An Educated Tongue—“To Encourage the Weary”
“I WILL give you shepherds in agreement with my heart, and they will certainly feed you with knowledge and insight,” promised Jehovah God. Is it not refreshing to be cared for by spiritual shepherds who possess both knowledge and insight?—Jeremiah 3:15.
Insight involves more than surface treatment. It requires looking beneath the surface. At Isaiah 44:18, insight is connected with the heart as distinct from the eye. This heartfelt insight is especially needed as shepherds deal with “depressed souls.” Isaiah stated what else is needed: “The Lord GOD gives Me the speech of the learned, so that I know how to talk to encourage the weary.”—Isaiah 50:4, Beck’s translation.
One must be taught, educated by Jehovah, so as to know “how to talk to encourage the weary.” By becoming well acquainted with the Bible, using it and displaying heartfelt insight, elders can successfully help many depressed persons. Most elders appreciate helpful suggestions about their shepherding. They may realize, perhaps by a regretful experience, that, though well meaning, some efforts can prove disappointing. What follows deals with how to help persons who have become depressed. Obviously, elders would deal somewhat differently with someone who was “unruly” or a ‘profitless talker’ in the congregation.—1 Thessalonians 5:14; Titus 1:10-13.
Often, a contrast in examples can help one to see proper and improper methods.
When Job was in a depressed state, three of his companions heard of his plight and came to “sympathize with him and comfort him.” (Job 2:11) Because of having the wrong viewpoint of matters, they were poorly equipped. They came with a preset theory in mind—if a person is suffering it is because he has done something bad. As a result, they failed to understand what Job’s problems were all about. The Interpreter’s Bible evaluates their “comfort”:
“It becomes an irritant. . . . It is a comment from the side lines, with a bit of good advice thrown in. . . . like someone safely up on the beach throwing a cheery word or two to poor souls wrestling in the great dark deeps, with the huge billows knocking the breath out of them. What Job needs is the compassion of a human heart. What he gets is a series of absolutely ‘true’ and absolutely beautiful religious clichés and moral platitudes.”
What were some of the approaches that irritated? Eliphaz coldly reasoned: ‘Look, you strengthened others. Now when you have troubles you get disturbed. Should you not have confidence in your own integrity?’ Bildad added: ‘If you would only look to God more, he would restore you.’ How insensitive! Especially since Job was already trusting in God. How would you have felt? Rather than comfort, those seemingly well-intentioned words were “crushing” to Job. No wonder he cried out, ‘If only you were in my place!’—Job 4:3-6; 8:5, 6; 16:2, 4, 5; 19:2.
Of course, no Christian congregation elder would want to reflect the attitude or demon-inspired philosophy of those “friends.” (Job 4:15, 16) Yet, at times, comforting shepherds have to remind themselves not to make similar mistakes. In trying to help a “depressed soul,” elders will likely inquire why the person feels so bad. Perhaps the depressed one thinks that he has lost God’s spirit. Elders know from Scriptural examples, such as that of David, that sinful conduct can cause depression. (Ps. 38:1-6) They may read with the person portions of the Bible that deal with a Christian’s conduct and then perhaps ask, ‘In view of what the Bible says, do you have any real reason to feel that God has taken his spirit away from you?’ Rather than telling the person that he has done nothing wrong or perhaps implying that he has, it may be beneficial to let the person reach his own conclusion. He may realize that there is nothing to his feelings of guilt. Or, if he has become involved in wrongdoing, the elders can help him make “straight paths for [his] feet” and once again enjoy Jehovah’s smile of approval.—Hebrews 12:12, 13.
Depressed persons often feel overwhelmed with guilt for no legitimate reason. Insight will help elders to recognize such situations. One depressed Christian who deeply appreciated the visits of her loving shepherds to help her was convinced that she had lost God’s spirit. “Really, try to think hard and see if there is something bad you’ve done,” said an elder at one point. The woman just sat there and cried. “But I can’t think of anything. Do you want me to make something up? Will that help?” she sobbed. The elders got the point and tried other ways to help.
Job’s counselors had already made up their minds that Job had done something wrong. Elders who know “how to encourage the weary” will handle each situation “without prejudgment, doing nothing according to a biased leaning.” (1 Timothy 5:21) When using probing questions they do not accuse, but do so in an empathetic way, really putting themselves in the other’s place.
Counselors with Insight
Elihu, though direct at times in his counsel, showed insight. He was a good listener. He did not ‘answer before he listened,’ which the Bible bluntly calls “stupid and insulting.” (Proverbs 18:13, Beck) He commended Job because of his faithfulness and encouraged him to express himself. Such insight added “persuasiveness” to Elihu’s words.—Job 32:4, 11; 33:5-7, 32; Proverbs 16:23.
Jehovah is the supreme example of a counselor with insight. How he dealt with the prophet Jonah shows discerning empathy and compassion. Jonah became angry when Jehovah decided not to destroy the Ninevites and thereby fulfill the prophet’s message of doom. Jonah became so depressed he wanted to die. Now how did Jehovah deal with him? Did he say: ‘Why, Jonah, you are just being self-centered. Do you not have any love in your heart? All you are thinking about is how you look in the eyes of others!’ Such a statement might have been truthful. But probably it would only have made him feel more guilty and depressed. What did Jehovah do?
“Have you rightly become hot with anger?” asked Jehovah. Yes, a simple question designed to get him thinking. No accusation. No condemnation. Even though Jonah did not respond immediately, Jehovah did not give up on him, but provided a large plant to shelter him from the blazing sun. Then Jehovah used an illustration that apparently touched Jonah’s heart. He caused the large plant to die. When Jonah was angered over the death of the plant, Jehovah helped him to see how much more precious were the lives of the Ninevites than the life of that plant. Should he not feel even more pity for them than for the death of a mere plant? Simple, yet effective!—Jonah 4:1-11.
When elders endeavor to encourage depressed souls they need to imitate Jehovah and Elihu. Be generous in genuine commendation. Use simple, direct statements and questions. Use easy-to-understand language. Be specific, yet avoid intimidating questions. Illustrations that may get the person to think or become emotionally involved in a somewhat different matter (for example, Jonah’s becoming angry over the death of the plant) may be used to help an individual to see the error of his own thinking. But remember: “As apples of gold in silver carvings is a word spoken at the right time for it.” (Proverbs 25:11) If the person has faulty thinking, help him to overcome it gradually. Work to build up his low self-esteem. “A heart bowed down with anxiety, how a kind word can refresh it!”—Proverbs 12:25, Knox.
But what kind of suggestions can an elder try to get across to a depressed one?
Help from Meaningful Prayers
“Even though I felt that Jehovah did understand completely, there were times when the depression or panic was so severe I thought it was hopeless to pray,” reports one depressed soul. However, elders, while acknowledging that such feelings are common to many depressed persons, can encourage these to persist in prayer. But pray about what?
“I prayed that Jehovah would either help me to endure or direct me to where I could find help,” reported one depressed young woman. A 33-year-old mother with an unbelieving abusive husband became depressed. She stated: “When I became overly anxious, tense or had fears, I would go to Jehovah right then and there, on hands and knees sometimes, weeping, begging him to help me overcome this. It was very important to be specific in the prayer. Many times I would get instant relief.” One 41-year-old wife said: “When I was depressed I found it hard to form a prayer. But Romans 8:26 was a real source of comfort. So I could just ask Jehovah, ‘Please help!’”
Elders can pray with and for the person. Of course, they should avoid statements that would make the person feel all the more guilty. Asking Jehovah, with the depressed one listening, to help that one to understand how much he or she is loved by others and even by Jehovah would surely be upbuilding. Also, the sufferer may be shown the relief that earnest prayer, coupled with reliance on Jehovah, can bring.—1 Samuel 1:9-18.
Help Weary Gain Insight
“Sometimes people feel they have lost their faith and often feel very guilty about it,” explains Dr. Nathan Kline, director of Rockland Research Institute Department of Mental Hygiene of New York State. “Though there are cases of spiritual failure, I think that in many cases it is probably not a failure of religious faith, but an early sign of depression.” He made this statement after noticing these symptoms in a number of his patients who were deeply religious. So, often helping a person with a serious depression to realize this can relieve much needless guilt.
One Witness who has aided a number of “depressed souls” back to health states: “The needless guilt that some put themselves under is unbelievable. I feel guilty about wrongs I’ve done, but I also believe that if Jehovah provided the ransom to undo these things then I cannot beat myself forever about it. This is one of the points I try very hard to get through to those I’m helping.” The person needs to realize that if he is truly repentant over some bad act, has the desire never to repeat it and is really trying to ‘right the wrong,’ then he can be confident that the ransom will cleanse his conscience. Helping persons who have ‘godly sorrow’ to see the mercy and forgiveness of Jehovah does often relieve their depression.—Psalm 32:1-5, 11; 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 7:9-11.
Even if wrong thoughts plague the mind of a depressed soul, there is no need to feel worthless and “condemned by God.” It is the cultivating and the ‘carrying out’ of such thoughts that the Bible warns against. (James 1:14, 15; Galatians 5:16) So as long as one is putting forth effort to dismiss such thoughts he should not feel overwhelmed with guilt.
For instance, anger or resentment may flood into a depressed person’s mind. Not much is accomplished by an elder’s telling the person, ‘You must not feel that way,’ or ‘You should not feel like that.’ The point is, the person does feel it! While realistically acknowledging that a person will feel angry at times, the Bible warns against carrying out such a rage. (Psalm 4:4; 37:8) It encourages us not to keep in a provoked state. (Ephesians 4:26, 27) So the discerning elder may, with a few simple questions, find out why the sufferer feels angry. After the person is helped to analyze the situation (as Jonah was), he may see that there is no sound basis for his anger. Also, if someone has offended him, he may be helped to follow certain Scriptural steps and thereby overcome the resentment.—Colossians 3:13; Matthew 5:23, 24; Luke 17:3, 4.
If an elder can be alert to negative attitudes in weary ones, when the depression is at its earlier stages, then oftentimes a person can be readjusted and be saved from plunging into major depression—a disorder that may require medical help. Here, too, the elder may aid the depressed person or his family to realize when the disorder has reached that point where medical attention is needed. This does not mean that elders would ‘play doctor,’ nor dictate what form of treatment to follow. They may wish to refer those involved to the article “Attacking Major Depression—Professional Treatments” in the October 22, 1981, Awake!, which outlines several therapies and yet does not promote any.
Help Regain Balance
“Hanging on for dear life every minute of every day,” is how one 40-year-old Christian mother described her bout with major depression. After her recovery she analyzed one of the causes: “Trying not to let anyone down or let any area of my family life or service slacken even a tiny bit, I held to a schedule that left me exhausted. I did this for eight years; and, finally, the doctor said I had ‘burned out.’ Looking back, I feel that even though my reasons for keeping such a schedule were not frivolous, I should have been more reasonable.”
Because of the danger of a person’s becoming unreasonable, elders must at times help a depressed person to regain balance in his activities. Certainly they would encourage whole-souled service to God. In fact, at times when some who were suffering severe major depression were not able to engage in door-to-door preaching, arrangements were made whereby the ailing one, his condition permitting, sat in on a Bible discussion conducted by another Witness. The depressed one contributed as he was able.
Remember the apostle Paul commanded Christians to “present [their] bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” (Romans 12:1) Yes, a person’s reasoning faculties were to be involved. The Greek word translated “power of reason” (logikos) literally means being “logical.” So God expects us to do what is reasonable, logical. Each person’s abilities, physical stamina and circumstances are different. Whole-souled service means to do all that your soul and strength are capable of doing, not someone else’s.—Mark 12:30; Colossians 3:23.
When a person is sick his strength is less, even though his heart and mind may wish to do as much in God’s service as before. True, all those who will gain everlasting life must ‘exert themselves vigorously,’ but such exertion is not always strictly measured in the amount of work one does. The amount of vigorous activity possible for Epaphroditus in the “Lord’s work” when he was sick would not have compared with what he did when he was well. Yet, as a whole, he was commended by Paul for his exertion.—Luke 13:24; Philippians 2:25-30.
Changed circumstances, such as illness, may hinder us from fully accomplishing what our heart desires. For instance, the wife of a traveling overseer fell into a major depression. She reported: “All my life I’ve been extremely active and I thoroughly enjoyed my service to God. But then for about nine months, without relief, I had the horrible feeling of being in the ‘pits’ of the earth.” She and her husband had to take a leave from the work of visiting congregations and she was treated by a doctor for her illness. After more than a year she regained her health to the point that they could once again take up this vigorous assignment of service. Presently just as whole-souled as before, she writes: “I’m happy again in my service. But now when I feel overly tired and exhausted, I stay home and rest and try to heed the body’s signals. Now I recognize the symptoms and I’m so thankful to Jehovah that I’m on the road to recovery.”
Yes, how thankful we all can be that we have as our God one who accepts our gifts and sacrifices, ‘according to what we have, not according to what we do not have.’ This is true whether such sacrifices are spiritual, material or of our physical strength.—2 Corinthians 8:12.
Yet at times a depressed person may have to be helped to be more discerning in how he uses his strength. One sister who suffered major depression commented: “I was unbalanced. I didn’t know how to say, ‘No.’ Anytime someone would ask me to do something it was always, ‘Yes, fine.’ I had to learn to say, ‘No, I’m sorry. I really cannot. Maybe I can help you another time.’ I had to learn this or else I would have been in a frenzy.” A person who constantly tries to go beyond his strength could end up with severe depression. The wise man advised: “Do not become righteous overmuch, nor show yourself excessively wise. Why should you cause desolation to yourself? Do not be wicked overmuch, nor become foolish. Why should you die when it is not your time?”—Ecclesiastes 7:16, 17.
To speak consolingly to depressed souls takes genuine effort. One must learn by heeding the counsel of God’s Word. Insight must also be learned. But the results are worth it.
Imagine the joy of seeing someone that is heartbroken—tearfully expressing his or her feelings—begin to change. Gradually a sparkle replaces the tears. A smile now warms the face. How grateful such a person is to a loving, understanding shepherd! And, above all, how pleased is our compassionate heavenly Father, who “comforts the depressed.”—2 Corinthians 7:6, New American Standard Bible.
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We should avoid being like Job’s companions—troublesome comforters
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Do you add to the problems of depressed ones, or do you really comfort them?
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Elders can pray with and for the person, avoiding statements that would make that one feel all the more guilty