(Note: This is a personal account of how my faith in Christ played a critical role in my struggle with depression. Though I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of faith for mental health, I’m not writing this article to denounce the importance of therapy and medical attention in treating depression. If you think you’re suffering from a mental illness, I urge you to seek help from a professional immediately.)
After a brutal and seemingly endless winter, the weather has finally turned in New York. Temperatures are rising, flowers are blooming, and New Yorkers are slightly less pushy on the subways (some even crack a smile). Yet there are many people who remain unaffected by spring’s arrival — because no amount of sunshine can overcome the debilitating darkness that lingers in their minds.
Up until two and a half years ago, I was one those people. I was 23 and living a desirable life in New York, yet I was deeply dissatisfied and attempting to fight off depression with multiple vices. My depression was the result of many issues, most notably dangerously low self-esteem that went unaddressed for too long. By my senior year of college, I was in such a poor mental state that I agreed to see a therapist and took antidepressants to get through my final semester. Sadly, therapy wasn’t fruitful for me, and I ended up using my medication as a weight loss mechanism instead of a serotonin booster. So I carried my depression with me as I made my foray into the real world, and my behavior steadily became more destructive. Ultimately, I felt undeserving of life — so I did many stupid things to risk it.
My outlook on life didn’t change until 2012 when I accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ and started to let Him control my life. Even with my elementary understanding, I can pinpoint two specific gifts I received through the gospel of Jesus Christ that helped me overcome a long, arduous battle with depression: transformative hope and the ability to actively love others.
I received the transformative power of hope in Christ.
Hopeless was the paramount ‘feeling’ I experienced when I battled depression. My warped outlook on my future was bleak because I never thought I smart enough, pretty enough or privileged enough to hope. Worse yet, I started to doubt the sources of hope I was trained to seek. All the standard measurements of success (e.g., money, fame and power) felt meaningless in the context of a life with no purpose beyond death.
Then God gave me a different kind of hope. This isn’t the kind of unsatisfying hope that comes from worldly things; this is, as Peter describes in the verse above, a “living” hope with far more substance and power — this the everlasting hope that lies in Jesus Christ.
I know, I know. That may sound like hokey Christian talk that is full of fluff with no practical application to everyday life. I used to think so too. Then I studied the life of Jesus and realized he held the key to the kind of hope that could help me overcome anything — even depression.
If anyone had cause to be severely depressed, it was Jesus. He descended from his heavenly throne to live on earth as man destined to die for sins he did not commit. For the majority of his thirty-three years of life, he was threatened, ridiculed and tormented by the very people he came to save. The toughest part of his story is that he knew his life on earth would be filled with immense pain and rejection up until his crucifixion. Jesus’s soul was vexed in a way we could never comprehend. Yet, Jesus never yielded to depression or let sadness control him. How? I used to think the answer might be that he was a superhuman (wrong: as explained in Hebrews 2 and 4, Jesus was every bit of human that we are). Fortunately, the author of Hebrews gives more accurate insight:
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)
Jesus was never enslaved to sadness because he was motivated by the hope of joy and glory he would receive when reunited with his Father in heaven, and he knew these spiritual gifts would exalt him far above the shame and pain he experienced for just a few brief moments on earth. I’m thankful Jesus maintained this motivation to the point of death because his hope is now my hope.
Striving to be as hopeful and eternity-focused as Jesus has transformed my perception of everything in this present world — including my unhappiness. As a Christian, I am able to accept the hard reality that my life in this fallen world will be extremely difficult at times. I will be disappointed. I will hurt. I will suffer. The incredible news is that God promises that if I continue to live for Christ’s sake, I will not suffer in vain for I have hope of the greatest glory at the end of this life. Because of this promise, I am no longer a powerless victim of the sadness that results from hopelessness.
I learned the importance of active love.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is that of the sinful woman who anointed Jesus feet in Luke 7:36-50. I imagine I can relate to the emotions this woman felt as she proceeded to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears while a distinguished Pharisee watched her with contempt . Broken. Desperate. Guilt-ridden. Rejected. Worthless. The same emotions I felt when I surrendered my life to Jesus. I imagine I can also relate to the emotions she felt after Jesus said to her “your sins are forgiven” and “your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Relieved. Hopeful. Indebted. Loved. So deeply loved.
I could (and might!) spend another blog post describing how the love of Christ transformed me, but for the sake of brevity I’ll focus on one specific consequence of Christ’s love in my life: learning how to love others.
Because I’m the recipient of such powerful love, I feel compelled to actively return that to love to God and the people He created. Actively loving others surprisingly became one of the most transformative tools in my battle against depression because it forced me out of my own head. When I was depressed, I often withdrew into my private world of pain and dwelt in my perceived misery, misfortune and incompetency. Fortunately, Christ left a better method for persevering through pain. And time and time again, I’ve learned that when I’m focused on strengthening my relationship with God and demonstrating Christ-like love towards others (as opposed to focusing on myself), the all-consuming negative thoughts that lead to depression quietly fade away.
If you’re reading this article and struggling with depression, you may be disappointed that I present faith as the ultimate solution. Faith is abstract, and it doesn’t offer immediate relief like Advil or Cymbalta. I admittedly still have moments when faith doesn’t seem enough to get me through this life. But God always proves me wrong.
So I write this article to say to those struggling with depression: give faith a chance to become your trusty shield in your fight against depression, as it is the only solution that can lead to eternal peace for your soul.
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