Well, at age 83 I’m not. Since becoming a Christian (age fifty), I’ve been consistently joyous. Even while grieving, mourning for loved ones, there’s joy at the bottom of my heart. I’m usually in good health – but while writing this article, I had severe flu including a night in hospital. The coughing and sniffling didn’t quit; headache and chest-pain were relentless. Physically incapacitated, I suffered. But I was not depressed. What a change! Before coming to the Lord, I was constantly in the dumps. I thought I was meant to be that way.
MY ANSWER: the world is actually a lonely, depressing place.
You will be at least slightly lonely and depressed unless you have an intimate, father-relationship with God. And that only comes through Jesus Christ. There are things you can do to mitigate natural worldly despair but the only complete cure is what the Bible calls “joy of the Lord”.
“Worry comes with the territory.” That’s what people said back in the early 20th century. Now it’s true of depression. Our society, the whole post-modern world itself, is depressing – and getting more so. The 1930’s (my childhood) were apprehensive times. Philosophers called it “angst”. Great literature, theatre, music and dance were about “the age of anxiety”. But anxiety eventually morphs into depression. Given enough worry, you fall into the pit of despair.
No lasting contentment.
Oh yes, life has its up-moments but there’s no continuing lift. A bit of fun comes from the odd, fleeting pleasure – winning a prize, achieving an ambition, triumphing over an opponent. These provide brief respite. But the distracting thrills fade. Suffering moves forefront. Ubiquitous evil takes centre stage. TV provides distraction and a few laughs. Somebody somewhere shows a kindness. Some champion gets gold. A hero rescues a child or an animal. A few sacrifices are made for the common good. (So goodness does exist.) But the totality of positive events is insufficient to raise the negative baseline. We remain deprived of ongoing happiness.
It’s not the first time in history. The book of Ecclesiastes, written thousands of years ago by the wisest, richest, most powerful man of the day, clearly states that worldly pursuits will let you down. “All is vanity” says the King James version; “melancholia” was the 19th century word; “depression” is the post-modern term. Same in Jesus’ day: He came specifically to save the “broken-hearted”; He preached good news for the “poor in spirit”. And the crowds who thronged to hear him were politically and religiously oppressed as well as spiritually depressed – like many today.
The seeds of depression lay in my very identity. Most of us find our primary identity in a job or profession, or perhaps in a roles as spouse/parent/friend. If I think of myself primarily as a psychologist, I am bound to become depressed sometime after middle age. If successful at I will push the ceiling and be disillusioned. If I am a failure, I will encounter personal limits and be disheartened. This is true of every occupation. Each has its mid-life crises as does each social role. Thinking you are primarily a mother means you are unprepared when you must quit mothering – either because you’ve been successful or because you’ve failed. You will be depressed if your children become dysfunctional. But if they function properly, you no longer function as their parent. The Bible teaches parenting to be a “calling” not an identity. My reason for living is in Christ.
So I am no longer primarily a psychologist. I am primarily a “child of God” made in His image – who happens to have worked as a psychologist. In my retirement, I say I am a “reformed psychologist”.
What to do. The customary advice is:
• See your doctor. Get assessed properly. Get treated if need be. OK, but don’t expect the treatment (pills) or the counselling (talk) to be a cure. The medication is likely to seem like a cover-up or even just a wet blanket. The counselling will try to help you accept yourself as you are and the world as it is. However, what you really need is a new self and a better world.
• Join social activities, “get connected”, make friends. Easier said than done, often impossible when depressed. Far better to start by getting connected with the Lord. Go to prayer meetings. Go to church! “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and then things like serenity, security and happiness “will be added unto you”.
• Be a volunteer. Help others. This was first proposed by psychoanalyst Alfred Adler over a hundred years ago. Problem: none of his depressed patients could even think of anything to do to help another person. Easier option: go to church early on Sunday morning and smile at people as they come in.
• Exercise regularly. This definitely works. Endorphins rise. Try strenuous praise and worship. Most depressed Christians sit way in the back in church. Move to the front and sing loud.
• Read inspiring literature. Read the Bible. Read Sarah Young, Jesus Calling. And/or write, telling other people what to do. Writing can be unpleasant but having written is usually quite pleasant.
• Quit smoking and drinking. Alcohol is a depressant. Smokers are more depressed than non-smokers. Ex-smokers eventually report elation. If you can’t quit, go to church anyway and ask for prayer. Check out AA and NA meeting in the church shed or basement.
Finally, If you think I’m overstating it, if you think you’re reasonably happy and don’t need Jesus, let me say there is one thing worse than being lonely and depressed. That is being lonely and depressed without being aware of it – unconscious depression. You think you’re meant to be unhappy so you’ll work hard, miserable so you’ll keep striving, less than par so you nose will stay on the grindstone. In the sixties Nancy Sinatra sang I’ve Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. I was “down” for years during the sixties, and I didn’t discover why until Jesus came into my life. I was fifty years old when that happened. I can honestly say I have not had another depressed moment since the first Sunday in October 1980.
Let Lord Jesus heal your broken spirit. Let Him show you a better world. Let Him put the joy of the Lord down in your heart.