Welcoming the Mystery of Depression

I’ve written before about how the struggles many have with depression really hits home for me. It’s something that several people close to me struggle with off and on, to the point of needing medical help to combat the recurring issues. Studies show that around 25% of the US population has struggled with depression for a significant period of time. Depression can stem from relationships, situations, medical issues, chemical imbalances, and plenty of other issues.

Generally speaking I think Christians have done a fairly poor job of engaging the conversation surrounding depression. Just last week I was reading a book by a pastor I highly respect, and in the book he, in so many words, explained that depression was always able to be overcome by entering into our God of hope through faith.

Imagine someone who has been medically diagnosed with medical or seasonal depression reading the words that they just need more of God or more faith, then they’ll be healed. If it were me, I’d burn the book.

No one needs to be chastised for something they feel helpless in dealing with on their own.

I love the conversation Parker Palmer had with a woman who asked him why God allows people to live in the personal hell of depression. His response, “I have no idea.” Here’s the fall out from that conversation:

My response had given her an alternative to the cruel “Christian explanations” common in the church to which she belonged—that people who take their lives lack faith or good works or some other redeeming virtue that might move God to rescue them. My not knowing had freed her to stop judging herself for being depression and to stop believing that God was judging her (pg 59).

Part of this struggle we sense to provide a good “Christian explanation” is a lack of comfort with mystery. I have a tendency to want to explain out the mystery of life and faith and God. Or I want to throw a book or Bible verse at someone’s problem. And all of this is really just my power-hungry self trying to declare victory with a perfect solution rather than doing the difficult work of declaring the mystery and walking the journey of the mystery.

Mystery surrounds every deep experience of the human heart: the deeper we go into the heart’s darkness or its light, the closer we get to the ultimate mystery of God. But our culture wants to turn mysteries into puzzles to be explained or problems to be solved, because maintaining the illusion that we can “straighten things out” makes us feel powerful. Yet mysteries never yield to solutions or fixes—and when we pretend they do, life becomes not only more banal but also more hopeless because the fixes never work (pg 60).

How do you handle conversations surrounding depression?