Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Family Forte: The Struggle with Depression

by: Topher Wiles

Depression.  It was the topic of one of my 20 page research papers at Lipscomb University from my pastoral care and psychology classes.  It's also an issue that Ashley and I have personally struggled with from time to time.  It is so common a struggle for families that it gets a full chapter in one of my valuable books, Christian Counseling, by Gary R. Collins.

According to renowned psychiatrists Frank Minrith & Paul Meier, the majority of Americans suffer from a serious, clinical depression at some point in their lives. Most people never seek help, but battle this struggle on their own.

Dr. Gary Collins lets us know that even Christian families experience this challenge, describing it this way. "The Christian experience has three levels.  First there are mountaintop days when everything is going well and the world looks bright.  These experiences are temporary: they can't go on forever.  It is unrealistic to expect, as many people do, that we can spend life leaping from one mountain peak to another as if there were no plains or valleys in between.  Instead, most of life consists of ordinary days when we work at our usual tasks, neither elated nor depressed.  The, third, there are dark days when we trudge heavily through confusion, doubt, despair, and discouragement.  Sometimes these days string out into months or even years before we begin to experience a sense of relief and victory.  When they persist, dark days are days of depression."

A friend of mine and fellow preacher, Jeff Strite, pointed out that Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is a surprisingly perfect case study of depression and how to help someone struggling with through the trials of it.  Elijah ran for his life, wished his life would end, slept for days, felt alone, and felt rejected.  He experienced these feelings often associated with depression for weeks on end.

Previously, this righteous prophet had preached one of the greatest sermons of his life. He confronted 400 prophets of Baal on the Mt. Carmel and exposed them as the false prophets they really were. Due to Elijah’s faith & obedience God literally sent fire down out of heavens to consume the sacrifice he’d placed on the altar and then provided a long overdue rain to end a drought.

Why would a man who preached an impressive message and experienced some of the most powerful displays of God’s power suddenly be crippled by fear, hopelessness, and despair? I’m not sure the exact reason, but the truth is, even God’s most dynamic and faithful servants can suffer from depression. Depression is such a challenge for family members in all walks of life especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Yet, God doesn’t leave moms, dads, grandparents, teenagers, nor prophets in the midst of depression.

Long before psychiatry was ever thought of, long before depression help could be bought in the little purple pills, and long before we had professional counselors, God brought help and healing to Elijah. Here’s how.

First, God gave Elijah a restful time of meditation in a holy place at Mt. Sinai. (1 Kings 19:5-8) This place of rest for Elijah was the same place God delivered the 10 commandments centuries before to Moses. These meditative and restful spiritual experiences have been proven by science to be helpful in healing from depression. As posted on ScienceDaily.com, a 1999 Duke University study of nearly 4000 older adults revealed a surprising conclusion.  “Attendance at a house of worship is related to lower rates of depression and anxiety."  Giving our depressed family members space and meditative time is one of the best therapy tools we possess to start the healing process.

Second, after the prophet rested, God let Elijah talk while the Lord listened. (1 Kings 19:13-14) Obviously God knows all about what Elijah is thinking or feeling already, but God asked Elijah some questions that allowed Elijah to open up about his hurt and struggles. Even though he was mistaken in his thoughts, Elijah shared how alone he felt in the world. God listened, knowing that simple listening can be therapy itself.  Giving an ear to family members struggling with depression is a great tool we can use to help them heal.

Third, after rest and listening, God began to deal with the false ideas rolling around in Elijah’s head. (1 Kings 19:18) He reminded Elijah of his worth and helped him understand that he was not alone in the world, but that there were many more just like him. Helping our family members understand that they are not alone but are valued and supported can be a major change as they continue to heal from the effects of depression.

Finally, as part of the healing process from depression continued, God gave Elijah an appropriate task that he could complete. He told him to go meet with other righteous people and help them in their journey. (1 Kings 19:15-17)  Family members struggling with depression often need us to give them some appropriate direction as they continue to heal from this common mental malady and to connect them to other positive and motivated people in life.

God provided Elijah rest, meditation, listening, gentle correction, direction, and connection as the Lord helped the prophet overcome depression. We can provide the same for our family members too.

Remember, that depression is a common and strong foe gripping families in America, especially following the pandemic. Yet family members don’t have to struggle through this mental challenge alone because God has put us in biological and spiritual families to help us combat these very real trials.  As always, if you are looking for help or guidance in combating depression, you can always contact me at Central Church of Christ (931-836-2874) and I’ll be happy to listen and love in these challenges. If you’re looking for professional counseling services in Sparta to combat depression, we’d be glad to recommend the counseling services of Warrior Counseling with Natalie Whorton (931-510-8365).  May God bless your family with health, hope, and family forte.

To view the whole sermon I gave on the topic of depression, click here: Let's Talk About It: Depression.

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to grow stronger.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.christiscentral.org.

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