Spring can be a difficult season for me. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the budding trees, the blossoming flowers, the warm weather, and the bright sunshine. I’m not insane. Good riddance winter! But for as long as I can remember, the changes of the seasons have often come with a deep melancholy that I can’t seem to shake.
You see, I’ve struggled with depression all my life. And whether it’s the unsettling realization that the school year is ending with numerous unmet expectations, or the loneliness that may come when it seems like so many of my friends are moving on to bigger and better things, even this warm season can bring cold depression out of me. Though it shows up in countless different ways for different people, I’m sure that there are a lot of you who struggle with depression too.
Everyone feels sad or down at times. Sadness and grief are appropriate and healthy reactions to suffering and loss. Depression though is when persistent sadness is accompanied by intense feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness that continue for long periods of time and can keep you from functioning normally. In the midst of it all, it’s easy for the depressed to frequently feel misunderstood, isolated, and trapped. If that’s you, I simply want to tell you that you’re not abnormal, you’re not alone, and you're not without hope.
19th Century minister Charles Spurgeon, considered to be one of the greatest preachers ever to live, suffered from depression all his life. He called it a “spiritual sorrow” and regularly wrote his sermons directly to those in his congregation that shared in this burden. He wanted the depressed to know that their pastor understood.
What’s more, Spurgeon was able to lovingly identify with those struck with persistent sorrow, because he knew that ultimately our God is able to identify with all of us. In Isaiah 53 Jesus was called the man of sorrows. Isaiah tells us that Jesus was one who was acquainted with grief. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as he faced betrayal and crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Though it never led him to sin, our God was afflicted with intense human anguish in his mind and his soul, right alongside us because he cares for us.
In his classic 1678 allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan powerfully depicts how this reality gives us real comfort and lasting hope. He tells of a character named Christian who came to a river that he couldn’t cross by himself. As he entered the water, Christian was overcome with a terrible fear. He couldn’t see anything ahead of him and, as he went deeper and deeper, he began to sink. Filled with horror, he became convinced that he was about to die. Yet, there with him, was His friend named Hopeful. Wrapping his arms around Christian, Hopeful pushed with all his might, and began to carry him through the river. Bunyan writes,
Christian cried out to his good friend Hopeful, saying, “I am sinking in deep waters; the billows are going over my head, all his waves go over me!”
Then Hopeful said, “Be of good cheer, my brother. I feel the bottom.”
Christ understands what you are going through, because he's felt the bottom of it. On cross, in utter misery and in complete absence from the Father, Jesus felt in his soul the very bottom of spiritual sorrow. He felt the bottom of this suffering, so that if you’ve put your faith in him, you’ll never have to.
Depression is a complex and sometimes life-long issue. There is a lot more to be said to those wrestling with the bitterness of this difficult condition. And God does bring varying degrees and methods of incredible healing, like he has in my life. But through it all, because Jesus walked the bottom of the river and is carrying us now, we can be certain that there is a bright hope coming. One day, he will finally bring us to shore, and our hearts will feel the waves of depression no more. Rest in that hope when the waters of despair are deep and the breakers of affliction are over your head.
Be of good cheer, my brothers and sisters. Jesus felt the bottom.
If you’re struggling with depression, seek help by talking with someone about it. For further reading, consider Depression, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, Spiritual Depression, or When the Darkness Will Not Lift.