Today’s topic has real potential to rile up the spiritual hall monitors. I expect I will hear from many of them. Recently I talked to a pastor about depression and anti-depressants. He was resisting trying medication for his struggles because he felt he wouldn’t be having these problems if he were a “better” Christian. Some folks had told him that he should trust God with his sadness. I agree. But there is sometimes more to the issue and we, as fellow sojourners in Christ, do a disservice if we merely give depressed friends the “buck-up and do better” pep talk. The old give hundred and ten percent for Jesus challenge can make a sad and lonely person feel even lower and more worthless.
I have some experience with this topic. I am medicated and unrepentant. For years I went through emotional ups and downs that my wife described as my “funks”. She walked on relational eggshells when I was going through these moods. Finally I agreed to try medication. Within two weeks my bride turned to me one morning and uttered a sentence I will never forget.
“I like you again.”
She had never stopped loving me but I had become difficult to like at times. That was several years ago. I am delighted to report that she still loves and still generally likes me. Hey, it’s not a miracle drug!
The medication did a couple of things. It leveled out my moods and helped me to not obsess about problems or problem people. I have since researched the ADD brain and found that my brain scan would look different from most people. Regular readers of these humble ramblings just had a joint response.
Really? You are not normal? Who knew?
Moodiness and depression is often caused by brain chemistry that goes askew. In my case the chemical messenger seratonin was not properly regulated. The medication corrected that with pretty amazing results. Not only did my wife like me more (which was a rather huge benefit) but it also helped me discern which struggles were spiritual battles and which ones were simply brain chemistry issues. That was one of the most liberating experiences in my journey. For years I felt so guilty that I couldn’t shake these emotional blahs by trying harder to trust God with my mood. When my brain chemistry playing field was leveled I could recognize when the problem was truly in my heart.
My pattern before was predictable. Get sad. Try harder. Feel guilty. Listen to the old tapes telling me that I always do this and I always will. Get dog piled by Satan. Withdraw into hiddenness and sadness and grumpiness. Hard to imagine why my wife didn’t like me much during those times.
There will be some who read this and will judge me without knowing a thing about me. They will be muttering that if I really trusted God or understood doctrine like they understand it then I wouldn’t need the crutch of medication. I think they are full of something less than grace.
Depression can be many things. Medication may not be the answer for everyone and it is not the only tool in the healing toolkit. But it can be a tool that is helpful. I would ask those who are so critical of these medications to answer this question.
If your cholesterol is too high does it show a lack of trust in God to take medication to lower those levels? Could God not lower your LDL level without the crutch of medication if you simply trusted more? I absolutely believe that God can do that. But I would still do what is medically prudent while believing that God is ultimately in control of my health. My brain chemistry is stable enough to know that just makes sense.
Why is brain chemistry viewed as being different from any other medical condition? I suspect that many who do not struggle with this issue find it easy to believe it is not real. But I can testify that for some people it is real. My cholesterol is excellent. I wonder how that person with bad LDL levels would respond if I judged their cholesterol issue as showing a lack of faith and discipline?
“Why don’t you mix in some vegetables and trust God to push away from the dessert buffet once in a while? And by the way, don’t be afraid to trust Him to lift your keister off the couch and get some exercise!”
I think some might take offense to that approach. Yet that is how those who deal with the confusing issue of depression feel when people judge their lack of faith to overcome their blues.
Every person who wanders if their struggles might be a brain chemistry issue should find a competent and trusted doctor to evaluate their particular situation. I distrust any doctor who is like an anti-depressant Pez dispenser. Ask those who love you and have your back what they think. One of my issues before medication was an inability to see myself accurately.
Some people need medication and counseling. Some need counseling alone. We all need to be loved and nurtured through God’s Word to walk through the valleys of life. Paul told us to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”. We need to walk alongside those who are sad and lonely and depressed. And I know that is not easy.
My heart is sad when I see people who are too proud to seek help. Some are deluded by well meaning Christians to believe that trying medication shows a lack of faith. In the current issue of Christianity Today Joel Scandrett writes these words.
Antidepressants are a boon to those who truly need them, but they are not a panacea for the human condition.
Well said. You need to trust Jesus for forgiveness of sin. You need to understand that you are a new creature in Christ and that the Holy Spirit gives you the power to overcome sin. But don’t let a physical condition hinder your spiritual growth because of lack of understanding or pride. The medication helps me. What helps the most is the truth of God’s Word.
God is (my) refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble. (Psalm 46, NLT)
Amen. And to all of the spiritual all monitors I regret to inform you that my cyber mailbox is full. What unfortunate timing.