I have a friend who likes to say, “Shared sorrow is endurable sorrow.” He’s right. It’s painful to walk through a season of loss, discouragement, or depression, but this pain is magnified when we can’t share our sorrows with at least a few others.
So, how do we cultivate a church culture where those struggling with depression are safe to share this struggle honestly and find help to endure—a place where “shared depression can be endurable depression”?
To start, we must debunk two related but distinct myths that, when prevalent among Christians, lead to a church culture that isolates those struggling.
Myth #1: Christians Shouldn’t Get Depressed
In a 2018 article for CNN, LaKeisha Fleming wrote, “I never expected to become depressed. I thought being a Christian, relying on faith, would garner me immunity from ever having that experience.” Like Fleming, we’ve developed a Christian culture where it’s often assumed that faith is always buoyant, happy, and celebratory. In the words of a popular Christian radio station tagline, we tend to assume faith is always “positive and encouraging”.
But the truth is that faith expresses itself in a wide range of emotions. Faith can celebrate the generosity of God (Ps. 67), but it can also groan under the pain of disease (Ps. 38). Faith can rejoice in God’s purposes in creation (Ps. 33), but it can also grieve the devastation of sin in God’s good world (Ps. 53). Even Psalm 88, the darkest of them all, is an expression of faith; Heman expresses his despair to God. To be a Christian does not necessarily mean the absence of depression; it means we look to Christ in our joy and in our deep pain.
Myth #2: A Depressed Christian Is Spiritually Immature
In contrast to the first myth, this one says that, yes a Christian can be depressed, but the depression means they must be spiritually immature. Either their faith isn’t very strong, they are easily prone to believing lies, or they are swayed easily by their feelings rather than standing firm in the truth.
But we need to remember that the same apostle who said, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Phil. 4:4) also wrote about his great despair when he was in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8-9). About Paul’s experience, scholar N.T. Wright once said,
“It’s bad enough to hear a magistrate declare that you are sentenced to death; it’s far worse when a voice deep inside yourself tells you that you might as well give up and die. That is the point Paul had reached, the point where the night had become totally dark and all hope of dawn had disappeared.”
We wouldn’t dare to assert that the Apostle Paul was spiritually immature, would we? Or what about Elijah (1 Kings 18-19), the psalmist who wrote Psalms 42-43, or Asaph (Psalm 77)?
A Refuge For the Depressed
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our church was known as a place of refuge for the depressed? Banishing these two myths from our minds is a good place to start. Rather than assuming that real Christians won’t get depressed, or that those who do must be spiritually inferior, let’s sit with our brothers and sisters in their pain, listen with compassion, and share their sorrow in a way that helps them endure