I’ve had the privilege of having a couple different conversations in the last month about depression. Sometimes I get sad and it doesn’t go away. But I’m also trying to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. I think I can hold these two truths in tension. It’s certainly possible.
I call them “tailspins”. Something can set them up or nothing can happen at all. But when they come (as one did this week), there is this horrible desire to simply soak in it. Maybe it’s just my temperament, but I love it when there’s something big to feel, even if it’s hopelessness. And so there’s an odd temptation to just revel in the darkness. But I don’t think that’s right. Paul Maxwell has been very helpful here in fighting against depression from the perspective of cognitive behavioral theory.
With the people I’ve spoken with recently, the question has been more one of spiritual progress. Or perhaps spiritual regression? It’s at least a question of maintenance. If depression is a bog, then how do we slog? How can we keep dancing through the darkness? How do we tread water when every urge says “give up and sink”? Here’s what I’ve found works for me.
Tell Yourself What You Believe
I have found that reciting the Apostles’ Creed helps. For centuries, Christians have been telling themselves what they believe even when they don’t believe it, perhaps even so that they could believe it.
This is not a way to sweep depression or doubt under the rug. This is how I strangle those hobgoblins to death each day. When I say “I believe,” it functions as a verb and as a command. And I believe the Spirit uses something as simple and ordinary as this to strengthen my failing faith.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Eugene Peterson’s famous description of discipleship is apt. Some people say that the Christian life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I have no doubt that is true for some people. For me, it is more like an uphill crawl through barbed wire while getting shot at.
That’s why I pray the Daily Office as I can, when I can. This was Thomas Cranmer’s attempt to get an entire country of people reading the same Bible passages together. I value it especially for the sheer amount of Psalms it pours into you. There are lots of places to start using it online. The point is to be able to read lots of Scripture everyday because “the voices in your mind are anything but kind,” to quote Andrew Peterson. It’s the Protestant answer to the question of how one “prays without ceasing” (1 Thess.5:16).
It’s sad how many evangelicals view the Lord’s Prayer as some piece of biblical trivia to memorize or, worse yet, as a rote and mechanical ritual that has been ruined by the smells-and-bells high church crowd.
I even heard a substitute Sunday School teacher for me once refer to it as “the Disciples’ Prayer.” I almost threw up. This is how Jesus spoke to his Father and, remarkably, this is how he invites his brothers and sisters to speak to their adopted Father as well (Mt.6:9-13; Lk.11:2-4).
The Lord’s Prayer functions as simply as a prayer to pray that puts you fully in line with the heart of Christ. It can also serve as a pattern of prayer, as we paraphrase the various parts of it. The Church has historically gotten endless mileage out of this one way of speaking to God and it has been of limitless help to me in the middle of the night, no matter the hour of the day.
Keep going. Whatever trauma has wrap itself around your legs, keep going. Even if your progress is inches and you find yourself going backwards some days. Whatever dryness has settled into your heart, keep going.
You cannot bottle the wind and demand that the Holy Spirit suddenly strike lightning in your life. But you can cover your soul with kindling and all of this spiritual fuel and trust that the Lord uses ordinary means of grace to build his Church.
Keep going. Dawn is coming. Slog on.