Light-bearing Resources from Those Who Know the Darkness of Depression
I’m encouraged by the spate of Christian books, blog posts and podcasts that speak to mental illness from a faith perspective. As recently as a couple of decades ago, you couldn’t find many Christian authors and leaders who spoke openly about depression and severe anxiety. Though many Christians in the western world still cling to a shallow theology of suffering, resources that deal with the correlation between faith and depression are more commonplace today.
In this post, I’m introducing you to a few of those resource people and what they add to the literature on the subject. This list is far from exhaustive.
Disclaimer: I haven’t read all the books I’ll mention. Yet I have some degree of confidence in each resource because I either read something else by the author, examined a review of it, or I received a strong recommendation by someone in the field I trust, or I trust the publisher. Nonetheless, my recommendation doesn’t necessarily mean that I nod in agreement with every statement they make on the subject of mental illness.
As you peruse these suggestions, determine which resource you will obtain for yourself or for someone you love who struggles with depression.
How is “Joyful Sorrow” Possible?
.Joyful Sorrow: Breaking through the Darkness of Mental Illness, by Julie Busler. Iron Stream Publishers, 2022.
Julie invites the reader into her own journey where a mental breakdown took her from being a missionary to a suicidal patient in a Turkish psychiatric hospital. She shares how to find help and hope, and demonstrates that even in the sorrow of mental illness, joy can coexist. With vulnerability and grace, this veteran missionary and mother of four shares her story and how the Lord redeemed her pain.
Words from a Dad and His Son
Paul Asay, Beauty in the Browns: Walking with Christ in the Darkness of Depression. Focus on the Family, 2021.
Paul shares honestly his own story of depression and that of his son. You’ll see what it means to live as a Christian with depression. He shows that God still has a place for people dealing with the nemesis of depression. Paul is an award-winning journalist and a movie reviewer at Plugged In, a ministry that helps more than six million people understand popular cultural trends and how they intersect with spiritual issues.
Midnight Mercies for a Mom
Christine Chappell, Midnight Mercies: Walking with God through Depression in Motherhood. P&R Publishing, 2023.
Christine, a licensed biblical counselor, recounts her own story of depression as a mom and how she experienced the mercy and sustenance of the Lord. Vaneetha Risner calls it a “must-read for moms struggling with depression.”
Go online and check out Christine’s Hope + Help podcast, where she interviews numerous authors and counselors on a wide variety of topics related to mental illnesses, grief, personal loss, bitterness and domestic abuse (just to name a few of the topics). Scroll through the podcast archives and you’ll see the topics and felt needs addressed in the interviews. Several years ago she interviewed me on the theme, “Depression and Ministry.”
Also check out her “Navigating Depression” online video workshops.
In my interactions by phone and email, I’ve found Christine up-to-date on resources and resource people. She has a servant heart, always timely in responding to my questions. Here’s the link:
Navigating the Blues: Where to Turn When Worry, Anxiety or Depression Steals Your Hope.
This is a 90-day devotional by Katara Washington Patton, an award-winning author for Our Daily Bread. The founders of Chronic Joy Ministry recommend this resource, which offers practical steps and godly wisdom that have helped her and her loved ones handle bouts of depression.
Down, but Not Out!
*Down, Not Out: Depression, Anxiety and the Difference Jesus Makes, by Chris Cipollone. The Good Book Company, 2018.
This book unpacks many aspects of depression and anxiety, and brings our gospel identity to bear on each one.
Depression can lead to self-condemnation, yet the gospel tells us there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1).
Anxiety leads us to inner turmoil, but the gospel assures us of the love of God and the peace that comes with knowing him (John 14:27).
Whether you’ve experienced mental illness yourself or want to understand depression and anxiety to care for somebody you love, this book provides a personal and theologically thoughtful reflection on the challenges facing Christians in this area.
Written by a pastor from his own experience of depression and anxiety.
Short, accessible chapters with reflection questions for each one.
(Stephen Altrogge, at his “The Blazing Center” website, gave a helpful review of Down, Not Out in an article titled, “3 Powerful Pieces of Encouragement for the Depressed Christian.”) Here’s the link:
Practicing Lament When God Seems Absent
*When God Seems Gone: Finding Hope When Nothing Makes Sense, by pastor Adam Mabry. The Good Book Company, 2023.
How to hold on to faith, keep trusting and rediscover joy when God seems silent, slow, unfair or aloof.
What do you do when it feels like God isn’t there? When the state of the world, our own suffering or the struggles of those we know suggest that God is absent? When you’ve experienced soul-crushing silence from heaven, despite your fervent supplications?
Using the book of Habakkuk, as well as his own personal experience of deep suffering, Adam Mabry examines the art of lament: how to cry out to God in desperation from a place of faith and hope.
Readers will learn that God is big enough and good enough to handle hard questions and that his sovereign silence is filled with purpose for their lives. They will be encouraged to keep trusting God even when He seems silent or slow in responding to us.
A Real and Raw Story
*Still Life: A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression, by Gillian Marchenko. IVP, 2016.
“I stand on the edge of a cliff in my own bedroom.” Gillian Marchenko continues her description of depression: “I must keep still. Otherwise I will plunge to my death. ‘Please God, take this away,’ I pray when I can.”
For Gillian, dealing with depression means learning to accept and treat it as a physical illness. In these pages she describes her journey through various therapies and medications to find a way to live with depression. She faces down the guilt of a wife and mother of four, two with special needs. How can she care for her family when she can’t even get out of bed? Her story is real and raw, not one of quick fixes. But hope remains as she discovers that living with depression is still life.
Penetrating the Darkness of a Cave
*Out of the Cave: Stepping into the Light When Darkness Is What You See, by Chris Hodges. Thomas Nelson, 2021. Foreword by Rick Warren.
Do you feel guilt and shame about negative thoughts and emotions and your inability to overcome them? Bestselling author and pastor Chris Hodges helps those struggling with depression find liberating solutions by drawing from the life of the prophet Elijah.
You might be asking, “Should a Christian even be having these struggles?”
Depression is the number one health issue in the world today, yet those who suffer are still sometimes stigmatized, especially followers of Jesus. Many assume God’s peace, power and protection should prevent us from ever feeling anxious, depressed and afraid. But the Bible teaches otherwise, particularly in its depiction of the life of the Old Testament prophet Elijah.
In Out of the Cave, Chris Hodges uses Elijah’s life to show us that everyone is susceptible to depression. Even when we’re walking closely with God, we can still stumble and get lost in the wilderness of tangled emotions. But we don’t have to stay there because we serve a God who meets us in the darkness. Out of the Cave helps us in three ways:
- removes the stigma of depression and shows us that we aren’t alone
- shows us how our temperament and view of God affect the way we handle depression
- offers a comprehensive approach to wellness (mind, body and soul) from Elijah’s journey.
With a blend of Bible-based wisdom, practical application and vulnerability in sharing his personal struggles, Hodges explores the causes of depression we can’t change, the contributors we can conquer and offers transformative hope and spiritual power to help us win the battle.
A number of well-known authors and leaders recommend Chris’ book, including pastor Craig Groeschel and Christian psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud.
A Pastor’s Voice on Depression and Anxiety
*A Christian’s Guide to Mental Illness: Answers to 30 Common Questions, by David Murray and Tom Karel.
This book consists of a mental health Q&A from a Christian perspective.
After the fall, the world was disordered from structure to chaos, negatively altering the nature of human emotions. Today, we witness its impact as mental health concerns surge and people continue to suffer. How should Christians approach the topic of mental health? What is the most Christlike way to care for those who suffer?
A Christian’s Guide to Mental Illness answers 30 commonly asked questions about mental health. Intended for caregivers, this accessible resource will equip family, friends and churches with wisdom for caring for individuals with mental health illnesses. Authors David Murray and Tom Karel use a holistic approach as they share personal stories, professional expertise and biblical wisdom to tackle difficult questions, ultimately providing hope for the hopeless and rest for the weary.
Also see these titles by David Murray: Why Am I Feeling Like This? A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety and Depression, and its companion volume geared to parents: Why Is My Teenager Feeling Like This? A Guide to Helping Teenagers through Anxiety and Despair. Crossway published both volumes in 2020.
The single book I recommend most often for a Christian view of depression is Murray’s Christians Get Depressed, Too. I reviewed this resource in a blog by the same title in 2019.
If you’ve read a book or blog, or heard a podcast or message that you consider helpful on mental illness, please inform me. Please don’t assume I am aware of it. Also, if you read one of these resources I listed, I’d appreciate letting me know your opinion of it.