God Bless the Broken People

Vincent VanGogh is one of a sterling host of brilliant, believing people who suffered with depression: John Donne; William Cowper; Henri Nouwen, etc., etc., etc.

My heart is breaking for the Warrens today, Rick Warren and his wife Jan, and their many family members and friends. Their 27 year old son Matthew took his own life on Friday. He had struggled with depression and in the end, the darkness of it overthrew him. I am going to ask my fellow Christian leaders and thinkers, who might at this point dismiss depression as a form of spiritual darkness or weakness from which Christ can deliver, to resist the temptation to reduce it to that.

Depression is complicated, capricious, incapacitating and in most instances associated with chemical imbalances in the brain that, in a good scenario, can be “managed.” Many wise pastoral counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists have stopped pretending people can be cured of depression; best simply to set the goal at managing it. It actually helps the depressed person to hear this: he or she is released from the burden of “getting better” or, at the very least, pretending to get better simply because everyone in his or her community feels she must. “Managing” is much more doable and you feel better about getting through it when the dark clouds descend.

And yet the darkness is so deep. It is full of foul smells and noises that clamor in your head convincing you your existence is a tragic mistake or, worse, a cosmic black joke. You think you should take a walk to shake it off. Maybe you walk, maybe you don’t. In any case, you decide not to answer the phone. You look out the window at (in my case) the cold blue waters of the Atlantic and think you could swim — it would feel good to wade in, begin to turn numb (the northeast Atlantic is always cold, even in July), and swim and swim and swim. You could swim until you can’t swim any more.

Then, a small corner of your disordered mind summons you. You hear yourself say, You’re falling. You hear yourself reply, Yes, you’re right. This is what happens when I fall. Some sane part of you has heard you and wakes up, and you do what you must to stop the fall. You talk yourself through it and hang on. And once the ship is righted enough so that you can think and act with a measure of composure, you get your feet back under you and step into another dawning day. Whatever demons were hounding you, for a time, have been dispelled. Or maybe they haven’t been, but you step into another dawning day in spite of it. You can’t, for the life of you, account for how the dark turn comes, broadsides you, and then turns around, just like that.

The problem is, many good people — Christians in particular — find the use of any anti-depressants and/or seeing a mental health professional, a sign of spiritual abdication and weakness. I sat in the church service once and listened as the pastor preached about how only Jesus gives us peace. He said, ‘401ks can’t bring peace, only Jesus can bring peace. A therapist can’t bring peace, only Jesus can bring peace.’ The more he said it, the more people said ‘Amen’. ‘Medication can’t bring peace, only Jesus can bring peace.’

The vexing part of this particular scenario existed in the fact that that pastor was my husband, and I was in personal crisis at the time in no small way related to issues in the marriage. When you are the wife of a pastor who upholds the pretense of spiritual authority and ‘normalcy’, a therapist is the only thread you hang on to so as not to go off the deep end. Jesus, blessed though he be, was not giving me peace. If I hadn’t forced myself to go to a therapist, who knows where I would have been by then? I was taking medication for depression, which Jesus, in all of his grace and goodness, was likewise not helping me with.

I took antidepressants then, when my 24-year marriage collapsed, 10 years ago, and will probably take them the rest of my life. I am not ashamed of it. I thank God for it. The medication saved my life. It also saved my father’s life. My dear father was so broken down at one point when I was young he underwent nine Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) treatments. He recovered and lived out his days in blessedness (on medication).

In these hard days, in this fast and unforgiving world full of bombardments, false promises and impossible standards, let us not judge one another. Let us take one another by the hand and help. God knows all things. And God is kind. Let us not presume to know all things. But let us, like God, be kind.

God bless all the broken people who can’t walk straight in this crooked world.

About Wendy Murray

Wendy Murray is a veteran and award-winning journalist. She served as associate editor and Senior Writer at Christianity Today magazine and has written extensively for other publications such as Books & Culture and The Christian Century. She has written 11 books.

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Thank you so much for your frank and beautiful words.
    You are so right about this: “The problem is, many good people — Christians in particular — find the use of any anti-depressants and/or seeing a mental health professional, a sign of spiritual abdication and weakness. ” Every time someone tells their story, as you have here, you make it a little easier for others to reach out and get they help they deserve.

  • Darlene Hansen

    Dear Wendy,
    Thank you for sharing your personal journey of depression and your vulnerability in doing this. I am
    very touched by your long struggle with the hereditary difficulty. I pray that you continue to receive the
    grace and grounding of help and support you need in this situation. Your writing comes out of a deep
    place of struggle and personal victories. I admire you and encourage you to keep on a healthy path for
    yourself. Love, Darlene

  • http://www.mycatholicblog.com Erin Pascal

    Thank you for sharing this heart-warming blog Wendy. I am really touched by your story. I am hoping and praying that you will be able to find the strength and the wisdom that you need to overcome such hard challenges that life has to offer. Stay strong! May God bless you.

  • Alicia

    Very moving piece, Wendy.

  • readingann

    Thankyou, as a fellow depression sufferer I really appreciate this article. My church once told me I had demons……I think you can understand how damaging this was. Took me several years to get over that with the help of a very good christian psychologist

  • Kathy

    Hi Wendy,

    I want to thank you for your frankness and honesty here. I am a Christian marriage and family therapist and I run up against the attitudes you describes often – so frustrating for me, and so sad for the people who, tragically, fail to seek the help that they need. And for those who do risk coming for help, but do so feeling the weight of condemnation for actually seeking help outside of the church (I should say, outside of the church building, because as a Christ bearer, I am part of the church!) There is a sense that to turn to anyone but Jesus is a failure, as if His people were not, themselves, vehicles through whom His grace can move…..how did we get to such a narrow understanding of faith????

  • http://theoppositepc.blogspot.com Frank

    Wendy, thank you for being so vulnerable sharing what you did. We need to get past the stigma and recognize this is more pervasive that we admit. This affects all of us in some way- family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, even Pastors and their wives.

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    Blessings on you for having the courage to speak your sacred spiritual truth. We are each given challenges and those who are given gifts to treat our challenges. We make a terrible mistake when we cut out the “middle human” between “God” and those made in the image and likeness. Proselytizing isn’t the answer; service through our own sacred hearts and hands is the way.

  • Pingback: New alarms sound as depression becomes a public 'thief of the night' | Center on Social Minimalism()

  • Pingback: Idea that depression may be Christian moral concern growing | Desert Mountain Times()