Consolation for the Depressed
“I FEEL so depressed. Why is this happening to me? What have I done? I should be comforting others, but I cannot comfort myself. Have I committed the unforgivable sin? I think God has abandoned me!” You may recognize this as the cry of a Christian who unexpectedly finds himself very depressed.
Depression is a miserable feeling, but not uncommon. For example, a mature overseer nearing the end of a period of intense study is suddenly gripped by depressing thoughts. A middle-aged woman who works hard to meet her obligations is sad-faced and dejected. A zealous servant in a congregation, although having many living letters of recommendation, feels miserably depressed. A young mother with several Bible studies to her credit is painfully downcast and complains that God does not seem to be as close as she had hoped he would be. A young full-time minister raised “in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah” is suddenly crushed by depressing doubts. An elderly Christian with long years of full-time ministry behind him fears that somehow he has lost the race for the heavenly crown of life.
These true experiences are not news to students of the Bible. In 50 (A.D.) the apostle Paul exhorted the Christians in Thessalonica to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls.” (1 Thess. 5:14) After denying Christ the third time, Peter “went outside and wept bitterly,” undoubtedly very depressed by personal failure. On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas and another disciple “stood still with sad faces” and poured out their disappointment at the death of Jesus, who they had hoped was destined to deliver Israel. (Luke 22:62; 24:13-21) Paul, in his second letter to the Christians at Corinth, wrote: “We are pressed in every way, but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out; we are persecuted, but not left in the lurch; we are thrown down, but not destroyed.” “In fact, when we arrived in Macedonia, our flesh got no relief, but we continued to be afflicted in every manner—there were fights without, fears within. Nevertheless God, who comforts those laid low, comforted us by the presence of Titus.”—2 Cor. 4:8, 9; 7:5, 6.
Faithful servants of Jehovah also suffered depressed feelings long before the Christian Era. Integrity-keeping Job had so many burdens that he spoke as if God were no longer with him: “As in the days when God was guarding me; . . . when intimacy with God was at my tent; when the Almighty was yet with me.” (Job 29:2, 4, 5) The Israelites worked so hard in Egyptian slavery that even when Jehovah sent a message of hope through Moses the discouraged people did not believe. (Ex. 6:6-9) Elkanah’s beloved wife Hannah was so disappointed over barrenness and vexed by a rival wife that “she would weep and not eat.” (1 Sam. 1:5-7) The harassed psalmist, feeling sad and abandoned, wrote: “I will say to God my crag: ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I walk sad because of the oppression of the enemy?’” (Ps. 42:9) These depressed feelings that leave one cheerless and unable to smile with ease are obviously a common experience that has befallen God’s servants from ancient times to our day. And the causes are still basically the same.
Depression is a temporary loss of optimism, courage and hope often termed “low spirits.” As we have seen, it can be induced by personal trials, a sense of personal failure, bitter disappointment, lack of clear understanding of God’s purpose and oppression. Often, however, the cause cannot be easily pinpointed, since a combination of circumstances is involved. A girl away from home may be out of work, alone and homesick. Physical and mental fatigue also team up to cause depression. Sometimes it may simply be poor health or worry. Periodic adjustments in one’s body chemistry may be accompanied by low spirits. Women frequently undergo depression during the menopause. Elderly people may be dejected because of failing physical strength or suspicion that they are unwanted. If one is fatigued by steady hard work or his mind is wearied by intense study and improper rest, he may begin to view life pessimistically, negatively. These are some common causes of the miserable state of depression. Occasionally depression may lean more toward spiritual sickness, with weakened faith and a corresponding inability to get comfort from the Scriptures. The spiritually sick one imagines that for some reason God has turned His back on him, and God-given promises of hope and sympathy are doubted. Whatever the particular cause, depressed feelings are never pleasant.
Just as the causes for depression may be one factor or a combination of factors, so the remedy may require one or more steps. Since the depressed mind often is not thinking properly on the facts, it must be refreshed. Then problems will be seen in a clearer light. First, give your body proper rest and attend to its other needs as far as possible. If you have been putting unreasonable demands on your physical stamina, make some adjustments in your schedule. See that late televiewing is not depriving you of needed sleep. Very often depression passes with simple remedies, since the healthy, rested person is able to approach his problems optimistically. He is able to weigh reasons for discouragement against reasons for hope and thereby keep his thinking controlled.
In any depressed state, and particularly where the cause is not easily removed, the Christian will earnestly call on Jehovah in the name of Jesus. The inspired psalmist urges us: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you. Never will he allow the righteous one to totter.” “Jehovah is giving support to all who are falling, and is raising up all who are bowed down.” (Ps. 55:22; 145:14) Confirmation of God’s keen interest in our low spirits comes through the prophet Isaiah: “For this is what the High and Lofty One, who is residing forever and whose name is holy, has said: ‘In the height and in the holy place is where I reside, also with the one crushed and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly ones and to revive the heart of the ones being crushed.’”—Isa. 57:15.
After throwing your burden upon Jehovah, devote as much time as you can drawing close to God through reading the Bible. The proverb says: “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice.” (Prov. 12:25) That God’s good Word can bring joy back into the heart and light to the sad eyes is attested by Psalm 19:7, 8: “The law of Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul. The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy, making the inexperienced one wise. The orders from Jehovah are upright, causing the heart to rejoice; the commandment of Jehovah is clean, making the eyes shine.”
If your saddened state is due to bitter disappointment in yourself or others, or results from tribulation, remember that trial accomplishes much good when endured. Peter declares that “the person that has suffered in the flesh has desisted from sins, to the end that he may live the remainder of his time in the flesh, no more for the desires of men, but for God’s will.” (1 Pet. 4:1, 2) Yes, tribulation makes us see that our sure hope is in doing God’s will; we come through trial more appreciative of that fact. Apart from discipline, the Christian expects various trials of his faith: “In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:6, 7) Of course, Jehovah is not bringing trials and depression upon you. He is the God of all comfort and it is not desirable with him “for one of these little ones to perish.”—Matt. 18:14.
But what if depression and doubts leave you uncomforted by the Scriptures? Do not assume that Jehovah has become your foe because your faith is weak. Doubts were not unknown among his faithful servants in Bible times. He did not abandon the Israelites for not believing at the beginning, but delivered them. (Ex. 12:51) Instead of having the apostle Thomas disfellowshiped for doubting eyewitness reports of the Lord’s resurrection, Jesus lovingly helped Thomas get over his unbelief. (John 20:24-29) Jesus’ fleshly brothers James and Jude did not exercise faith in him until after his death and resurrection, yet their early doubts did not prevent them from becoming devoted and useful servants of his later on. With understanding James could compare the doubting man to “a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about.” (Jas. 1:6) Sympathetically Jude could instruct Christians by his inspired letter to “continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire.” (Jude 22, 23) That one can survive such fiery ordeal is indicated by Paul when writing at 1 Corinthians 3:10-15: “But let each one keep watching how he is building on it. For no man can lay any other foundation than what is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood materials, hay, stubble, each one’s work will become manifest, for the day will show it up, because it will be revealed by means of fire; and the fire itself will prove what sort of work each one’s is. If anyone’s work that he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward; if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved; yet, if so, it will be as through fire.”
In the unhealthy spiritual state where your own prayers seem ineffective, obey James’ instruction and ‘call the older men of the congregation to you, and let them pray over you, greasing you with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make you well, and Jehovah will raise you up.’ (Jas. 5:14, 15) Jehovah’s mature overseers understand your condition. They will rub in the soothing “oil” of comfort from Jehovah’s Word and prescribe a schedule of Bible study and service plus association with zealous Christians, all of which in time will get you over your depressing doubts.
Because there is always happiness in Christian giving, one of the surest antidotes for a depressed, cheerless frame of mind is to seek out others who are “sighing and groaning over all the detestable things that are being done” in this pre-Armageddon era. By comforting them you will bring comfort to yourself. (Ezek. 9:4; 2 Cor. 1:3-7) Many mature Christians can testify to the truthfulness of this, calling to mind Psalm 126:5, 6: “Those sowing seed with tears will reap even with a joyful cry. The one that without fail goes forth, even weeping, carrying along a bagful of seed, will without fail come in with a joyful cry, carrying along his sheaves.” Whether in favorable season or in trial and depression, sow the Kingdom seed and reap a happy reward!—Mark 4:14, 20.
We have seen that periods of depression have been endured by faithful servants of Jehovah in pre-Christian, Christian and modern times. Since it is a condition that responds to assistance from Jehovah, his Word and organization, as well as to proper care of the physical man, depressed souls have every reason to be consoled and courageous. Remember, faithful Job was not actually abandoned by Jehovah; Hannah’s disappointment and vexation passed with the birth of Samuel and five other children; Peter’s denial of the Lord was not unpardonable; Paul’s pressed-down feeling gave way to rejoicing and Thomas’ doubts did not disqualify him in the race for eternal life. Neither must depression or any other test be allowed to disqualify you. Rather, as Paul declared, “no temptation has taken you except what is common to men. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) No less is this true of depression. So do not give up in doing what is right. And “may the God who gives hope fill you with all joy and peace by your believing, that you may abound in hope with power of holy spirit.”—Rom. 15:13.