What happened to me?
I appeared to be moving along smoothly as a Christian. After 37 years in the classroom, I was still very much enjoying teaching. Being admitted to a psychiatric ward could not have been further from my mind. After an exhausting holiday to South America, my anxiety forced me to pace day and night with only a few hours of sleep. I lost a lot of weight. I also experienced uninvited slanderous and blasphemous thoughts, totally out of context.
I had a powerful vision of being thrown into hell which I could not get out of mind. On another occasion, I had a very strong thought of “Why don’t you just curse God and die”. I walked in a fierce lightning storm asking God to strike me down. Ultimately, intense suicidal thoughts compelled me to ask to be admitted to a psychiatric ward.
I earnestly pray that I may be able to comfort you with the comfort I myself have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
I am mindful that Bible verses like “Do not worry” and “God works all things for the good of those who believe” may seem impossible at the moment. As humans, we share many fundamental characteristics but on another level, we are all unique. Thankfully God has the whole picture and knows the best the way to take each person through the valley of the shadow of death.
These are the things that helped restore my health and faith. When depressed, it is difficult to concentrate, so I suggest you take your time through each section.
1. Learning to survive day by day (tomorrow is another day)
When I was depressed, I found it impossible to think very far ahead. Just the same, I could focus on getting through the day at hand, going moment by moment. If the day had not been a good one, it didn’t mean tomorrow would be the same.
At night your mind seems to be more susceptible to imaginations when compared to the daytime. I have to remember that tomorrow is another day.
Cling to the words of Jesus Christ; “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).
2. Realizing that my sins were not too big for Jesus
William Bridge’s words helped me see that Christ is bigger than my sins.
Someone might say; “As for me, my sin is exceeding great, gross and heinous, and have I not just cause and reason now to be discouraged?” No, not yet, for though your sin be great, is not God’s mercy great, exceeding great? Is not the satisfaction of Christ great? Are the merits of Christ’s blood small?
Is not God, the great God of heaven and earth, able to do great things? You grant that God is almighty in providing for you, and is he not almighty also in pardoning: will you spoil God of his almightiness in pardoning? You say your sin is great but is it infinite? Is not God alone infinite?
Is your sin as big as God, as big as Christ? Is Jesus Christ only a Mediator for small sins? 1
Play the song Something Changed by Sara Groves
3. The power of a single Bible passage
In the dark of night, Bible passages seemed only to condemn and threaten me. In spite of this, there was one passage that encouraged me. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit bitter, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterwards, you will take me into glory” (Psalm 73:21-24).
This passage showed me that even though my life was completely out of control; God was all-powerful and full of grace and mercy for me. I thought my situation was beyond repair but Jesus was not panicking. It was also of much encouragement to me when “[the prideful and rebellious] Nebuchadnezzar, [simply] raised his eyes toward heaven, and his sanity was restored” (Daniel 4:34).
4. The foolishness of trying to live up to a phony image of Christianity
One of the biggest problems with Christianity is when it develops into a phony lifestyle where you learn that to be a ‘good’ Christian you have to pretend everything is OK.2 (David Rolph)
What shocked me was the general openness of patients in the psychiatric ward that I didn’t find elsewhere.
If a ‘good’ Christian was always being ‘laid back’, always having ‘passion’; being ‘awesome’ and not having any real problems or sins to repent of, how could I explain what was happening to me now? Trying to live up to this false image is one reason I condemned myself as a total failure, no matter how many times my Christian friends told me; “Jesus loves you”, “Have more faith and trust Christ” or “It’s Jesus plus nothing”.
I am glad that my problems overwhelmed me; otherwise, I would have tried to cover them up! I asked a Christian who had a particular problem, “Would he talk to other Christians about this problem?” In horror, he replied, “No way!” There is something fundamentally wrong here.
Christians can hide the fact they are suffering. The Bible says we should; “share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5) but much of modern Christianity does not seem to mention suffering very much. This is the opposite of what Jesus told Paul the Apostle what the Christian life would be like; [Jesus would show Paul] how much he must suffer for his name. (Acts 9:15-16).
A person may confess unforgiveness which is good. However, it is much harder to confess sins like lying, sexual immorality, lust, greed, anger, rage, malice, or slander. (Colossians 3:5-9). The Bible says we are easily entangled in sin (Hebrews 12:1). These sins can be easily hidden and failing to acknowledge our hidden sins and to confess them when appropriate is dangerous. You may even think you are hiding them from God, as King David did (Psalm 32:4-5).
Richard Sibbes gives us good advice: “Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and take not Satan’s counsel. Go to Christ.” 3
Important: When I was depressed, I had an urge to confess everything to everybody. Resist doing this as the Bible does not require us to do so.
10 danger signs
- You can’t see the peril of loving the world (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15, 16).
- You are starting to treat Jesus Christ very casually in stark contrast to how John the Apostle responded to the risen Christ in Revelation 1:12-17.
- The pathway to heaven seems easy and very broad whereas the pathway to hell seems narrow (Matthew 7:13).
- You think that all the warnings in the Bible somehow apply to someone else.
- You don’t hear messages saying that you have to crucify the sinful nature (Colossians 3:5).
- You can’t think of any specific sins you commit.
- You hear little of Hebrews 12:1 of “the sin that so easily entangles us.”
- You feel you must hide your sin from all other people in the church.
- Being a Christian seems incredibly complicated. (“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve through his cunning, so your minds so also your minds might be led astray from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).
- There is a culture of flippantly slandering and mocking the devil (Jude 8-10). Peter the Apostle tells us that the devil can still deceive and devour (1 Peter 5:8).
5. Preachers whose words literally saved my life
The discovery of preachers* like William Bridge, Charles Spurgeon, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, George Whitefield and Martin Luther was a revelation for me. If I had explained my experiences to these men, they would not panic nor would they think my experiences were very strange for a Christian nor would they be miserable comforters like Job’s friends (Job 16:2). The words of these men corrected and counselled me. They gave me hope and the resources I needed. God literally used these men’s words to save my life!
These preachers knew about the reality of the devil’s injection of blasphemous thoughts and his urgings for you to “curse God and die”. They knew of the devil’s use of Bible verses to threaten us and his strategic withdrawing from us till an opportune time. My problem was essentially a spiritual one and these men had the spiritual understanding and answers I needed.
Note: In my depressed state, even the Bible was very difficult for me to read because it dealt with death, sin, judgement and hell. These preachers discuss all these things so you may find it difficult at times to read these things. Because of the depth within these writings, take time to reflect as you read.
Invaluable resources for me
William Bridge shows how the lack of assurance of God’s love can lead the Christian to suicidal thoughts. “If Christ does not love me now, He will never love me; and if I have not an interest in Christ now … I shall never have it, and so the longer I live, the more I aggravate my condemnation … and therefore now I will even make away with myself. Oh, what a black chain is here and the first link is the lack of assurance.” 4
Continued in part 2 and part 3 …
6. Realizing that depression is not always a direct result of sin
Confession of sin is essential in the Christian life; to God (Matthew 6:12) and to trusted others (James 5:16). Sin can be the source of depression but it may not be. The birth of a child, the trauma of a divorce, the death of a loved one, an accident, or an operation may trigger depression. Physical conditions can contribute to depression so it is essential to visit your local doctor for a check-up.
How depression can start
You start to fear as you experience the symptoms of depression and this causes more fear. You may start to condemn yourself and then start to condemn yourself more for condemning yourself. You may not be able to sleep and the situation can spiral out of control. The devil can take this opportunity to attack although your depression was not a direct result of sin.
Not all suffering is a direct result of sin. Our human response, when you see someone suffering, is like the disciples when they saw the blind man; “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-2). Jesus responded that “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Although God used Job’s situation to show Job some of his pride, Job’s suffering, and the depression that was a result of this suffering was not due to Job’s sin. God said; “Job … is blameless and upright … though you [the devil] incited me [God] against him to ruin him without any reason.” (Job 2:3).
7. Overcoming the problem of being dominated
Fear of speaking out can lead to being dominated by others which can lead to anxiety and depression which may lead to suicidal thoughts. At times, we need to be assertive (speaking the truth in love) for our own well being. This is a crucial point. Try not to always avoid arguments and, where possible, work at resolving differences.
If you have fallen into the trap of letting yourself be dominated by others; humble yourself and repent. Don’t condemn yourself as “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Don’t blame yourself for everything. It won’t be entirely your fault. In a relationship where one is dominated, there are two people. As these are lifetime traits, it is hard for both people to acknowledge the way they are and difficult for them to change. Let time pass and ask God to change your hearts.
Play the song The Robe by Wes King
8. Medical support – essential for me along the journey
These included psychologists, medication, my local general practitioner, psychiatrists and psychiatric wards. I have been helped by all of them. I’m not giving advice in relation to any of these, as I know nothing of your situation. If you think you need medical help, seek the appropriate people.
Note: The discipline of psychology has an atheistic foundation as many of the founding fathers were atheists like Sigmund Freud, Skinner, Ivan Pavlov, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. This is why some psychologists have the misguided and harmful view that, if God is speaking to you, it is a sign of mental illness. Thankfully, my psychologist allowed me to share my Christians beliefs without displaying this destructive view. Also, you may come across deceptive practices found in Eastern Religions so it is good to be aware of these deceptions.
9. God works miracles
God does work instantaneous, supernatural miracles (Acts 19:11-12) and I have experienced these. When depressed, it can be hard to see any victories God is bringing about. Sometimes God’s miracles unfold over a period of time. Consider the case of Joseph where, over a period of several years, God turned the evil his brothers did to him for good. (Genesis 50:20).
I would think; “How long will I be in this darkness? Being a man living in a modern western world I preferred God to heal me painlessly, totally and instantly. However, it doesn’t always work that way. We must leave the timing to God; He knows what He is doing.
In my case, the solution to depression and anxiety required major changes in body, soul and spirit and this took time. The devil had so many deceptions, traps and snares that I could not humanly escape as the devil was too strong for me. But the devil is not too strong for Christ! The fact that I survived this very black night is a supernatural miracle. God was guiding me although I had much difficulty seeing this at the time.
10. Support from people around me
Many people have helped me in these dark times, for which I am eternally grateful. These included my family, close friends, acquaintances, work colleagues and my students. Below is an interaction with one of these people.
In one time of desperation, I said to my wife; “That’s it, I’m going” and went to start the car. My wife wrestled with me to take the keys from me saying “Why not come up and have a cup of tea?” The pleadings of my wife prevailed.
Thoughts on forgiveness
It doesn’t seem fair that we have to forgive the person who wronged us. Still, God commands us to forgive (Matthew 6:15). Let’s assume it is your spouse you need to forgive. Once you have forgiven, you may like to start to affirm the things you admire in your spouse. You married your spouse so there must be things you admire! You may also like to confess some of your wrongs (sins) to your spouse. Whatever is happening, forgiveness is an ongoing progress. A useful resource to help with forgiveness is The 5 Love Languages.
* Always check everything against the Word of God.
1 4 William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast, The Banner of Truth, p. 74, 130.
2 David Rolph, I Know My Redeemer Lives (CD).
3 Richard Sibbes, The Bruised Reed, The Banner of Truth Trust, p. 9.