Today I listened to Focus on the Family, a radio broadcast in which Dr. Dobson was interviewing a Christian minister about his experience of depression. He shared many valuable insights into his battle against this illness and was fortunate enough to find a good psychiatrist who helped him back on the road to recovery. At their first meeting the psychiatrist spoke very matter of factly to him assuring him that his ailment was quite common and that many notable persons through history such as Charlotte Bronte and Charles Spurgeon suffered from it. I did a Google search for 'Spurgeon on depression' and arrived at an excellent summary of Spurgeon’s thoughts on the subject in a blog by Christian psychologist and Biblical counselor, Phil Monroe.(http://wisecounsel.wordpress.com/2008/01/29/spurgeon-on-depression/ ) All of us have experienced the ‘black dog’ either in our own lives or through someone we know, but it still seems to carry a taboo in ’Christian’ circles being regarded as some sort of personal failure or weakness. Some evangelical Christians have a medieval attitude to this condition and often dispense such useless advice as ' Memorise Scripture' and 'renounce the devil' more in the spirit of Job's 'comforters' than out of a sympathetic and understanding heart. I had the heartbreaking experience of witnessing my good friend Aidan sink deeper and deeper beneath the weight of his ‘despair’ until at last, it seems he could no longer bear it. These situations confront us with our paucity of compassion not to mention our lack of ability in addressing issues with workable solutions.
Always I will ask , was there more that I could have done, could I have listened more attentively, should I have spent more time encouraging my brother ? These words of Spurgeon are helpful I believe not only because he was a great man of God but because he wrote out of his own painful experience.
ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY
1. Why do we get depressed?
Duh, we’re human. No, he didn’t say, “duh” but we are sons and daughters of Adam and so we know suffering and brokenness.
We all have physical and mental infirmities. “Certain bodily maladies, especially those connected with the digestive organs…Are the fruitful fountains of despondency….As to mental maladies, is any man altogether sane?
The work of christian ministry encourages us to despair when we see sinners sinning all the more boldly
The Christian leader is somewhat lonely by position
“Sedentary habits have a tendency to create despondency in some constitutions.” Studying, reading, etc. He suggests “stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.”
2. When are we likely to get depressed?
Right after a great success, after a “cherished desire is fulfilled.”
Before a great achievement (when we may be tempted to give up)
“In the midst of a long stretch of unbroken labour…” we wear out and despair
When we are betrayed by a beloved
When troubles abound
For unknown reasons. This must not be forgotten. Many depressions may not have a discernible cause. What we do with them is more of the issue. “Causeless depression is not to be reasoned with, nor can David’s harp charm it away by sweet discoursings….One affords himself no pity when in this case, because it seems so unreasonable, and even sinful to be troubled without manifest cause; and yet troubled the man is…”
3. The Lesson:“be not dismayed by soul-trouble.” “Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saint. Live by the day–ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement….Be not surprised when friends fail you: it is a failing world….Between this and heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our covenant Head….Come fair or come foul…be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to trust under the shadow of his wings.”