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A DOGGONE GOOD IDEA FOR DEPRESSION-PRONE PEOPLE

The Value of a Dog in Coping with Depression The lot on which my house sits is relatively level, but some days, as I walk from the driveway to the entrance, it feels like I’m trudging uphill with a weight on my shoulders. The figurative weight of a depressed spirt seems real enough, causing a slower-than-normal gait. But the second I open the kitchen door, it happens. Farley, My 10-year-old dachshund, greets me with a high-pitched whine of pure elation, his tail thumping loudly and rapidly against the counter, his short legs trying to climb up to me. He’s never satisfied with warm words or a pat on the head. No, the required ritual is for me to hoist him to my eye level, snuggle our heads together, kiss his cheeks, then allowing him to give my face a fresh (?) bath with his tongue. If I don’t complete every phase of the ritual, he dogs my steps until I do. (I couldn’t resist the pun.) For at least a few minutes, his greeting assuages my despair. I know without a doubt I’m loved and treasured. How does a dog help with depression? Physical touch. Who doesn’t need to feel …

WRITING IN THE DARK

  WRITING IN THE DARK Poetic Descriptions of Depression   The purpose of my blogs on depression and faith is to beam rays of light to guide your walk in the dark. That purpose presupposes that faith in Christ engenders hope, and God’s Word offers truths to facilitate endurance despite despondency. Most of my  posts offer resources, practical coping tips that I (and others) have learned, and biblical perspectives. But not this one. I’m giving you four bleak poems, written over a 16-year period, describing depression. (But be sure you read the concluding paragraphs after the final poem.) It’s important to understand the dark thoughts that even a Christian—even a vocational Christian leader like myself—experiences when shrouded in depression.   Poem #1 When depression descends, one of two different emotional states dominate me: either extreme sensitivity and heartache that spawns bouts of weeping, or a numb, robotic condition when I don’t feel a thing, when I couldn’t laugh or cry if you paid me to do it. While on a teaching trip to Ukraine in January 2000, the parched, non-feeling state overwhelmed me, spawning this poem.   Mourning Song Mourn for them. They’re dead and gone, after living so long as …

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YOU CAN’T GO “SOLO” IN BATTLING DEPRESSION

 God Still Incarnates His Love One essential and Biblical strategy for battling depression is the love and support of friends in the body of Christ. Years ago, during a particularly rough week plagued by despondency, my wife thought I might be suicidal. She called two close friends of mine:  my pastor, and a good friend who was on the staff of a different church in the area.  My pastor took me to breakfast, reassured me of his love, prayed for me, and pleaded with me to seek medical intervention due to the chronic nature of my depression. The other friend showed up at my house that same evening after dinner. He announced, “I hear you’ve had a few rough days.  I don’t come with advice, but you need to know that I’m here for you.  If you want to talk and pray, I’m available.  But even if you’d rather read or watch TV, I’m not leaving your side for the next two hours!” On a different occasion, a colleague at the college where I teach saw how bleak my spirit was over lunch. After I returned to my office, where I lay in a fetal position, totally immobilized by my …

How Can Weakness Be A Strength?

The Outrageously Fruitful Ministry of a Depression-Prone Man        For almost 40 years, James “Buck” Hatch served on the faculty of Columbia Bible College in South Carolina, teaching courses in Bible, hermeneutics, psychology, and family life. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of alumni of what is now Columbia International University consider him their favorite and most influential professor. When he taught, students listened, riveted.  When he counseled, hurting people received a life-sustaining injection of hope. You’d think a dynamic personality and get-it-together psyche propelled such an enduring, respected ministry. That wasn’t the case. Buck demonstrated the truth of Psalm 50:15: “Call on Me in the day of trouble,” said the Lord, “I’ll rescue you, and you will honor me.” Buck’s life flashes in bold neon letters this truth: our need or weakness provides an opportunity for God to receive more glory. His son Nathan, now president of Wake Forest University, called Buck Hatch “a painfully shy person, always near the brink of depression…a soul not at home with itself.” Nathan added, “My father has come to radiate a deep and abiding joy. But you could not call him a happy person.  He has always wrestled with thorns in the flesh that drove him …

A Surrendered Spirit

  A response to depression far more difficult to experience than it is to write about   About 15 years ago, over a period of months, I begged the Lord to heal me of chronic depression. The initial benefit of anti-depressants had waned.  Counseling hadn’t alleviated my burden.  And God’s response to my pleading was silence. I recall the day in 2003 when my perspective shifted. I concluded that the sovereignty of God is either a sterile doctrine or a dynamic reality.  Could I trust Him with my propensity for despondency?  What were the implications of the fact that He had not heeded my cries for direct intervention, and that the more common means of grace weren’t working?  Was this my “thorn in the flesh” to keep me humble and dependent? Did I really believe Psalm 103:19: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all”? That’s when the slant of my prayers also changed. Through tears, I surrendered my desire to be more emotionally whole. I prayed words similar to these:  “Father, if You choose not to lift this veil of darkness, I accept that. I’m yours. You’re still good.  You know what …

SUFFERING SEEN THROUGH THE LENS OF SCRIPTURE

Vaneetha Risner’s The Scars That Have Shaped Me   I am not defined by what people have done or said to me. I am defined by who I am in Christ. God uses all of our suffering for our joy and for his glory. God’s refusals are always his mercies. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty. It comes down to trust. Will I trust my circumstances that constantly change, or God who is unchanging? God sees our lowest moments as our spiritual highs because that’s when he is doing the deepest work in us. The most precious answer God can give is to wait. It makes me cling to him rather than to an outcome. Anything that makes me dependent on God is a good thing, perhaps the best thing.   Pious Platitudes or Timeless Truths? Often, when I read remarks of that sort, they come across as glib spirituality, unrealistic bromides offered by someone who hasn’t been burned by the flames of real affliction. But when these statements spring from the mind and heart of Vaneetha Risner, that’s patently not the case. Those are just a few of the sentences that …

DEPRESSION STATISTICS AREN’T NUMBERS, THEY’RE PEOPLE

The Prevalence and Symptoms of Major Depression Usually sanguine, sixteen-year-old Chad started locking himself in his room more often, texting and calling his friends far less frequently, and attending fewer school and church social functions. He’s sleeping more, even napping during the day for the first time in years. His recent report card revealed at least a letter-grade drop in every subject but one. He’s prone to snap at his younger siblings, and vents hostility toward his parents that’s exaggerated for the occasion. Even one of Chad’s teachers told his mom, “He isn’t the same boy who started the year in my class. It’s as if he doesn’t care anymore.” If they could see inside him, they’d realize that not even Chad grasps what’s happening. He can’t point to a precipitating circumstance for the downward spiral in his mood. He can’t explain why he’s often sad, or why he wrote a poem about dying last week (which no one else has read). Depression Among Young People If 35-40 middle and high school kids attend your church, two or three probably identify with Chad’s depression, though not all depressed persons exhibit the same precise symptoms. Various studies show that anywhere from …

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What Does It Look Like in the Dark?

My first recollection of it occurred on the back porch steps of my rural home in North Carolina. Nine or ten years old, I slumped, cried aloud for what seemed like an hour, tears cascading down my cheeks onto the steps, obscuring my view of the sun setting behind a mountain. An overwhelming sadness, a deep-seated loneliness, enveloped me. At the time, I couldn’t put a label on my emotional state nor identify a reason for the hurt. *** Like any other hormone-crazed high school male, I wanted to date. Yet I never asked a girl out. Instead, I often cried myself to sleep, wishing I could be more “normal” and confident. Why bother to ask when I knew she’d reject me? The poor self-image, coupled with low grades that fell far short of my academic potential, instilled self-loathing and a daily barrage of accusatory self-talk. More than once, I balled my fists and whammed my head repeatedly until I couldn’t take the pain anymore. *** I stood with the rest of the congregation for a familiar hymn. Except mouthing the words took a herculean effort. My heart felt numb and parched. I felt out of place in the midst …