A Hard Truth about Scripture and Depression

In my previous post, I included some practical things that were said to and done for me in the midst of a depressive episode that helped me. Here’s more: A friend let me come over and take a nap on her couch so I wouldn’t be alone. Another called me daily to check in. One took me shopping at Walgreens for Christmas stocking stuffers. One gave me a ride to work when I was unable to drive because of medication. Another brought dinner for the family. Good friends even saw me when I was in the psych unit – not an easy place to visit. One sent – and continues to send – encouraging cards and notes.

These folks were Jesus to me – “Jesus with skin on.” And that was the point of the post – practical things you can say to or do for someone in the midst of depression that they might find comforting or helpful.

You’ll notice, if you’ve read many of my posts, that I didn’t include helpful Scripture. Part of that, to be honest, is that quoting the Bible to a person who is in the depths of depression is not necessarily helpful. At least, it wasn’t for me. This is a hard truth – just throwing God’s Word at me wasn’t helpful when it was spoken without “stepping into” my suffering.

Now don’t get me wrong. Many friends shared God’s Word with me, and I found the verses encouraging and comforting – to be reminded that God is always with me, that He desires hope for my life, that He hears every cry from heaven – every prayer – called out to Him. But I only felt this way because these friends first made an effort to understand my suffering.

For me, reading God’s Word in the midst of a depressive episode, at the depths of despair, wasn’t practical. For one thing, I couldn’t read, couldn’t actually focus my eyes to make out the words on the page. For another, I felt so guilty about my depression and the accompanying negative thoughts, that often Scripture felt condemning, not comforting. The comfort came in being reminded that Jesus was with me, not in particular verses from the Bible.

Some verses left me feeling completely inadequate, and unable to call on Jesus for His saving strength. I had to be reminded to do these things – hearing Bible verses didn’t inspire me to do so. And others doing this for me – standing in the gap, so to speak – was invaluable. I couldn’t do it, so others did it for me.  They prayed for me when I couldn’t even form the words to a prayer.

In my better moments, I was able to write God’s Word into my journal, to write out prayers to God for strength and healing. My journal is full of these. I also used a little book, God’s Promises for Every Day, by W Publishing Group. It’s full of verses for particular struggles – verses to read when suffering from depression or anxiety, or when wondering where God is. It’s got verses about peace, God’s love, doubt, eternal life, God’s faithfulness, confusion, Jesus as your friend or Savior or Lord. And the Holy Spirit brought memorized verses to my mind to help me. since reading the Bible was so difficult to do.

I guess what I’m saying is that simply quoting Scripture to a person struggling with depression is not necessarily helpful. Telling me to practice Philippians 4:6-7 doesn’t just make the anxiety go away – I was already trying to live those verses, but wasn’t feeling peaceful. Quoting I Peter 5:7 doesn’t necessarily relieve the burden – it’s hard to cast anxiety on Jesus when I’m drowning in depression and its companion, anxiety. It’s hard to cast anything. That required energy I didn’t have.

Please don’t misunderstand. God’s Word never returns empty – it will accomplish what God intends (Isaiah 55:11). But shared outside of the context of the suffering I was experiencing felt cruel. It left me feeling less than, unlovable, abandoned, misunderstood.

It was better to be told the verses that folks were praying for me. It was more helpful to be gently reminded of the truths of Scripture than having them shoved at me.

So please, in reaching out to a friend in depression, don’t simply quote a Bible verse and expect that to help. You need to show them that verse, living out Jesus’ love to them. Don’t hurt them with God’s Word – apply it as a salve in the context of their suffering.

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Relationships and community

I met with my new therapist this past Tuesday. Nothing new, really, except that she and I are new together. I talked about loneliness, and told her the steps I’m taking to reach out to others to ease the alone-ness. She didn’t offer much, other than that I was doing the right things. She did remind me that I can quit the things that aren’t working.

So I’m giving myself permission to take the pressure off of Bible study. I’ll keep going, for the discipline of study, and sharing with other women. But I’ll not expect to make great friends there – that hasn’t worked so far, so I’ll lower my expectations. I won’t feel guilty about missing a week and going out with a new friend to visit and share lunch. I’ll keep it all in balance.

I have plans with another friend for breakfast together. I’ll go to work and meet with my individual students. I’ll enjoy my free time with my husband on the weekends and we’ll adventure out in our Mini-convertible.  We’ll occasionally meet his coworkers and spouses after work, for a drink or dinner/campfire. I’ll keep trying.

I had an epiphany while writing this post. I’m not just longing for relationships. I’m hungry for community.

When I had school-aged children, it was easier to have groups of friends, based on different activities our kids enjoyed. And I had my friends at work – we were a close bunch! But as an empty-nester, I’m needing to find new ways to meet people. I long to belong to a community.

I’d really like to get to know people at church, and the best way to do that is to join a small discipleship/fellowship group. But my job goes into evening hours, so that makes those meetings impossible. Maybe my work schedule will be different after the holidays, and I can try it then.

It’s taking so much longer this time.  Usually, by the time a year has passed, I can start to see roots growing, start to feel at home. For whatever reason, I’m finding it harder to do here. Harder to break into relationships. To feel settled and part of a community.

I hunger for that bigger connection. For deeper friendships. For people I can share my day-to-day with. Right now, I can thank God for the one person with whom that relationship is growing. We share about our kids, our churches. We talk about work. Our friendship is slowly growing deeper. So thank You, Lord, for her.

Maybe once my evening schedule is freed up, I can join a book club or knitting group. Or a connection group through church.

It’s just going to take more time. Lord, I need more patience!

New versus old

I met with a therapist today, on the recommendation of my psych doc. It was just intake, so it’s hard to judge how we’ll get along.

I miss my old therapist. The one who knows me better than I know myself. I want to talk to him and have him explain the thoughts in my head that I don’t understand, the thoughts that I don’t even realize I’m having. The thoughts that come with depression but I don’t recognize. I was with him for eight years – to say he understands me is a gross understatement.

I miss my other therapist – the woman who loved Jesus and let that flow from her onto me. The counselor who always gave Godly counsel, who pointed me to Christ each time we met. I only worked with her for a year, but she, too, was a huge help as I went through the transition of moving to Florida, and then a depressive episode.

I don’t want to start over with someone new. I don’t want to go through this depression with a stranger.

I had a phone call from a friend today, and she gave good advice to not compare. Not compare what I have here with what I had before. We were talking about churches, but the same probably applies to everything in my current life. I need to live in the present, and simply be grateful for the past, instead of constantly measuring everything by what used to be.

That’s so hard to do. I don’t have much in the way of friends here – one, really – though I’ve lived here for over a year now. I didn’t connect with women in Bible Study last Spring, but I’m going to try it again. Not having a church home is very distressing – leaves a huge hole in my life. I haven’t been in any kind of leadership role for over two years now – I really miss facilitating a small group.

So I look back at my friendships with longing. I miss my old churches. My old jobs. My old activity level. I don’t need to be going a thousand miles an hour, but anything is better than hours alone, which is what I face now.

I feel like these posts keep saying the same thing, so I can tell I’m processing this idea of living mindfully. Fully invested in here and now. So so hard to do!

Saving on airline fares

Drove over 2900 miles, twice across 7 states. Listened to hours of podcasts and Public Radio. Visited dear friend and her family. Camped for 4 days with life-long family friends. Great vacation!

Body is sore and tired. 

Missing my kids. 

Didn’t take any camping pictures – what was I thinking?

Laundry is done. Camping boxes are repacked. Went back to work. Saw the masseuse and chiropractor today. Almost returned to normal routine. 

Just another memory. Time went too fast. 

The older I get, the more I have is just memories. Having a hard time living in this moment. It was easier on vacation. Now I’m left with longing for family and friends. 

Something to look foward to

I had an epiphany yesterday: I have very little that I am looking forward to.

This is a rude realization – it reeks of hopelessness and hints at depression. It leaves me feeling empty and sad.

And I see that it needs to be remedied.

I’m not talking about planning a vacation, or what museums to explore on the weekends. It’s not about looking forward to a trip, even a trip to see my kids.

What I crave is people. Interactions with others. Social relationships. Fellowship, as discussed in today’s sermon, where you give yourself to others, and they give themselves to you. I miss the opportunity to be in ministry, to be in leadership. To serve others. To be with others.

My job is not filling the need I had hoped – to connect with co-workers and to forge relationships. Instead, I work with an individual, do the paperwork, and go home. Very little to no interaction with anyone other than my student. Not what I was looking for in a job.

I could turn my attention to volunteering. Perhaps I should register with the local hospital, and find some hours that fill my days with people.

I am enjoying my Bible Study and look forward to Thursdays,  I also look expectantly to lunch dates, or chiropractic appointments, or anything else that gets me out of the house during the otherwise long days.

I need to find hope in my day-to-day. To have things that make getting out of bed worth it. I admit that I stay in bed many mornings because I have nothing I need to get up for.

What if I joined a gym? Would I look forward to walking on the treadmill, next to others walking too? I know I appreciated and even looked forward to my physical therapy – maybe it would be the same. Maybe I would even make a friend or two.

How can I become more eager to get out of bed to meet with Jesus? My Bible Study helps with that, definitely. I am excited to see what God will teach me. But how do I translate that to daily living? To jumping out of bed so that I can meet with God in my quiet time? Is that enough to bolt me from my bed every morning? I reluctantly admit that it is not, at least not yet. Maybe that is an area where I am growing.

And as I keep saying, these things – relationships – take time.

So I’ll be excited to do my daily Bible Study. I’ll anticipate lunch with a friend. I’ll look into volunteering. And I’ll pray for God to bring me the enthusiasm to get going each day, to expect what and who He has for me.  Perhaps those friendships are coming, and can be something to look forward to!