My mother suffered with it. My grandmother and aunt suffered with it as well. I didn’t escape its torment either. And that’s just one side of the family.
It’s a cruel invisible disease that hurts not just individuals but families and generations.
I diagnose and treat patients in my office every week who suffer from the devastating effects of this invisible yet heart-wrenching condition and my heart goes out to them because I know the pain they face. I’ve been there. I remember the despair. I remember wondering if it wouldn’t be better just not to be…
Yet I am so grateful that God does give beauty for ashes, and the oil of gladness for mourning. And while I would never have voluntarily chosen for this to have been part of my ministry, I am honored to be able to use part of such a dark time in my life to bring about the light in others. What I wanted more than anything during those dark days was for someone to come along side me, hold my hand, look into my eyes, and say “me too!” What a difference that makes.
That is perhaps why my heart grieved the other day when I was so desperately misunderstood. I posted on social media, as I regularly do. This particular post was about the choices we make to let our experiences define us; this time, the experience of depression. I reflected on what I had learned during my journey from depression to joy, as well as my over 20 years as a mental health provider watching my patients as they journeyed from the pit of despair to their place of victory.
In essence, I said: When someone is depressed, they have a choice to make–to either let depression define them or to desire joy bad enough to seek after it with obedience and sacrifice. Jesus offered us the same joy he had; the fullest possible joy. What I’ve learned is that thanksgiving and gratitude is the doorway to joy. As Proverbs tells us, we are what we think in our heart. As we become increasingly grateful, God exchanges our worries and sorrow with His peace, joy, and abundant life. Our circumstances may not change, but our mindset does.
I was attacked by a reader who found me insensitive and first thought I should have differentiated between clinical depression and subclinical depression, but then went on for several paragraphs to berate me for saying that depression was due to a lack of faith.
My heart sunk. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I no more believe that depression is caused by a lack of faith than I do a tropical storm.
But I DO believe whether we are dealing with the blues, clinical depression, a concussion, or dementia, we must choose to seek after Him and His answers with our whole heart. He says to cast ALL our cares on Him – not just when things are so bad we can’t handle them on our own.
God doesn’t inflict pain on His children to hurt us. But He can use our trials to build our faith, draw us closer to Him, and give us a testimony of His faithfulness for others to see.
In my darkest times, desperation drew me closest to Him. Desperation made me willing. I see this same dynamic in my patients and in others as well. It makes me think of the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5:25 who was so desperate. She pushed through the crowd just to be able to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe.
In “Secrets of the Secret Place,” Bob Sorge says, “While none of us asks God for hardship, we can’t deny the fact that hardship produces desperation, which in turn produces intense intimacy…The wise will seek Him with desperate longing.”
Scripture says we need faith only the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20), and what’s more, Romans 12:3 tells us that God has given each of us a measure of faith. It’s His gift to us. Yet we can choose what to do with it.
There will always be things competing for our attention and our beliefs. We must choose whom we will serve, what we will pay attention to, and what we will believe.
When I was deep in the valley of depression, I was quick to believe the lies of the enemy, who Scripture refers to as the accuser of the brethren. He delighted in repeatedly telling me I wasn’t as good as others, I was unworthy of a life of joy, I didn’t have enough faith, and I was destined to always feel that way. As long as I listened to the lies of the enemy, I let depression define me.
Yet God was faithful to remind me that:
- Depression didn’t determine my worth-HE did.
- Depression didn’t dictate my destiny-Christ’s death on the cross did.
- Nothing, not even depression, could separate me from His love.
Once I began to recognize the enemy’s lies operating in my thoughts, my circumstances may not have changed but I could exercise greater gratitude for the truth: Depression didn’t define me, God did. God declared me redeemed, beloved, esteemed, renewed, adored, and healed. Knowing that and believing that brought inner joy despite the sorrow of my circumstances.
I have seen God heal people of conditions instantaneously. Other times it’s a process. Sometimes he heals through prayer and laying on of hands or anointing of oil. Other times it’s through medicine, counseling, or the daily renewing and transforming of our minds. Yet God always desires for us to seek Him in all our ways and let Him direct our paths. In my darkest days I clung to the promise in James 4: 8 “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” That’s how we grow closer to Him, and He gets all the glory.
So the other day my heart grieved that anyone would think that I would declare that depression or any other condition would be caused by a lack of faith. The truth is, I think such situations often drive us to a strengthening of our faith and a richer testimony of His faithfulness. And in that, there is beauty for ashes.
Have you ever gone through such trials that made you desperate? Trials that strengthened your faith?
Because of Him,
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)
A short brief about Hope Prevails.
Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression
Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Speaking from personal and professional experience, a neuropsychologist unpacks what depression is, shows how it affects us spiritually, and offers hope for living the abundant life.
Neuropsychologist Offers Hope to Those Struggling with Depression
-By 2020, depression will be our greatest epidemic worldwide
- An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from some form of depression
- As with the bestselling My Stroke of Insight, the author experienced the same condition she treats
- Helpful features include personal stories, biblical truths, prayers, and music recommendations
In Hope Prevails, Dr. Bengtson writes with deep compassion and empathy, blending her extensive training and faith, to offer readers a hope that is grounded in God’s love and grace. She helps readers understand what depression is, how it affects them spiritually, and what, by God’s grace, it cannot do. The result is a treatment plan that addresses the whole person—not just chemical imbalances in the brain.
For those who struggle with depression and those that want to help them, Hope Prevails offers real hope for the future.
Hope Prevails is available now wherever books are sold. To find out more, see: http://drmichellebengtson.com/hope-prevails-book/.