In my last two blog posts (Part 1, Part 2) we examined what it looks like to experience sadness as a Christian. We have come to see that feelings such as sadness, hurt and similar emotions are not inherently bad. We ended the blog last time with asking about how does this truth relate to issues like depression and sin?
Depression is one of the buzz words of our time. There are more books out on this topic and more theories that abound than we have time to survey in a written book. Definitions for the condition range far and wide as well. But for our purposes today, we simply focus on the fact that at some point we might go from feeling sad about something for a short period of time to feeling sad about something for a long period of time. This sadness begins to impact our thought lives, our actions, the way we relate to others in our sphere of influence and it can even lead to physical consequences.
In the story that I shared about my best friend coming over to spend time with me that was cut off, I shared how I used the opportunity to love my wife and spend time with my family, but what if I had not chosen to do so? What if I had chosen to spend my night focusing on what I didn’t get? What if I spent my next few days lamenting the fact that we would not get a chance like this for another year? What if, when that chance rolled around next year, I would begin to fear that he might cancel again? What if, because I didn’t want to get hurt like I did last time, I began to distance myself from my friend as a means of protection? What if I chose to become numb toward my friend so that he could not hurt me like he did?
To the Root of the Tree
At the root of all that we do and say in this life is a motivation or desires of the heart. James 4:1 is an easy verse for us to look to and see that it is our desires that lead us to act. Because of those desires that are in our hearts, we say what we say and we do what we do (c.f. John 6:43-45).
So let’s take the above “what ifs” that I mentioned and ask, what would be at the heart of those actions? In many of those scenarios it would be a heart that wants to be protected and safe. It would desire not to be hurt again and so it would produce the fruit of protection, defensiveness, anger, bitterness, unloving words and action, etc. We are always choosing to act because we desire something and, when we don’t get what we want, then we react many times in sinful ways in an attempt to get it.
Let’s use my example to help us see how this works. I desired a night of pleasure with my friend. This is not a bad thing; pleasure is not bad by itself. When I didn’t get what I wanted I had to make a choice, would I continue to seek after my own pleasure by means of the route of spending time with my friend or would I chose to get pleasure by loving my family and advancing God’s glory? This would require me then to trust in the Lord and not in myself. If I trusted in myself then I would not have sought to love my family. If I chose to act out and say mean things to my friend in order to manipulate him to stick to our plan then my desire for pleasure would have become a bad thing. So when does a good thing become a bad thing? When you are willing to sin in order to get it!
Back to Depression
You might now be wondering what all of that heart issue has to do with depression. Why does it matter about your desires? We are talking about sadness! It matters because the person who is depressed is often lost in his heart, which is full of desires that are not getting satisfied. He is looking to all the wrong places to be satisfied.
In my story, had I chosen to only focus on finding pleasure in that night with my friend; then I could have gone down the road of depression. If I became so enamored in my desire for pleasure of having a conversation with him that when it was not fulfilled, I would lose perspective. The depressed person is so focused on getting what he wants, that when he doesn’t get it he can only focus on the fact that he is not getting what he wants.
The person who is depressed needs to look at what they are wanting and see that, while their desires are not bad, if their primary desires are not rooted in the advancement of God’s glory (and all that doing so entails) then he will continue to ‘be thirsty’. He needs to see that God is working a marvelous plan and that trusting in God’s plan and living for God’s glory will bring him the most pleasure and joy, more pleasure and joy than he can possibly dream of.
A helpful analogy would be this. Pretend a person promises me dinner, he says that he is going to take me out to the best seafood place in town. After spending a long hard day of working we begin to drive there and because it is dinner time, everyone has their grills fired up and we smell all the local fast food restaurants making their cheap burgers and French Fries.
As I begin to drive past those restaurants I begin to notice my hunger more and more. I desire food and my mouth begins to even water. At some point I begin to even question if I should stop and grab some other food and abandon my pursuit of going to dinner with my friend at the best seafood joint in town.
There is nothing wrong with those desires, there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat; but when we trade our awesome meal for fast food, we are giving up so much. Similarly, when we trade living for God’s glory for living for our own desires, we are giving up so much good FOR OURSELVES. We are giving up something that is good for us!
The answer to depression is not a pill. The answer to depression is not smacking someone upside the head with Bible verses. The answer to depression is understanding that if we only focus on our desires to live just for us, instead of for the King, we will always be thirsty and dissatisfied. So if you find yourself depressed and suffering from long periods of sadness, try living for the King. Take the focus off of how you are not getting what you want (and think you should have) and get the focus on advancing His glory. When you do so you will see how refreshing that is.
Conclusion of the Night
After I spent my night serving my family, the most unexpected and delightful thing happened. My friend, whom I had written off for the evening, got done early. He finished dinner with his friends that he had brought out to the conference and we were able to spend our entire night talking until the wee hours of the morning. While the night didn’t go 100% the way I wanted it to, in the end I found myself satisfied not only in Jesus, but in the time that I had with my friend. By not focusing on myself and getting the focus on God and others, my night went just as well, if not better, than I could have planned.