Christians and depression

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                                                                                          by Colleen Hammermaster

                              Knowing who you are in Christ brings hope

        arol* was a church worker. She had a wonderful          the general population. Scientific studies have also shown
        life…or so people thought. She appeared happy,          that women are more prone to depression. However,
        successful, and had healthy, fulfilling relationships   this is not to suggest that genetics are a primary cause
with others. However, that was just the appearance.             of depression. It is not a case of “bad genes,” although
    The way she felt on the inside was much different           a family history of depression may predispose you to
from the way she appeared. She always felt like she             toward developing clinical depression, particularly if you
wasn’t as good as other people: she wasn’t smart enough,        are under stress.
attractive enough, or successful enough. And to make it             Situational stresses can also precipitate or trigger
worse, she feared others could see she was “less than” in       depression. Specifically, a loss, such as the losses Job
so many ways                                                    suffered, is the most common stress that precipitates
    Her life was filled with fear, worry, and sadness. She      depression. Anger turned inward, guilt, or a blow to your
dreaded being around people because she always felt she         self-image can also trigger depression.
had to prove she was worth something. Often she felt                One thing all the symptoms of depression have in
like she was a big fake, pretending she was something           common is they involve feelings of inadequacy. It attacks
she was not. She worried about the future, because              us at our most vulnerable point: our sense of worth and
there was nothing to look forward to, other than more           our reason for being. If we are not equipped to defend
disappointment and feelings of inadequacy. She felt sad,        our self-worth using Christ’s truth, then we are at risk
tired, and hopeless, and most of the time struggled to get      for depression.
out of bed to face another day of more of the same.             Rooted in Eden
    Carol was suffering from depression.                             We need to begin by acknowledging our legacy of sin
    Depression is a devastating illness which affects the       that plagues us every minute of our existence and began
whole person: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.         with Adam and Eve. Our fall from grace began our legacy
Many with symptoms of depression believe they have              of sin.
some purely physical illness rather than depression. (See            The apostle Paul had an ongoing awareness of his
sidebar page 7)                                                 sinfulness…”I know that nothing good lives in me, that
    It is one of the most common problems people                is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).
experience. Studies show that between ten and twenty                 It is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the
percent of adults in Canada will experience an episode          glory of God.” And that apart from God we are nothing
of depression serious enough that professional help is          and will achieve nothing of good.
necessary.                                                      Our source of worth
    The Bible records the depressive symptoms of                     In Romans 12:3 we read, “For by the grace given me I
people such as Job, Moses, Elijah, David, and Jeremiah.         say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourselves more
Depression is not something new, but what is new is the         highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with
way we look at it and seek and find solutions.                  sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith
How does depression happen?                                     God has given you.” Here, the Bible warns us not to think
   Biochemical changes take place in the human nervous          more highly than we ought. This is not to suggest that we
system during clinical depression.                              should consider our selves as waste or of no value. If we
   Research reveals that relatives of depressed individuals     were a wasted humanity, would God our heavenly father
have a significantly higher incidence of depression than        have sacrificed his only Son as a demonstration of His utter
*not her real name                                              goodness and grace to us, broken, yet redeemable beings?

		THE CANADIAN LUTHERAN    July/August 2007
    We are of great worth to God our Creator, and through              In the Christian world, low self-esteem often translates
Him we can do great things!                                        to “Jesus can’t really use me,” or “I don’t deserve His
    Our self-worth comes not from who we are or what               love.” Or “the spiritual gifts that were given to me by God,
we do, but rather from knowing that we have been totally           aren’t as good as those of other people.” Low self-esteem,
forgiven and fully accepted by the God who planned our             that is central to depression, keeps us focused on self.
existence. It involves a growing awareness of our value            In our feelings of worthlessness we ruminate about our
to God our maker. It is a self-esteem that enables us              inadequacies. It’s still all about me.
to accept unashamedly our strengths and weaknesses,                    And that’s just where Satan wants us to be: in a place
and our capabilities. It includes an awareness that God is         that keeps us from serving God using all of the special
transforming us from the inside out.                               gifts and abilities to serve Him in a unique way.
    You are a special creation of a good and all powerful          Satan and depression
God. You are the climax of His                                                                    Satan likes nothing better
creation. You are created in His                                                              than to render Christians
image, with capacities to think,       A healthy self-image is                                ineffective through depression.
feel, and worship that set you
above all other life forms.
                                     seeing yourself as God sees                              The apostle Peter stated that
                                                                                              Satan walks about like a roaring
    Pe o p l e i n a s t a t e o f     you—no more, no less.                                  lion seeking whom he may
depression lack this basic and                                                                devour, and one way he attacks
necessary truth. (Sometimes                                                                   us, is robbing us of the Truth,
those who grow up in a dysfunctional home, believe—or              of who God made us to be. Satan has a vested interest in
have been told—they are worthless, and that nothing is             separating us from the love of God, as he tries to rob of any
good about them. This is where Satan creeps in to begin            sense of identity and purpose.
to create the distorted thoughts, beliefs and feelings that            Satan lashes out in ways that are familiar to all of
one day become depression.)                                        us. He tells us we are not good enough; we must do
    This is not to say we are good in and of ourselves. The        more—of everything (busy bee) or do better (or perfect)
problem arises when we try to feel good about ourselves            in everything (perfectionist). Only then will we feel good
based on who we are, what we’ve done, our status, or               about ourselves.
what we own. A healthy self-image is seeing yourself as                Evil Satan knows that if we believe the lie that we
God sees you—no more, no less.                                     must do it all, we will soon face failure, because we are
    Neither should we be proud and indulge in self-love.           limited and can’t do all! In the meantime we lose sight
We don’t want to become like so much of our self-absorbed          of God’s plan for us, and become caught up in ourselves
society. In the 70s and 80s the self-help psychology               and our need to prove something by worshipping the idea
movement misdirected people to focus completely on                 of “more.” We end up defeated, and alienated from God,
themselves and their own happiness, and be as far away             and too exhausted to offer any service to Christ. We end
from Jesus as possible. Jesus doesn’t want us to be self-          up depressed, paralyzed and unable to serve.
absorbed; He wants us to be totally “other-absorbed.”                  The same thing happens as we strive toward

                             Four major symptoms of clinical depression.
   1.	Sad	Affect	 A depressed person looks sad. He or she          on gasoline. Biochemical changes have physical results: the
 cries often or feels like crying. She looks tired, discouraged,   body movements of the depressed person usually decrease.
 or dejected. She will often lose interest in her personal         The quality of sleep is affected (either difficulty falling asleep,
 appearance. Even if he or she tries to hide the depression        or more often waking up too early, and unable to fall back
 by smiling, it still shows.                                       asleep). Appetite is also often affected, by eating either
   2. Negative	 and	 Distorted	 Thinking – A depressed             too much or too little, with resulting weight gain or loss.
 person’s thinking is very inward-focused in a derogatory way.     Gastrointestinal problems relate to appetite changes, and
 She ruminates over past mistakes; worrying over past wrongs       upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation often occur. The
 and future situations. She believes she is inadequate—not         menstrual cycle may stop for months, or may be irregular.
 good enough; smart enough (dumb), attractive enough (fat          Tension headaches are common in depressed individuals.
 and ugly) or not successful enough (lazy).                        People often think they have a physical disorder, such as
   In her negativity about herself, she expects others will        hypoglycemia (low blood sugars), rather than depression
 also see her as “less than,”—not measuring up to what             because of their physical symptoms, and many would
 they expect. As a result she feels rejected and unloved. In       actually prefer to have a physical illness to save face.
 essence, the depressed person has an overwhelming sense             4. Anxiety – A fourth major symptom of depression is
 of inadequacy and feelings of worthlessness—as if she is a        anxiety or agitation. Anxiety and depression usually occur
 nobody.                                                           together. The person is often more irritable than usual. They
   3.	 Physical	 Symptoms – Actual biochemical changes             worry about everything, and expect negative outcomes, and
 take place in the human nervous system during clinical            as the depression increases, so does the agitation.
 depression. Our brain runs on serotonin the way cars run                                                                        C.H.

                                                                                     THE CANADIAN LUTHERAN July/August 2007          7
impossible perfection. Perfection is an arrogant state of
being, because we all are sinners. We can’t live without
making mistakes, hurting others, and falling short. To
                                                                   Luther on depression
                                                                     For Luther, depression involved a complex interplay of
pretend that we can do things according to the ideal, is to        spiritual, social and cognitive factors. In the spiritual realm
ignore the fact that we are sinners. It is like saying “I don’t    Luther recognized Satan’s role. Being the “accuser of the
need God and the sacrifice of His Son.” Or it is an attempt        brethren,” Satan causes Christians to dwell on past sins.
to find some sense of self-worth through the quality of our        Such thoughts induce melancholy and despair. Concerning
accomplishments. But this is also misdirected, because             Matthias Weller’s depressive thoughts, Luther wrote, “Know
our self-worth comes not from who we are or what we                that the devil is tormenting you with them, and that they
accomplish, but because of Christ’s love for us, who He            are not your thoughts but the cursed devil’s, who cannot
made us to be, and the things He accomplishes using us             bear to see us have joyful thoughts.”
as His instruments.                                                  Luther recognized a spiritual truth about depression. One
    Again, as Satan strives to rob us of the truth, we are         can expect Satan’s persistence until faith is destroyed, but
paralyzed by our fear of not being good enough, and                in the midst of depression God is with us. He never leaves
therefore do nothing—just what Satan wants.                        us alone. In the midst of trouble He draws near to us.
    We prevent and fight depression by relying on the              Sometimes the invisible God draws near through visible
Truth. Scripture tells us what to believe and what is True,        people, and they become the bearers of God’s comforting
and we see in Scripture that God doesn’t expect us to be           and strengthening words to troubled souls. What’s more,
perfect. Our worth is already recognized in the eyes of            God seeks to assure us of His love and esteem. And through
God our Father, and fortunately He does not measure                His Word, He counters Satan’s lies with His truth.
our value based on how much we do or how perfect we                     by Tony Headly, professor of counselling at Asbury Theological
are. He is the author of the Truth. He already knows that          Seminary, licensed psychologist and author of Achieving Balance in
we can’t do it all or we can’t do it perfectly, after all, we       Ministry (Beacon Hill Press, 1999). This is excerpted from an article
are limited sinful human beings. And that’s why he sent             published in Light and Life Magazine, November/December 2001.
his only Son as a sacrifice for our sins, inadequacies, and                                                          Used by permission.
imperfections. Let’s not ignore this precious sacrifice in
our misdirected attempts to redeem ourselves by trying
to be perfect, by trying to do it all, or by trying to be more    article, to equip you in the battle against forces that
than we really are. Here is the key: “Be who God made             contribute to depression.
you to be.”                                                       1 Seek the Truth as established by the Word of God
Your unique Christian identity                                        Divine healing is based on Christ’s truth—knowing
    God created us to do something, and that something is         living it. We are sinners, and as such imperfect human
a little different for each of us. We are not carbon copies       beings but, God has plans for us, and at our birth equipped
of each other, but rather He gave us different, special           us to serve Him, each in special and unique ways. This
and unique gifts to use in His service. This is not to            is the basis of our identity and purpose. The basis of our
suggest that one person is                                                                         self-worth is who we are
better than another, but we                                                                        in Christ, not the meagre
were meant to serve God             Be who God made                      you to be                 things we do.
in a unique way, based on                                                                          2 Realize that no one is
the unique gifts He gave                                                                           perfect
us. We don’t have to do it all and serve God in all ways.             Everyone sins and makes mistakes, falling “short of
Someone else will use their specific gifts to do their piece      the Glory of God.” In 1 John 1:8 it says, “If we say that
of the puzzle. Just as Paul wrote about everyone being            we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not
part of the body of Christ; we are not all left hands. You        in us.” However, that is no reason to give up and give in
are a left hand, another a right leg, and another is pair         to depression. Our sinfulness should not be the focus of
of eyes.                                                          our lives, either. We need to know our sin and learn from
Overcoming depression                                             it. We need to confess it to Christ, and as He offers us the
    For some people, antidepressant medications may be            gift of forgiveness, accept His gift. Accepting the gift of
recommended as part of the treatment for depression.              forgiveness means we forgive ourselves.
This is a personal decision, and does not suggest personal        3 Stop trying to do it all
weakness or a lack of faith. In fact, for some people,                Since we are not perfect, we cannot do it all. When
antidepressants may be required to bring the person’s level       we try, we are destined for burnout, failure, anxiety
functioning to a place where they are able to think clearly       and depression. When we behave like we must do it all,
and work through the cognitive, emotional, physical, and          we are demonstrating an unhealthy arrogance and self-
spiritual challenges of depression. The point is, however,        centredness. We are not capable of doing it all, and there
that to “overcome” depression one needs to attack the             are others parts of the body of Christ that are intended and
problem of depression at its root, and is the focus of this                                        Depression: continued on page 28

		THE CANADIAN LUTHERAN     July/August 2007
                                                        Education Report
LCC	places	teachers	                                  Honours	from	university	college
WINNIPEG - Three 2007 graduates                       EDMONTON - During its May 12             The Judith C. Meier Excellence in
of Concordia University College’s                     convocation, which saw 344 students      Teaching Award was awarded to
Education After-degree program have                   receive undergraduate and                           Dr. Richard Kraemer, who
received placements in LCC schools.                   graduate degrees, Concordia                         has taught at Concordia
• Charolotte Mackin: Prince of Peace,                 University College of                               University College since
Calgary                                               Alberta also presented                              1977 even while serving
• Nicole Otterman: St. Matthew,                       several awards. Douglas                             as president for 17 years.
Stony Plain, Alta.                                    Goebel of Leduc, Alta.,                             Rev. Alvin Borchardt of
• Andrea Trembly: Concordia,                          received the Distinguished                          Neepawa, Man., received
Penticton, B.C.                                       Alumni Award for his community           The Christo et Ecclesiae Award for
   The teacher candidates were                        involvement. The Distinguished           his service to Lutheran Church—
featured in the May/June edition.                     Service Award was presented to Dr.       Canada. The medal was also awarded
                                                      Arlen Salte of Sherwood Park. Dr.        to Rev. Dr. Harold Haberstock pastor
LCMS	candidate	and	                                   Salte, a member of Bethel Lutheran       of Redeemer Lutheran Church,
                                                      Church, founded Break Forth              Creston, B.C., for service to his
vicars	placed	in	LCC                                  Ministries which has grown to            community and to the health care field.
Rev.	Stephen	Omoregie	                                become the largest worship training                                   Russ Medvedev
(Concordia Seminary, St. Louis)                       event of its kind in North America.            Concordia University College of Alberta
Church of the Good Shepherd/
Loving Saviour Lutheran,
Barrie, Ont.
                   After earning                      Depression continued from page 8
                   a    PhD         in
                   agriculture from                   better equipped to do other parts of     opposites. Pride focuses on oneself,
                   the Agricultural                   God’s work. Our job is to do the part    and living for oneself. Self-worth is
                   Scientific and                     God specifically equipped us for.        acknowledging the gifts God gave
                   Research Institute                 4 Recognize your God-given gifts and     you, and using them in His service.
                   i n A l m a t y,                   start using them                         Know the truth
                   Kazakhstan,                            At your birth, God made you              Depression’s triggers shake us
                   Stephen entered                    uniquely you. It is important for you    off balance so we become confused
                   C o n c o rd i a                   to know who God made you to be           and lose our healthy Christian
                   S e m i n a r y, S t .             and the specific purpose He has for      perspective. Our Christian Truth,
                   Louis, Mo.,                        you. Satan works hard to convince us     the Truth that tells us who we are
graduating in 2005. His vicarage was                  we are not special, and if we believe    and why we are here is lost. If you
at All Nations Lutheran in Memphis,                   him he has succeeded in robbing us       are not clear in who Christ made
Tenn. Stephen and Olga have two                       of the way God wants us to serve         you to be and why you are here
children: stepson Yan Kosals (17),                    him. Often people need help seeing       in this life, you are vulnerable to
and Helga (8). Stephen enjoys                         how God made them unique. That’s         depression. Without Christ’s Truth
reading, travelling, watching soccer,                 when Christian counselling can be        as the centre of your universe, it all
and playing table and lawn tennis.                    helpful. Or turn to your friends, or     seems pointless, and hopeless.
Olga enjoys sewing, gardening,                        look at your life’s history.                 As a Christian psychologist, I
cooking and care giving.                              5 Change the way you talk to             believe that to stand strong and able
                                                      yourself                                 to withstand the risk of falling into
                                                          There is no point to constant,       depression, or to pull yourself out of
                                                      negative, critical thinking. When we     a depression that has already taken
                                                      constantly criticize ourselves, we are   hold, you need to know who you are
                                                      criticizing God’s workmanship, and       in Christ and why you are here. This
                                                      suggesting that God made a mistake       gives you all the purpose, meaning,
                                                      by creating us. We end up feeling        direction, and fulfilment you need
                                                      hopeless and alienated from God. We      to focus your life and to live as a
                                                      end up depressed.                        healthy, committed servant of God.
 Na t h a n Fu e h re r       Christopher LaBoube     6 Increase self-esteem
 (Concordia                   (Concordia Seminary,        See yourself as God sees you;
 Seminary, Ft. Wayne,                                                                          Dr. 	 Colleen 	 Hammer mas ter is a
                              Ft. Wayne, Ind.)
 I n d . ) St . P a u l s ,   First Lutheran,         no more and no less. Don’t confuse       counselling psychologist in Edmonton. She is
 Saskatoon.                   Windsor, Ont.           “pride” with self-worth; they are        a member of Riverbend Lutheran Church.

2		THE CANADIAN LUTHERAN                July/August 2007