The rate of antidepressant use in the United States rose by 400 percent between 1988 and 2008, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here are some reasons why:
- There is much more awareness these days of mental illnesses.
- The prevalence of frosted flakes, Big Macs, and other processed foods in our diets.
- The increase of environmental toxins in the world
- The lack of human connectedness and interdependence, especially amongst young adults, thanks to video games, iPads, texting, and other technological advances that take us away from face-to-face personal interaction.
- The breakdown of family and social structures and community support. More and more people are becoming loners.
- And the biggest one of all: increased stress in our lives, including lost jobs, family breakups, and wars and rumors of wars.
Owen Barfield wrote of C. S. Lewis: “At a certain stage in his life, he deliberately ceased to take any interest in himself…I suggest what began as deliberate choice became at length (as he no doubt always intended it should) an ingrained and effortless habit of soul.
C. S. Lewis had reasons to be depressed – a languishing career at Oxford, a contentious old woman he took care of in his home, his brother an alcoholic, and the death of his beloved wife to cancer. But his life was not found in the circumstances of his life. He discovered his greater self in Jesus Christ and the people in his life. Forgetting yourself is a good antidote to depression and other dark places.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize is a folk song that became popular during the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. It could just as well be a marching song for following Jesus.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21 that, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In the previous verse He admonishes His disciples to “store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven.” The notes in my wide-margin Bible, dated November 7, 2006, ask Jesus to let me see only heaven that day. I was in the early stages of depression at the time, with the worst to follow. It was like having a cold that later turned into pneumonia. What seeing only heaven meant at that time, I didn’t know, but I learned it in the crucible of my suffering.
God did not cause my depression, but He allowed it, and in the darkness He taught me that He was the light to bring me out of depression. I was in the classroom of depression for four years before the lesson was firmly learned – to keep my eyes on the prize through good times and bad. My graduation present was His leading me out of the most horrible affliction I’ve ever experienced.
“Who are you, Lord?” Paul asked on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. This was in response to the voice of Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Five verses later, the Lord spoke to Ananias, and he answered, “Yes, Lord.” The one answered God’s question with a question and the other with humble submission.
As I stumbled and bumbled through four years of depression, I often asked the wrong question: “Why are You persecuting me, Lord?” I was not responding to God but shouting in the wilderness with no one to hear me. It didn’t happen all at once, but eventually I opened the door of my soul to God’s question: “Are you willing to follow me even in the darkest of depression?” I answered, “Yes, Lord,” and finally followed Him no matter the circumstances or afflictions. I was willing to serve Him in depression for the rest of my life, but He chose to heal me, not because I deserved it but because He’s merciful.
Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 6 not to take things personally but to forgive others who sin against you. He exemplified His advice when He forgave those who crucified Him.
I once tutored a college student who took everything personally – to an extreme. Her life was a mess. When something good happened to her, she felt good. When bad things came her way, she went into a pit of her own making. Her life was all on the surface, like the rind of an orange. It was as if she were undeveloped on the inside. One day she committed suicide.
Robert O’Donnell was a paramedic who saved a young girl fallen into a well. He was famous, and he loved all the attention. When the attention ended, he fell himself – into clinical depression. Eight years after his 15 minutes of fame, he shot himself.
The spirit of depression lurks about fame and fortune. Finish college, and depression waits. Have a baby, earn your first million, win a lottery ticket; the list goes on and on. Ambrose Bierce wrote: “achievement is the death of endeavor and the birth of disgust.”
This lurking depression doesn’t strike everyone who achieves fame or fortune: it strikes those who find meaning outside themselves. An inside meaning is the way to keep depression away. God loves you whether you are a success or a failure. You are His son or daughter. Now that’s real fame and fortune, the kind that sticks with you in all the ups and downs of life.
The fear of the Lord is as unpopular a topic these days as the consequences of sin and eternal damnation. But the Bible says it’s the beginning of wisdom and leads us to life.
To me, the fear of God is like a stoplight that protects me from danger, or a bumper guard on a bowling alley that keeps my ball out of the gutter, or a life jacket that prevents me from drowning in stormy waters.
For those living in depression or other dark places, the fear of the Lord can keep them focused on the promises of God as they obey Him. We’re not to give in to wallowing in self-pity or blaming God for our affliction. We’re to trust in the One who can bring us out of the darkness and keep us safe while we’re in it. As Job said, “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.” That’s the prayer of a God-fearing man.