Life comes in seasons. Seasons of ease and happiness. Seasons of pain. And sometimes they can be mixed-up together so that the tears are a perfect combination of grief and joy. The year 2010 was one of those mixed-up seasons for me. My last two grandparents were both dying of cancer. My depressed 17-year-old son didn’t know what his future held. A new life, my 7th baby, was ready to make an entrance into this world. Each day seemed to bring too much emotion. What should have been my due date ended up being the day of my Grandpa’s funeral. Four days later- and overdue by this time- I wrote in my journal, “There is a time for every event under heaven-A time to give birth and a time to die”. In the middle of the night, I went into labor. Early the next morning, a new life was placed in my arms. It was the most peaceful moment I can remember out of all of my births, the morning sun shining through the window while snowflakes danced around, glistening in the sun’s warmth and I was cuddling with a 6 lb. bundle of joy. Despite the rocky circumstances of life going on around me, the Lord brought me peace with this little baby girl, Scarlet. I am still reminded of that time in my life when I hear the words from the song ‘In Christ Alone’: “From life’s first cry ’til final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.” There were still many months of hardship with my son and many tears of sorrow at the pain my Grandma was enduring (both at the loss of Grandpa but also the physical pain from the cancer), but through it all, there was this new life I cherished. The year 2010 was the perfect combination of sorrow and joy.
But sometimes there aren’t any big events, no major circumstances to attribute to, and yet there may still be times of intense sorrow or grief. No reason to pinpoint, but there is a heaviness of spirit, a melancholy that weighs on the heart. If you are a woman, you have probably experienced times of intense emotion like this. I know that I have. Why does this happen? Maybe it’s not even the ‘why’ that is important, but the ‘how’ to endure.
When I’ve experienced times of sadness, a certain saying has come to mind: ‘No matter how bad you have it, someone always has it worse’. When I was young, that made me feel better. Not anymore. If I focus on those ‘words of wisdom’ I think: “Here I am, a grown woman with a beautiful family, a wonderful husband, a roof over my head and food to eat and when I focus on the person who has it worse than me- the child dying of cancer or the African mother who cannot feed her children or the elderly widow who is totally alone- How is that supposed to make me feel, knowing that they have it worse than me and I’m complaining about my circumstances?” Happy? Thankful? No, when I think of those people who have it worse than me, it doesn’t make me feel like I want to pull myself up by my bootstraps. It makes me feel like a wimp.
Martin Luther was very familiar with depression. He experienced many years of moods that he referred to as: melancholy, heaviness, depression, dejection of spirit; downcast, sad, downhearted. His wife, Kate, struggled with pervasive and persistent worry indicative of generalized anxiety disorder. These conditions made Luther the perfect counselor for others with mental and emotional difficulties. Luther advised these people on several ways to cope with the depressive emotions:
- Seek out godly friends who could lift them up in prayer and pull them away from dangerous solitude. In his view, solitude fosters depression. Whereas Jesus mentions the importance of going off alone for prayer, Martin Luther believed that isolation was the worst thing for a person experiencing depression. When a person is left alone with troubling thoughts, their mental situation can quickly turn into a downward spiral of hopelessness.
- A depressed person should engage in physical activities. There is truth to this in that, when I have felt low, the last thing that I want to do is be around other people or to even leave the house. But when I have forced myself to do those things, there is an immediate change in my attitude. The world doesn’t seem as dark anymore. Getting out of the house to do gardening or to go on a walk or to play with the kids outside can change a person’s mood better than turning on a movie.
- Keep a regular routine. Wake up early and get a jump start on the day. As hard as that may sound, it may be the best motivating factor for a person’s day to get started on the right foot. Staying up til the wee hours of the morning on the computer then sleeping in til 10 is setting a person up for failure in overcoming depression. Benjamin Franklin gave wise advice when he said ‘Early to bed, early to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise’.
- Choose to smile. Even when you don’t feel like it. Force a smile because smiling is contagious to the mind; it starts to make the rest of your body feel better. I once read about a mother who had 6 children all in a row. She suffered from severe depression for many years (not because of her children! It was a hereditary condition). She felt horrible about it because she felt like her children wouldn’t turn out normal living with a depressed mom, but she did force herself to smile and went through the motions of life. The depression eventually went away, her children grew older and she asked one of them when they were in their teens what they remembered about her when they were little. The answer: ‘You were always smiling’. Her own children did not even realize that she was depressed.
When there is nothing to pinpoint loneliness or emptiness or sorrow to, I try to realize that ‘this, too, shall pass’ and I always have tomorrow. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning, but as for today, I do have choices. I can choose to live fully right where the Lord has placed me. “Wherever you are, be there with all your heart”.
Job had reason to complain and murmur with all of the suffering he went through (yet he didn’t). His friends came to him when they had heard all that he had endured so that they could sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance and ‘did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept…Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him’- Job 2:11-13. Sometimes we just need people to listen to us or sit with us and acknowledge our pain, not to remind us that others have it worse than us and yet are still happy. Really, no words are necessary. Job’s friends, once they opened their mouths to offer advice and to scrutinize why all these terrible things had happened to him, they became a nuisance to him rather than a comfort.
I have seen the effects that depression can have on a person. Although I have never been diagnosed as being depressed, I admit that there are times when I just feel low and I can have an attitude of hopelessness. Sometimes I think it’s just a hormonal thing, a monthly wave of emotions that can sometimes feel extreme. And from speaking with many other women, I know that I am not a rare case. If I did not know Jesus, I would have to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and find strength within myself to get better. With Jesus by my side, I know that it is o.k. to be vulnerable, to confess to Him my weakness and ask for help. The Lord says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness’. (2 Cor. 12:9).
I feel especially sympathetic with those who have suffered for years with clinical depression and they believe that life will never get better. My advice is to find a friend that you can confide in, one who is genuine, real, who admits their own weaknesses, who does not wear a mask of perpetual perfection, someone who-like Job’s friends at their initial reaction to his suffering- will simply listen and be there for you.
Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength. But you were not willing…” (Isaiah 30:15). Lord, at those times when I am weary and heavy-laden, may I choose to place my trust in You so that I can rest in Your Power because when I am weak, then You are strong.