A Thorn in the Flesh, living with depression

Today I welcome guest blogger, Rachel Xu. She wrote and shared this with me this week, and I couldn’t agree more. I asked if I could post it on my blog and she agreed.

Since I’ve written here previously about my own journey through an anxiety disorder, I have kept the phrase in mind “the danger of a single story” as a constant reminder that we all have markedly different life experiences. I never want anyone to feel intimidated by hearing mine. Because that’s all it is: my story. And it is only one story.

Here is another:

As someone who has suffered from severe depression and anxiety for decades, I have spent a lot of time researching the condition and Christian views on the matter. What never fails to confuse me is that it seems the majority of Christian articles seem to claim that depression is the fault of the person afflicted with it. Some of the many causes these Christians seem to attribute to depression are living a sinful life, pride, lack of prayer, not being a real Christian, lacking the faith to be healed, and spiritual weakness for choosing to be depressed over choosing to have a positive outlook. I think this lack of support and understanding is very damaging to the many Christians that suffer from this disorder. Having depression is hard enough without the judgments associated with it.

Would you tell someone with cancer that if only they repented of their sinful life they would be healed?

Would you tell a paraplegic that their pride was keeping them in a wheelchair?

Would you tell a blind person that if they would just pray more they would be able to see again?

Would you tell someone in a car accident that it was because they weren’t a real Christian?

Would you tell an amputee that they would grow a new limb if they had more faith?

Would you tell someone with Down Syndrome to stop choosing to have Down Syndrome?

I would assume the majority of people would respond no to these questions, so why is it acceptable to say such things to someone with a depressive disorder? I think Christians need to remember that actual depression, not just a day of feeling the blues, is a medical disorder caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. That way they can be more sympathetic and less judgmental towards someone suffering from this condition.

Why do so many Christians assume that if one continues to live with depression it is their own fault and negative thinking?

Think of all the countless ailments out there, does God heal every single one of them? No. I think we can all agree that sometimes God answers no to healing people though we may not understand why. People die of a variety of medical conditions every day and yes, that includes Christians. It is one of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s original sin and being born into a cursed world. We all die. So if everyone isn’t healed of something like cancer, why are those not healed of depression comparably weak and faithless?

I have even read Christian books and articles on depression that suggest taking medication for it is sinful and that one must repent and stop taking the medication because it shows a lack of faith in God and a lack of ownership that one has caused their own depression. I have to wonder if the authors ever took a painkiller for a headache or antibiotics for an infection? It seems like a very hypocritical way of thinking. Why is medication okay for some ailments, but not others?

All this is not to imply that people with depression can never be healed.

Just as God chooses to heal some people of other medical conditions there are occasions when he will heal someone of depression. However, because a few are chosen to be healed doesn’t mean that those who aren’t are weaker in faith or somehow harboring sin in their lives. Would we say the Apostle Paul lacked enough faith for healing when he was denied healing for his “thorn in the flesh”? (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

I have also come to find, having suffered from depression for so long, that God often seems silent.

Many Christians claim to have close personal relationships with God, and talk as if they have a daily walk in the park with him chatting away and enjoying their friendship. I have wondered why some might feel such a close connection while others must live out their lives just clinging to their faith that he exists, but never really feeling his presence. One might think at first, well, the Christian with the close relationship obviously spends lots of time reading the Bible and praying; but what if the Christian who doesn’t feel that way does the very same? What if the Christian who feels nothing actually spends more time in prayer than the one that does? How then could this be explained?

In terms of depression I started thinking again to the cause of it: a chemical imbalance in the brain. I thought: someone born with a mental disability such as Down Syndrome, or any of the countless other mental disabilities someone might have, would not have the same understanding of the Bible and connection that someone without any disorder would have. That is not to say God doesn’t love them or isn’t there for them, but mentally they may not be capable of knowing him in this life. Someone with depression might have better understanding, but perhaps the chemical imbalance in itself puts up a barrier to feeling any sort of happiness or comfort from God. It isn’t necessarily the person’s fault, but that their brain isn’t capable of feeling the same joys that someone without the disorder can. So, someone who is just having a down day might find it easier to cheer themselves up or feel God’s presence because they don’t actually have a mental disorder preventing them from feeling joy.

The point of this is also not to imply that people who suffer from depression are somehow free of any guilt or sin.

In that regard we are the same as everyone else; we must strive to learn more about God, read the Bible, pray and repent when we commit sins. We can’t just blame everything on depression, but must take ownership of the things we do choose to do. It’s more just an understanding that our depression doesn’t mean we lack faith and are more sinful than others. I don’t think we need to repent for feeling depressed, just like someone with cancer doesn’t need to repent for having cancer. I just think the Christian community should be more supportive in the fact most people with depression aren’t willfully choosing to be miserable each day and refusing help from God.

Sometimes God says no to healing and when he does these are the people who need comfort and support.

I also think it is important not to brag about one’s own amazing walk with God and close personal relationship and constant comfort, if someone else is not capable of feeling that. It is great if you are one of those lucky people that do have a relationship like that, but please don’t look down on others that don’t, or imply that if they just tried harder they would.

So far I have come across no easy fixes or cures for depression, so it is more just learning to get through each day, clinging to faith even though God often feels very distant, realizing this life is temporary, and trying to ignore all the negativity and blame heaped on those suffering from depression.

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Bekah Ferguson

Hello and welcome. :) I’m the author of the contemporary romance novels, When the Fog Cleared and A White Rose, and many short stories (sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy, coming-of-age). I live in Ontario, Canada, with my husband, Robbie Ferguson (Category5 Technology TV), and our three children. As a writer, I take great interest in nuance - catching it by the tail as it darts in and out between extremes. While I do believe in certain moral absolutes (who doesn't?), I find the gray areas fascinating to explore. For this reason I describe myself as a progressive Christian - too conservative to be liberal and too liberal to be conservative. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant ... / The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.” ~ Emily Dickinson (1263) You can follow me on Facebook & Twitter.

2 thoughts on “A Thorn in the Flesh, living with depression”

  1. I found the article by Rachel Xu to be a very true description of how a person can feel when they have depression or anxiety. And when it comes to being a Christian while dealing with this or dealing with other Christians that seem to judge people that are going through this….what Rachel said certainly does seem to happen a lot. I have suffered with these problems throughout my life. And a person would think that a “Christian” would be the most understanding person of all. But not all the time. I really don’t worry myself about how others think of me though. I just figure that GOD would not think I was a sinner because I suffer from depression and anxiety because HE has left me to experience this in my life for a reason. Why would GOD not approve of his own reasons for me having these problems. Whether it be to learn from it or to even help someone else that has these issues. I mostly just feel sorry for the ones who just can’t seem to get that. GOD does not dislike his own creations. I guess even the ones who judge are there for a reason too which is not fun but is another part of learning while going through this. While feeling depressed it is hard to keep a more positive attitude about being judged wrongly …but sometimes when I try to perceive it in a different way that helps me. And I will tell you sometimes I just want to give up on even trying. But in the long run helping myself …helps others. So I just pick myself up off the ground or crawl out of that dark hole…dust my tired mind off and try again. 😀

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