God, it’s okay if you do the same. That, too, has its place.