Depression, Sin, and the Church

I stared down at the table.

I had no response.

Was the comment indirectly directed at me?

There was no point arguing. The meeting was for a different purpose than discussing mental illness and the Christian. And I was too tired, anyway.

My sister in Christ believed what she was speaking was truth. If she knew the depths to which depression took me, would she doubt I was her sister?

The argument of the article was that chemical imbalance as a cause of depression is a fallacy, and antidepressants are worse than useless. If chemical imbalances are real, and antidepressants balance the chemicals in the brain, then it wouldn’t take months for there to be an improvement in mood.

It was before lamotrigine stopped me from crashing into the depths. It was before the nice police officer gave me the choice of letting my husband take me to an emergency room of our choice, or being taken in a police car to whichever one he saw fit.

Which was also the day all the women around that table decided to come together and send my family food and thoughtful little gifts to support my family.

And me.

 

The church is often ill-equipped to deal with people in a mental health crisis. I’ve written about that here on Defying Shadows and on my blog Fruit of Brokenness.

Many local churches are also bad at helping people who are struggling with mental disorders. Churches often do not know how to provide the best spiritual and emotional care, and sometimes avoid referring for necessary medical intervention.

There’s still a current of suspicion and blame running through the church.

I recently heard of an elderly woman who began suffering from depression, and sought counsel from her pastor. His stance on depression was that it was a symptom of unconfessed sin. He gave her Scripture to study and, basically, sent her home with an admonition to examine her heart and repent.

It turned out she had a brain tumor that was affecting her brain’s ability to regulate emotion.

While not all physical causes of depression are so cut-and-dried and medically obvious, it is dangerous for the church to disregard depression and anxiety disorders as merely spiritual issues.

For whatever reason, I have a glitch in my brain that can completely knock me sideways and throw me down into a pit so dark I believe that everyone close to me, or whomever I may ever encounter, is better off without me. I feel utterly toxic.

My delusion is that I am beyond the reach of God’s grace. I believe He has turned His back on me because I am unfaithful. Isn’t despair a clear indication of lack of faith? How can someone who claims to have a relationship with God, who is Light, get lost in the dark?

 

While it is wrong to reduce depression to merely a spiritual issue, it is also unhelpful to ignore the spiritual component of mental health.

We’re not one-dimensional, and our approach to mental health treatment and maintenance shouldn’t be, either.

People like me should be able to find spiritual and emotional support in the church. The care provided should be compassionate, but not enabling. It should not judge, but should challenge enough to encourage spiritual growth. It should see sound psychiatric treatment as its partner in helping the individual, not as its rival, or as its alternative when it feels out of its depth.

 

My reality… Depression and anxiety are an almost daily struggle for me.

When I am conscientious in all areas of health – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – I give my brain its best chance to operate at that moment’s highest level possible.

But we all know how life keeps us busy enough that we choose to let healthy habits slide. And, let’s face it, part of battling depression is finding motivation to overcome the apathy that makes us just not care that making an effort might help.

 

It’s clear from the Psalms that choosing our way over God’s way – yes, I mean choosing to sin, because no matter how much modern and post-modern thought wants to reject the notion, it’s real – can cause depression. There are times our heart needs a thorough cleaning-out to get our perspective and mood back in order.

But it’s usually more complex than that. Regardless of the cause, laying the blame squarely at the feet of someone in crisis is not helping him or her.

 

While depression is not proof of an individual’s sin, it is true that sin is the root cause of depression. As it is true that sin is where all disease and suffering come from. We live in a fallen world, under the curse of humanity’s choice to choose our wisdom over God’s.

It’s a terrible truth that seems hopeless. But God did not leave us alone to suffer.

 

Because of grace, I can fully embrace all of me. Though I live with brokenness and the pain of mental illness, even that is redeemed. As I yield to God all that I am and all that I’ve experienced, He uses it for His glory, others’ benefit, and my own healing. Though I am broken, I am whole.

 

Melinda-VanRyMelinda VanRy writes about mental illness and faith on her Fruit of Brokenness blog. She wants everyone to know they have inestimable worth, though she often fails to believe it for herself. Bouts of severe depression have nearly destroyed her but instead make her stronger and give her a desire to help others who struggle with mental illness and faith as she does. Melinda lives in New York with her husband, their three kids, and more cats than she ever wanted. If you’re thinking big city, don’t. The VanRy family makes their home in rural Central New York. Way closer to Canada than New York City. And not far from Lake Ontario, which she loves.

3 thoughts on “Depression, Sin, and the Church

  1. I so very much appreciate your honesty and down in the dirt truths Melinda. I cannot tell you how many times reading your words has been the exact “medicine” I’ve needed to remember that I am NOT terminally unique and I am NEVER outside of God’s awareness and love! I pray when Aaron and I return to NY we might be able to meet up and perhaps I can share with you a ministry in the church God has been laying on my heart. Please don’t stop blogging… I need the “medicine” God speaks from YOUR heart! I love you Sister of my Heart!

    1. Thank you, Claudia. “Terminally unique”… Yes. Depression makes us feel that way, doesn’t it? That no one could understand, that no one could care about us if they really knew us, that we are hopelessly different from “normal” people and excluded from fellowship…

      I look forward to hearing what’s on your heart.

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