They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. (Just that sentence was ten words so, no, it’s not likely this one will peel off at a thousand 😊.) I want to ask what does this inserted picture say? What 1,000 words does it speak to you?
You might first notice my smile. Smiles give us the words joy, happiness, laughter, etc. Behind that smile, though, is unfathomable despair. The thousand words from your inquiry of the picture might wonder about the interesting get up I’m wearing: Goggles? A jump-suit? Shoulder straps? You’d correctly conclude they’re each part of the equipment/gear required for skydiving. I recall being glad that I had the #7 parachute that day because seven is spoken of (biblically) as being the perfect number, the number of completion. It gave me a sense of security—and who doesn’t want security jumping from a “perfectly good airplane”?
Those details say a few words, but not quite a thousand. The picture was taken after my first jump, given as a birthday gift from my Mom in 2010. Don’t get me wrong, skydiving was exhilarating beyond compare! I’d always wanted to skydive and even did it two more times after that. Fact is, I quickly arranged to jump again the next month because, frankly, I'd hoped it would “fix” me. It didn’t!
Here’s where I’m going with this: What you don’t hear in that picture's words is that I was broken. My eyes still well up looking at it, because I remember what I was going through. If you could hear them, the picture’s thousand words would tell of overwhelming and confusing pain. I say “confusing pain” because skydiving shouldn’t have been a painful experience. No! And it wasn't, physically. All went well. I made a free-fall jump from 13,500’. My chute opened flawlessly—much to my great satisfaction, and my family’s. And after being talked through my flight pattern via a radio on my chest, I landed on both feet as if I’d only jumped from the top of a picnic table. I’d stuck a perfect landing! However, the man in the picture was in the midst of a serious bout of depression. That picture hides an inner struggle (and spiritual battle) that came out of the blue and lasted for nearly two years.
The thousand words which pictures are supposedly worth, don’t describe the immobility that I’d experienced during that time—I could barely function! Not only that, but I look back knowing that the hardest work I did then was wrapped up in my efforts to hide my depression. (I still don’t know how, but God in His abundant grace gave me the ability to minister to my flock each week, etc.) What’s missing in the thousand words is that my daily companions were darkness that invaded, hopelessness that hampered, despair that was draining, and the incessant temptation to end it all. Seriously, it was daily. None of the thousand words you might’ve initially drawn from the picture reveals my aloneness, all while surrounded by family and so many others. The thousand words do not reveal the desperation for help, which—in my mind—could not be found. For too long I’d shamefully hid my experience from everyone around me, even Carol.
After all, how do you tell those who are counting on you, that you shouldn't be counted on? How do you tell them you’re broken but don’t know why? How do you tell others you no longer know how to be there for them emotionally, physically, or spiritually? How do you tell those to whom you’re supposed to be a pillar of strength that depression has eroded your foundation, and that little [seems] to remain for your own grounding? I was trying to hold it all together, all the while falling apart. In skydiving terms, I was heading toward a hard-landing. You can’t tell anyone! Or so that’s the lie I’d kept believing. I sadly and successfully hid that terrible lonely battle for most of its duration! Hey, I’m a man, and men are supposed to be able to pull up their bootstraps and get going. What’s more is that I was a pastor and pastors are supposed to be able to hold it all together, all-the-time!
I share this story to tell you that I still don’t know why I went through depression; I suspect a myriad of causes. Yet, I can tell you this: One of the most important things I gained was an empathy for those who battle with depression. If that’s the only reason I went through it, and if that’s the only fruit borne of my experience, then I’d say it was certainly worth it! You see, before then I’d never understood how people, especially believers, could be depressed. Years prior a close friend of mind faced a long-term bout with depression, I chewed him out for NOT calling me while he was in the midst of it so I could help him. Yet, I’ll admit again, I didn’t get it! And to be honest, I had zero empathy and I’d assumed people could just snap out it! I thought that way until I couldn’t [snap out of it]. Even now, while I do “get it” there’s still a lot that I don’t understand about depression or my own experience in that battle. But now I have great empathy for those facing a battle which often seems unwinnable.
We all tend to think the same way...that believers should never experience depression. But the Bible actually speaks to the contrary, [at least] acknowledging the reality of depression as a human experience which is more common than we’d like to admit. For instance, Psalm 42:5 says, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” Many of our OT heroes like Moses, David, Elijah, Job, and Jeremiah were men who’d experienced states of “gloom, despair, and agony on me…” (Hey, that’s not funny Hee Haw!) Um…Jeremiah, for one, is referred to as “the weeping prophet.” He wrote an entire book of the Bible in lament over the destruction of Jerusalem.
I’m not sure we can exhaust a list of the causes of depression, but a concise list would have to include sin, sickness, stress, and even spiritual (satanic) assault. I wish I’d gotten some help when I was in the midst of my despair. The only person I did reach out to was the friend I’d chewed out—I figured I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, so I called him and said, “Do you remember when…?” Crucial to my enduring the walk through that valley was knowing there was someone to talk to who understood.
Here’s my advice: If you’re able to break into someone’s isolation who is depressed, pray for them, encourage them, be patient with them (oh, you’ll need this!), reassure them frequently, spend time with them. Give them permission NOT to have it all together. Just be with them and be sure to withhold your offers of a quick fix. They may basically need your presence.
If you’re going through your own season of depression, as hard as it may be, do your best not to be alone. As mentioned above, find someone you can be utterly honest with about how you’re feeling, and maybe even how you might’ve gotten there, if you’re aware of the cause. Seek help. Understanding the cause can lead to remedy, recovery, and renewal.
There’s no longer an ounce of sentiment in my heart that says that dealing with depression will be easy—nobody’s going to snap out of it, not even you. This leads to the Apostle Paul’s biblical advice: “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18). This is hard to do in normally difficult circumstances, but excessively difficult to do in darkness with no doors (i.e. no way of escape), but that’s what God’s Word tells us to do. Yes, we’re to give thanks even in times when we don’t feel like it. Point being: God has something in it for us, so we must allow Him to minister to us.
David Seamands, in his book Healing for Damaged Emotions (on my lending shelf), counsels us to lean heavily on the power of God’s Word. This is important whether you’re helping someone through depression, or you’re experiencing it for yourself. Seamands points out that “48 of 150 Psalms speak to your condition: 6, 13, 18, 23, 25, 27, 31, 32, 34, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43, 46, 51, 55, 57, 62, 63, 68, 71, 73, 77, 84, 86, 90, 91, 94, 95, 103, 104, 107, 110, 116, 118, 121, 123, 124, 130, 138, 139, 141, 142, 143, 146, and 147.” There it is again! God Himself acknowledging the reality of this common human experience. Personally, that very fact provides some degree of hope because in depression the enemy often convinces us we’re alone, helpless, and hopeless.
Maybe as you read this, your anticipation was building up to a wave of my magical pastoral wand to tell you how to fix it or snap out of it. Well, that wand is non-existent. In fact, the above advice came only AFTER my bout with depression. It came only after I began to search out some counsel. I never received the same counsel, partly because I had successfully hidden my battle—nearly to my own demise. But there is good counsel to be had from godly professionals, from godly friends, but more so from God Himself. The best counsel, I or anyone else, can give is that you rest in God’s presence. To quote Seamands again, he wrote, “The psalmist repeatedly affirmed the secret of deliverance from depression. He encouraged [himself] to ‘Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence’” (Psalm 42:5b). This verse directs us to our only true source of renewal: Hope in God. That’s anyone’s best counsel! Endure. Frankly, that's all that I could do. He will carry you through. God’s promise was my experience! It gave me not only greater confidence in Him and His Word, but through it, God also gave me genuine empathy for those in depression.
Now, while they say a picture is worth a thousand words, we’re already at nearly two-thousand in this message. When I asked earlier what you saw in that picture, there was a possibility, but not a probability, that you saw the things I’ve just described. I’m being transparent because I want you to gain from my experience, not exploit it. I want you to hold fast to God and His life-giving Word. I want you to be able to find help for yourself, and, just as importantly to help others.
They also say not to judge a book by its cover. In other words, what you see in that picture isn’t the whole story. The picture really needs a description, a backstory, like I've given. People’s lives and situations sometimes need a description, a backstory, in order that we understand what’s going on, why they’re are behaving a certain way, or reacting in a manner that may put us off. Those around us are not pictures, they’re people. People who smile, even in overwhelming despair. People, literally, who pose and put-on like everything is okay, just like we tend to do, while they battle in isolation. Be aware of this when others cross your path; there’s always a back story to what they are going through. Be empathetic and compassionate. You just might be able to talk them through a good landing.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort;
who comforts us in all our affliction
so that (emphasis added) we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
(2 Cor. 1:3-4)