Editor's Note: We are a non-religious magazine. However, we acknowledge that spirituality is an important part for some. Our Faith column is a place for anyone to discuss how faith positively affects their mental health and how to improve the conversation around mental health within faith communities.
One of the things I’ve most struggled with in my recovery from mental illness is how to reconcile my depression with my faith. When I’m having a bad depression day, its hit or miss as to if turning to God will make it more bearable. Sometimes, my faith helps. Sometimes forcing myself to go to church or spend time with my Christian fellowship group on campus makes a huge difference in my mood. Sometimes having quiet time with God helps.
But there are many more times when I walk away feeling guilt and failure because spending time with God doesn’t fill me with joy and happiness. There are days when I can’t even force myself to go through the motions of faith, when I can’t bring myself to pray.
In both of these instances, my depression begins to weigh heavier on me. I start to think that because of some lack of faith on my part, I am not feeling joy. I start to attribute my depression to my spiritual shortcomings.
I get frustrated in those times, when my faith feels fruitless, and I tend to draw away from God even more because He isn’t easing my depression. The next time I have a bad day, I don’t even bother going to God because I don’t think He can help me in my suffering.
I blame my depression on my lack of faith, thinking maybe God isn’t doing anything because I don’t believe enough or because my sins are too great.
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Does this make me a bad Christian? Absolutely not.
For years, I have accepted depression as an illness, and just as depression is not a character flaw. Depression is not a spiritual deficit, the result of a lack of faith, or a sin on my part. There is nothing I can or cannot do differently in my spiritual life to change how my brain functions—it’s completely out of my hands.
I must be consistent about reminding myself that my depression and lack of feeling joyful are not caused by anything I am doing or not doing.
Another reminder I need is that God is not this distant being who does not understand what I am dealing with.
God came to us in human form and suffered alongside us, so He gets it. One of my favorite verses is John 11:35 (ESV): “Jesus wept.” It’s one of my favorites because it shows Jesus experienced the same grief and emotional anguish we do. God not only understands my depression, but has experienced depression Himself.
This means I don’t have to come to God as someone who is full of joy and who has it all together. God’s son was perfect and he wept; he experienced emotional suffering. In my depression, I can come to God as I am—discouraged, doubtful, distressed—and there is no expectation from Him that I have to come away having done a complete emotional flip.
If I dig deeper into the Word, I discover not only does God understand depression but He stays with me through it.
Another passage I love is Psalm 46:5 (NIV): “God is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at the break of day.” This is one of my favorite covenants because it not only assures me God is with me, but that God’s timing isn’t immediate.
I think sometimes I want God to be an immediate solution to my depression, but that last verse says God will help, not God is helping right now.
God works in His own timing and it isn’t always immediate.
Reminding myself that God’s timing is not always what I wish for it to be can help reduce my frustration in the times I walk away from worship still feeling my depression weigh heavily on me.
Still, putting my depression in the context of my faith is not something easy for me to do, especially on days when my depression is bad. I still tend to see myself as a failure when worship doesn’t make me joyful or when I can’t even bring myself to pray. I still sometimes attribute my depression to a lack of faith on my part. I still tend to give up when God doesn’t immediately ease my depression.
Changing your way of thinking doesn’t happen overnight, and it certainly doesn’t happen on your own.
This is why I am fortunate to have a wise, loving faith community in my life; because when I begin to listen to the lies telling me I have to be filled with joy to be a Christian or that my depression is a result of my spiritual inadequacies. I have people who can point me toward the truth and people who will pray for and with me when I can’t make myself do it on my own.
I still have trouble understanding how my depression and faith fit together, but now I have a clearer picture of how the two interact in my life and what truths I need to hold onto when I start to doubt:
1. Depression is in no way caused by a spiritual deficit of any kind.
2. God not only understands, but has experienced depression Himself, through Jesus.
3. God doesn’t expect me to always be joyful—it’s okay that I’m not (and I’m not less of a Christian because of it).
4. God is with me through my bad depression days, even if I don’t feel Him there.
5. God’s timing isn’t immediate, but eventually, He will help me in my suffering.
6. Being open with my faith community is crucial in my faith journey and my recovery.
By focusing on these six truths, I’m hoping to move myself forward in both my faith and my recovery. Perhaps you can find these truths helpful as well.
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The opinions and information shared in this article may not represent that of Libero Network Society. We hold no liability for any harm that may incur from reading content on our site. Please always consult your own medical professionals before making any changes to your medication, activities, or recovery process.