“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
If joy was a literal piece of fruit that we carried around in our pockets there is no doubt that many of us would need a good spritz of Chanel to cover that slightly shameful odour. Kate, Bethan, and Mark have already shared with The Bridge just how real the issue of depression is today, and the sheer number of people who suffer with mental illness. Yes, even in the church. But much to the surprise of some, this is NOT a new phenomenon. Our mental states have been draining us of true joy since the very beginning of mankind.
Genesis 3:6-7: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
If we want to begin unlocking depression, we have to take it back to the beginning. There were two kinds of fruit in the Garden of Eden; the kind that was good for us, and the kind that was bad for us. When disobedience sank its teeth into the latter, the human race entered into a new realm of consciousness, a consciousness that comes with great consequences. Note that in the Genesis account, the first thing the couple noticed was their own shame. It wasn’t the state of the garden, it had nothing to do with the animals and their behaviour, or even how the serpent had just deceived them only moments ago. The first pain of man was the infliction of seeing oneself.
The root causes of depression and anxiety can differ hugely from person to person - be that psychological, social development, brain chemistry - but a common foundation is the habit of introspection. This phenomenon which can lead one into depression, can also be a symptom that is born out of depression, and thus creates an inescapable cycle. This is the symptom which has potential to lead us down dark and dangerous paths. Introspection can lead us away from truth and into the realm of deception, the symptom which leads to a multiplication of suffering and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. When we take a good hard look at ourselves, when we focus deeply on what is within, there is no escaping what is to be found there; brokenness.
In a world that increasingly pressures us to focus on the self (Am I interesting? Likeable? Successful? Desirable? Attractive?), we are growing in introspection and self-disappointment perhaps more than ever before. We glance briefly at the lives of others and see their cloaks of joy mocking our own nakedness, and the despair increases tenfold. Even in a church context we are seldom exposed to an atmosphere of confession, so again we are faced with what seems to be a museum of perfect people who work their socks off for an air of holiness in hope of happiness. But not one of us meets the standards of perfection, be that worldly standards, or godly standards, both of which are at war for our efforts.
Introspection in itself is not the root of all suffering, but on the contrary it is a crucial habit for growing in our relationship with Jesus. When we engage in a greater self-awareness, we are no longer blinded by pride, and our sinfulness is laid bare before us. As we realise our inner brokenness, as we discover our imperfections one-by-one, we are able to understand the necessity of the cross and our desperate need for a perfect saviour. Eradicating introspection is like continually painting over a wall without dealing with the crumbling plaster underneath. Introspection is good in moderation, but can become an addictive habit that neglects the gift of grace. Introspection when brought upon us by our ill mental health is both the cause and symptom of our sickness, a parasite that consumes our joy until there’s nothing left of it.
But we already know our sickness. Our rotting fruit taunts us daily. Perhaps what we don’t know is exactly what we are missing out on. There is joy to be found. There is an antidote to our sickness. We may have a better idea about where depression comes from, but where is it going?
The antidote is joy. Perfect untainted god-given joy. And that is where we are headed.
I know at this point you’re probably sighing with yet another deep sense of disappointment. “Yes Annie, we know…”. But bear with me. I too have been frustrated with the “just cheer up” attitude that so many have flung my way. I know the naivety in attempting to cure this pain with “perk up and put your JOY on!”. I’m also not going to guilt you into the idea that suffering the way you do is selfishly ignoring God’s gift of joy, because I know you want it, you want it more than anything. The truth is; there is no easy solution.
Some of us may be life-long carriers of this rotten fruit. But we need to remember that this life is microscopically tiny in the light of eternity. The antidote is closer than we think, as we look toward the moment that God will wipe away every tear and make all things new (Revelation 21:1-5). This is not for us to pray for an early grave; our short time on earth matters greatly. As disciples made uniquely for God’s purpose we have to commit to the great commission here and now. So how do we cope with depression in the meantime?
1. Reject the lie
As I mentioned earlier, it’s so easy to glance at other people’s lives and see them donning the trendiest cloaks of joy, only to return our eyes to ourselves and find disappointment in our lack. But so much of that is fake. The thing with faux joy is that we want to wear it no matter where it came from or what it’s made of; success, relationships, material gain. When it comes to joy, there’s only one legitimate manufacturer, but many convincing replicas. Without looking hard enough, it looks like joy, it feels a bit like joy if only for a passing moment. But don’t get caught out. Seek joy branded only by the hand of God, or it is better to be naked. Trick yourself into adorning faux-joy and the disappointment will only grow colder...
2. Don’t waste depression
Some days the idea of serving the great commission seems an impossible distance away, whether that’s preaching the word of God, planting a church in an unreached nation, or sharing life with friends and neighbours. Some days, even getting out of bed seems like an impossibility. I’m not talking about laziness, I’m talking about the paralysing lethargy of the spirit that disables the ability to function as a basic human being. But this is a precious place to meet with God. In the story of Job, we read his cries of anguish and despair, we read of how rather than pushing God away, he included Him in the sharing of his pain. Even in his sorrow Job declares the truths of God, and is later blessed abundantly for doing so (Job 42:8). In every season, speak the truth about Him and keep Him near; this too fulfils His kingdoms purpose. Depression is a channel for God to tune in to us and let His love be known to those we meet. Jesus, ‘Man of Sorrows’, used his suffering to draw us eternally near. Let us follow his example and embrace the depth in that fellow encounter with pain, for ours is brief.
3. Believe in Him
Like the paralysed man in Mark 2, let yourself be lowered into the presence of Jesus, take your mental paralysis to Him and believe in His healing. Healing is a gift, undeserved and granted to few, but that doesn’t mean we cannot hope for it. Pray for it now. Pray unceasingly. You may be granted healing in this life. “So why hasn’t it happened yet?”. Be expectant, be hopeful, but also remember that healing in this life is only temporary, and God grants a greater permanent healing when we meet eternity. If God heals you, it’s a temporary fix until you die, then comes the real deal! With eternal perspectives, we can carry our rotten fruit with perseverance because we know our day will come.
Charles Spurgeon suffered his whole life under depression, yet he changed the lives of thousands of people and continues to do so through his writings today. So we cannot doubt that even with this handicap we can surely be used greatly by our maker for His glory, we can surely be loved by our Father who sees our invisible injuries, and we can surely be redeemed by our saviour with whom we share in His sufferings.
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”(Romans 12:2). Renew your mind to one that finds joy in the holiness of God. Here on earth, pray unceasingly for Him to clothe you with joy, for even if you aren’t healed completely in this life, you will wear that cloak in seasons. But most of all, receive at least a partial joy, in the knowledge that this joy will be perfected with the promise of eternity in the arms of your saviour.