Friday, November 30, 2012

Part 3... Defeating Depression

On Monday, I shared some insights from the book, Defeating Depression by Leslie Vernick. Wednesday, I shared a Biblical example of Elijah. Today is the last part of this "series" on Depression. (I would encourage you to read this book, if you are interested in learning more.)

When Elijah was depressed, he withdrew from people, yet God never lost track of him and cared for him. Even in our darkest moments, we can be sure that God knows and cares about us. When Elijah shared his feelings with God, he then listened to what God said back to him.

Talking with God (prayer) is always a dialogue. It's the listening part that is so hard for me - the listening and the really believing it part. Oh, I can read it, but then I ask, "Is this really true for ME?"

Jesus repeatedly said that He is the truth and that His words are truth, but do we really believe Him?

Leslie Vernick, in Defeating Depression, gives two questions that we should ask ourselves:

·         Would you feel different today if you really believed God loved you with His whole heart and deeply longed for you to love Him back?

·         Would you see yourself and your life more hopefully if you believed that He has a plan for your life that is good and for your good, even through this depression?

We may believe things with our heads, but not really believe them in our hearts. Unbelief is one of the reasons that Israelites missed out on God's blessings. (Hebrews 3:19)

"Connecting in a personal, heartfelt way to God is one of the most potent things you can do to feel hopeful when life is painful," Vernick writes.

How do we do this?

There are many ways to listen to God. Probably one of the best ways is to read portions of the Bible and reflect on them. This requires being still before God. Vernick says that she even visualizes Jesus coming and sitting in a chair next to her. Writing out her feelings in a journal helps to get things out. Then she reads a passage of Scripture - maybe a whole chapter, maybe just a couple of verses - reading until something speaks to her. Then she says that she imagines Jesus gently asking, "Do you believe me?"

This is often hard to do on our good days, but it is especially hard to read and reflect when depression is camping in our house. But I've found that slowing down to hear God's voice can give me the faith and what I need to keep going. There are other ways to hear God --- sometimes I listen to quiet music, sometimes I go through the hymnal and play the old hymns paying attention to the words, sometimes I re-read my journal and remember God's faithfulness. The key is focusing on God and who He is and what He can do. Connecting with God in a meaningful way gives me hope and renewed faith.

Elijah's experience with depression shows that it can happen to anyone, even the most spiritually minded. His story reminds us that God cares. God, first, took care of Elijah's physical needs with adequate rest and food (a good starting place), but then He personally spoke to Elijah. God is there for us, we must not isolate ourselves from Him. He is waiting to reassure you of His love, His plan for you.

 Do you believe that?  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where's Your Hope

On Monday, I posted a blog about depression and discussed where our hope should be God alone. Having our hope in temporary things, which can be lost or destroyed, can cause us to lose hope and feel depressed.

Today, I'd like to give an example from the Bible: Elijah. Elijah was a well-known prophet of Israel and a godly man. Obviously, he was a man of great faith as he prayed that it wouldn't rain and it didn't rain for three and a half years! He was no spiritual slacker, but walked with and was obedient to God.

At God's instructions, he had a great showdown with the prophets of Baal in order to prove whose God was more powerful. (The story is told in 1 Kings 18:18-39.) After this great spiritual victory, why does Elijah suffer such a severe depression that he asked God to take his life?

Vernick in her book, Defeating Depression, suggests a few reasons. Elijah was probably physically and mentally exhausted. But Vernick suggests one thing I had never really seen or thought of before. She says that in order to understand the why, we need to understand who Elijah was and what he hoped for. She says that in the whirlwind of his ministry and the miraculous things he did, his "treasure" began to subtly shift from hoping in God alone to hoping in what God would do next.

Elijah's deepest desire was to see Israel turn her heart back to God. His sole purpose for the confrontation with the prophets of Baal was for Israel to see the greatness of God and repent. The people gave a verbal assent, but they did not really allow God to capture their heart. And Elijah certainly did not convince the king, Ahab, who then told his wife, Jezebel what happened and she ordered the prophet to be killed.

When Elijah heard this, he immediately was filled with fear and ran for his life. He grew despondent. "I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." (1 Kings 19:6)

Vernick says that Elijah became depressed when he lost his "treasure." He had hoped that his life and ministry would have a significant impact on Israel and that she would finally turn back to God. But when this didn't happen, he felt disappointed and even hopeless.

We can become depressed when we put our hope in anything but God.

Like Elijah, we can even put our hope in good things, even godly, spiritual things. We can hope for a restored marriage, a repentant prodigal child, or even a meaningful ministry, but when it doesn't happen we feel crushed and disappointed. Our heart is broken. Satan loses no time in these moments and causes us to doubt God's love or goodness.

God tenderly cared for Elijah in his depression; he didn't scold or reject him. First, he cared for his physical needs and then, gently spoke to him. Elijah honestly told God his feelings and God answered him. (1 Kings 19:10-18) God reminded Elijah that HE was in control and there was more to the picture than what Elijah was really seeing (truths he had forgotten in the midst of his depression).

What can we learn from Elijah's experience? How can we make God our hope, our only treasure?
More on that on Friday...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Does it ever seem like a black cloud is over your head and it just won't go away? 

I'm reading an insightful book on depression (Defeating Depression by Leslie Vernick) and would like to share a few thoughts from her book.

The author talks about the complexity of depression - how it's linked to our inner lives AND our bodies and how it's often triggered by situational AND relational difficulties. There's not just one thing that is the origin of depression, making it very difficult to understand. So many things are intertwined in our lives.

She gave the example of a woman named Tina, who was unjustly fired from her job. Because she was so humiliated, she went home, went to bed and wouldn't eat or sleep for days. She thought she'd never find another job. Since she was ashamed, she withdrew from friends and wouldn't answer her phone or email. She even felt angry at God and slightly blamed him for the unfair termination and for not helping her. Her loss quickly spiraled into depression and as you can see, there were physical, emotional, and even spiritual issues involved.

Research has shown that loss is one of the most significant external reasons for depression. Learning to recognize and grieve our losses (even the less obvious ones) is critical, so we can face the turbulent times and still hold on to God.

Vernick says, "Healthy people face loss with great sadness and even some anger, but they don't experience a reduction of self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness, so characteristic of those with depression."

What's the difference between someone who mourns a loss, but knows that someday she will resume her life AND the one who feels she doesn't want to or can't?     

She said that Jesus gives us a clue in these verses:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."                     (Matthew 6:19-21)

Jesus warns us of the reality of loss - earthly things can be lost, broken, stolen or even destroyed. That's why He said NOT to center our lives on things or people.

She says, "It's not that we can't enjoy them, or even want them, but when they are our primary focus or reason for living (Jesus calls them our "treasure"), the loss of these things creates an unbearable hole and life without them seems hopeless (an environment for depression to flourish)."

Tina's "treasure" was her job and her reputation. When she lost it, she felt worthless and hopeless.

What are some treasures? A marriage, children, a job, physical appearance, possessions - whatever most captures our heart is our treasure.

Jesus wants our treasure to be HIM and our hope to be in Him!
When we center our lives in Him alone, we're not sheltered from sorrows or hardship (which is what I sometimes wish), but we are protected from feelings of hopelessness when we face great losses in our lives.

Where is your hope?

This is the first of three blogs on this subject that I will publish this week. (I know, I know: it's feast or famine) On Wednesday, I will give an example from the Bible about depression and misplaced hope.