“If you would just read your Bible more, you wouldn’t struggle with depression”. This has got to be one of the most frustrating and unhelpful things people hear when they are in the midst of a battle with depression. In fact, this misinformation only makes the issue worse. Now, not only is the person dealing with the normal symptoms of depression or anxiety, they are also dealing with the shame that they aren’t able to be a “good enough Christian” in the midst of the battle.
It’s interesting that this feedback isn’t given whenever someone has been diagnosed with cancer or breaks an arm. We don’t tell this person “If you would just pray more you would be healed”. We recommend a doctor we trust or share information about a treatment that has worked for someone we know. For some reason, these illnesses are seen as more real than mental health, but this is not the case.
Today’s Christian culture has decided that emotional struggle is a mark of spiritual weakness or a lack of faith. But, Scripture tells a completely different story. Job struggled to believe that God can be trusted and wondered if he should have even been born. David said that he can feel his sorrow in his bones whenever he is overwhelmed by his circumstances. Elijah was sure everyone was against him and wanted to give up on moving forward. Isaiah was overcome with grief over the choices the Israelites made, how far they strayed from walking with God and began to lose hope that they can change. Jonah stored up bitterness towards the Ninevites to the point where he didn’t want God to save them. There is no question that these men struggled with depression or some other form of mental illness. And yet, we call them giants of the faith and look to their stories to model how to have a relationship with God. The truth is we all struggle to believe God perfectly at times. This is part of the Christian faith.
If you’ve given this advice before it may be time to think about how you could expand your understanding of the way God works in the midst of struggle. Maybe you could learn to be a listening ear instead of offering advice. Maybe you could offer your prayers instead of telling others to pray more. Maybe you could share the truth of Scripture instead of insisting others read it for themselves. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “ But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, is the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth”. Maybe becoming this kind of friend would grow your own faith.
If you’ve received this advice before let me say a big “I’m sorry!”. Please know that God cares for you whether you are depressed or not, anxious or not, struggling or not. He promises not to let our struggle be in vain, so look forward to the ways you will grow and the things you will learn through your struggle. Until then press on in the struggle knowing the struggle doesn’t define you.