The way I see it, when life feels too hard to handle, you have five options:
- Give up and die
- Numb the pain with addictions or obsessions
- Take medication
- Seek help from others
- Seek God
(Or some combination of those.)
I’ve listed “give up and die” as number 1, not because it’s the best option, but because that’s where my mind automatically goes when life gets overwhelming. (That’s hard to admit to an Adventist audience, after having published an Adventist book about “Overcoming Depression.” But so be it. This is Ending Pretending, and it’s time to be real.)
Fifteen years ago, depressed and desperate to end my life, “give up and die” is what I tried to do. Thankfully, my suicide attempt failed and I lived to try the other options…all of which have served me better or worse at different times.
The most important thing I want to tell you, though—or what I have learned over these fifteen years as a failed suicide case—is this:
- The suggestion to “give up and die” is from Satan, and it is a lie (John 8:44)
- My life is not too hard for my God to handle—and He promises to “supply all my needs,” (Phil. 4:19), whatever they may be—whatever it takes for me to handle my depression.
What does it take to handle a life overwhelmed with depression?
First, of course, it always takes God. We in the church have heard this all our lives, haven’t we? Pray more. Read more. Just have more faith. These are some of the things church people say. And I’ve said them too. I tell them to myself. (Sometimes with great guilt because I am “failing.”)
But what if we can’t find or feel God? What if Scripture blurs before our eyes when we try to read it? Or what if we have some life situation (depression, or a new baby, or both, for instance), that has left us incapable of reading the Bible, or praying, either because we can’t focus, or we’re exhausted, or [insert your reason].
Sometimes that advice to Pray more. Read more. Just have more faith…really hurts. Because we can’t take that advice.
At different stages in my life, I have found that, sometimes, before I can seek God and receive Him in the traditional sense—prayer and Scripture reading—I need some preliminary needs met, like shelter, sleep, or a “sound mind.”
Note these three different points of depression or overwhelm in my life, the different needs I had at those times, and the three different approaches I took:
Age 19: As a college freshman, I hit rock bottom and attempted suicide. After five years and a parade of different medications failed to help my mood, I stopped taking them and turned to food and obsessive behaviors, like excessive cleaning and exercising to numb my pain. (Option 2)
At that time, one of my greatest needs was the security of a family. (My childhood family had broken up when I was fourteen). And in my pathetic, depressed state, I prayed for a husband, and God gave me one—and loving Christian in-laws besides. Never having dealt with my grief at my first broken family, I continued to hide depression for the next six years…but the support of my second family kept me “functioning” (in school, job, and church) and got me to the next step in life.
Age 25: As a stressed rookie high school teacher, I faced a devastating family situation that drove me to my knees. I was tempted to fall far into my depression, but I fell into God’s Word and prayer instead, and in the span of three weeks, experienced a life-changing breakthrough: I felt God’s peace amidst my chaos; after ten years of unrelenting depression, I was a new woman on fire for God! All without medication.
Age 33: I’m currently a stay-at-home mom of two boys (2 and 4 years old), and right now I am reeling from an avalanche of life transitions. Since my babies were born, not only have we moved away from our support system in Texas, but my husband has also lost the job we moved for. Oh, and for the past three years, we’ve been traveling every two months (or more) with the kids for said job—making it hard for us to find or maintain a family rhythm—also making it hard to develop a new support system.*
Over these last few years, because I’m a perfectionist, I’ve tried to control our chaotic lives more and more…only to end up angry, rage-y, and anxious…to the point where I could not function, could not sleep, and could not parent my kids. For their sakes, in October of 2017, I sought my doctor and option 3: medication. I am taking my first antidepressants in fifteen years—this time to manage anxiety.
Does this make me a woman of little faith? A failure as a Christian? I hope not.
Since being born again at age twenty-five, I’ve desperately desired to be the “perfect Christian.” But these last few years of continual travel, poor sleep, hazy focus, and crying kids (sometimes day and night) have summarily shown me that I’m desperately imperfect—and I still, and will always, desperately need God to be in control. As we all do.
Right now my husband’s job is ending in two months, and we don’t yet have another job, or home, lined up. Right now, post holidays and post travels, I am struggling to get back to healthy eating, exercise, devotions, and writing to manage my stress and anxiety…and, frankly, on top of caring for my kids, looking for a house, and looking for a job, it feels like too much to handle. Moreover, it’s hard to take the best advice I know: seek God (in the traditional sense of deep Bible study and extended prayer).
Guys, right now, seeking God for me sometimes looks like this:
Throughout the day, I pray: “God, help!”
Mid-afternoon: I might take a Xanax so I can keep from exploding on my kids
Bedtime: I bypass my Bible because I’m too tired…
And I fall into bed because, man, I can’t function unless I get some sleep!
But as I drift off, I pray God will refresh me before morning and provide time to spend with Him…
And I don’t know if I’ll wake up early enough to read His Word in the morning. I really don’t. (Maybe it’s time to get over the Mom/Christian guilt already… little kids can keep crazy hours, and our lives are in high transition!) But what I do know is that tomorrow is a new day; every day He wakes me; and every day—whether it’s sleep, a friend to talk to, or simply survival—God provides what I most need to cope with my stress, depression, and/or anxiety (Phil 4:19). He’s done it in the past, and I have every confidence He’ll do it again.
Three Scriptures to Claim When Life (and Prayer) Feels Hard
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[b] with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26)
It shall come to pass that before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear. (Isaiah 65:24)
My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
(King James Version)
*In this article there was not space to talk about option 4, which is seeking help from others. Seeking support from friends, family, and sometimes professionals, is a powerful tool God gives us—and in the past, taking part in prayer groups and spending time with Christian friends has brought great healing to me.
Because of my personal situation for the past few years (small children, traveling often, not rooted in one place), connecting with others has been logistically hard. I’ve realized that being around Christian friends and prayer partners is a great need in my life, and will be a big part of the solution to my depression/anxiety. As we look for our next home and job, we are praying for more of a connection to our next church and Christian friends/family.