Dealing with Depression (1 Kings 19:9-18)

There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (New International Version)

The prophet Elijah was downright exhausted – so much so, that he became debilitatingly depressed.

After being alone for long stretches of time, always vigilant to watch out for those who sought his life, experiencing an intense victory against some truly evil folks, and then back to being on high alert, Elijah was done.

Depression is real. It isn’t limited to a certain personality trait, and it isn’t in itself sin. It just is. More than half of people in the United States with serious depression, and even more worldwide, do not receive or will not get adequate help. 

So, if you are reading this as a depressed person, or are wondering how to help someone you care for who is depressed, it is imperative that you get help immediately. A blog post on such an important subject can really only encourage you, and somehow inspire you, to take the brave and bold step of seeking the assistance you need. 

Severe depression is profoundly crippling and is as important to deal with as prostate cancer; both can kill you on the inside even though no one knows on the outside.

I myself have experienced two major depressions in the course of my life. I’ve also had a few kidney stones. I’m told the pain of a kidney stone is like childbirth.  I don’t know about the childbirth thing, but I do know that I would rather experience a dozen kidney stones, at once, than go through another severe depression. I got help, and it changed my life. 

Depression is exactly what the name implies: a depressing or a stuffing of feelings – particularly the emotion of anger. I was so good at packing down my emotions that one night, many years ago when our neighbor had a blow-out of a party at 2am in the morning, I actually felt no anger. Just so you know: that’s not healthy. I had an anger problem. Not the kind where you explode, but just the opposite – the kind where you stuff every negative feeling in the book.

Recovery for me looked a lot like what Elijah experienced. I needed to acknowledge what was actually inside of me and begin sitting with those unwanted emotions. And I need to tell you that what was inside me wasn’t at all pretty. 

Like a wound that needs peroxide, dealing with depression hurt like hell. But I couldn’t heal without it. I couldn’t go around it, or avoid it; I had to go through it. Eventually, I learned to not only identify my feelings, but to own them and take charge of them. 

I discovered I could choose to say how I feel without apology, and I could say it all in a way that helped others, as well as myself. Holy Scripture calls it speaking the truth in love.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Psalm 32:8, NIV

Waiting for the perfect time to deal with depression will only result in deeper despondency. You are not responsible for what others may say or do, and you cannot control other people’s decisions and responses to you – trying to do so is manipulative and only creates more problems. 

Elijah wasn’t alone in dealing with depression. David and Jeremiah went through some very difficult days of being depressed. Even Jesus became stressed and despondent. But none of them stayed there, and their experiences changed not only themselves but readers of God’s Word throughout history. 

It only makes sense to tell a trusted spiritual leader, friend, or relative how you are really feeling. One does not crawl out of the abyss of darkness that is depression without some sage people surrounding the person. They can offer wise counsel, focused prayer, and careful application of Scripture. 

This is one reason why church ministry exists, so let the church do its redemptive work. So, may the clouds roll away into the hope of a new tomorrow.

Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people: Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from depression; bear their sorrows and their care; supply all their needs; help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you; and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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