When I was younger, I had a blast riding my bike. It was a way for me to go fast without having to walk. It was a way for me to feel more like a grownup. And I really enjoyed riding shortly after a good rain, primarily because fresh rain brought fresh mud. I loved it. I could spin the mud with my back tire, which would fling the mud into the air and onto me, and often I would simply get stuck. Getting stuck in the mud isn’t a great joy, unless you are a kid. Mud is dirty and dark. It can cover you like a weighted brown suit. It’s hard to get clean and to free yourself from.
Depression can be similar to mud. It’s often a dark cloud that hovers over us and can be hard to shake. Depression is complex. It can consist of anxiety, shame, brokenness, sadness, tiredness, loneliness, and/or hopelessness. And while mud is clearly produced by rain, depression can sneak up for a number of reasons. It’s often an experience that is absent of hope. It tends to move God to the sideline in our thoughts, our circumstances, and our view of the world.
As I have been able to speak to members in my own church about depression, here are four basic suggestions I have offered.
1. Remember God and His Promises
In seasons of depression we often tend to forget God. Our bubble gets a little tighter, the walls close in a bit, and God is somehow squeezed out. But the truth is, He is still there. We need to cast our gaze towards Him again.
We are told from 1 Peter 5:7 to humble ourselves by “casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for us.” So even in a period when it feels like nobody around you is there or understands, God does. And He cares deeply for us. Not only does he care for us but He hears us. We can go to Him in prayer, confident that He hears us (Psalm 66:19; 1 Peter 3:12) because of the work of Christ on our behalf. One of the most important things we can do as children of God is to talk to God about the things on our heart.
As we look to God again and set our minds on things above (Colossians 3:1), I also find it helpful to remember God’s many promises to us in His Word. Over and over again in the pages of Scripture, God proves His character and faithfulness. We can bank on His promises.
Depression sometimes brings its own set of promises, so it is important for us to fight for faith with the truth of God’s Word. For example, God has said that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5–6); He has sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us and to be our Helper (John 14:16); He is working all things for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
2. Don’t Neglect Community
Just as it is good for us to talk to the Lord about the things on our heart, it is also good to talk to others. God has ordained that the local church be a primary means to help us grow in godliness (1 Thessalonians 5:7) and to love and care for us (Romans 13:8-10). Who might you be able to talk with at your church? Perhaps a friend in your small group? A pastor or another wise member?
Sometimes it can be hard to reach out to others, but we weren’t made to go through this life alone. There are no “lone ranger” Christians out there. We need one another. We bear burdens together (Galatians 6:2). Don’t let pride get in the way of reaching out and asking for help. One of the big ways that God cares for us is through other people. So put yourself under the waterfall of that grace and spend time with someone who cares about you. It’s amazing what a listening ear can do to help.
3. Look for Ways to Serve Others
Serving others also has a way of lifting our gaze from our present circumstances in order to focus on the needs of others (1 Peter 4:10; Galatians 5:13; Philippians 2:4). Jesus serves as a great example for us as we read about His selfless service in the Gospels. As Robert Murray McCheyne famously said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” Jesus was always on the lookout for the needs of others. What are some ways you might be able to put others first and serve them? There are likely plenty of opportunities to serve others within your church or in your city. Focusing on others naturally shifts the focus away from ourselves. This can be a great tool to allow the sun to shine through the dark clouds of depression.
4. Go for a Walk Outside
God created us as both spiritual and physical beings. It is often helpful just to get outside. Go for a walk. Go for a drive with the windows down. Get some fresh air and observe God’s goodness and creativity in creation. This exercise can help enlarge our world a bit and give us a different perspective.
The body is also made up of muscles that release helpful chemicals into our system when we exercise. So stretch those arms and legs. Get some motion in your body in order to get the blood flowing. A fifteen-minute walk a few times a week may work wonders.
These four suggestions are quite basic, but perhaps they will serve as a good reminder for us when we are weighed down by the mud of life. Remember, as Christians we have reason for great hope. May God grant us persevering faith, especially in the dark times.