Karl Menninger was a famous psychiatrist. He was once giving a lecture on mental health issues when someone in the audience asked him his advice for someone who felt like a nervous breakdown was coming on.
Given that he was a psychiatrist, most people in the audience were expecting that he would suggest they seek a psychiatrist who would prescribe medication or inpatient hospitalization. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, he responded by suggesting that the afflicted individual leave their home, traverse the railroad tracks, seek out someone in need, and meet their need.
What Menninger knew was that depression can be perpetuated by focusing on ourselves and our own pain, but when we focus instead on others and their needs, our own pain is lessened.
Luke shared of this principle in the book of Acts. “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35 NIV)
That’s not always the easiest thing to do when you are down or despairing. I know. I remember feeling so down that I wondered if I would ever again have a day without tears. And at the same time I felt guilty, because in my mind, I didn’t have a valid reason to feel down. I had friends who had children who had died to illness, children who had died to suicide, and children who were imprisoned. I had friends whose spouses were ill, or who had gone through divorce. What reason did I have to feel down?
On some days it was so hard to make myself do anything more than the bare minimum. I often didn’t have the energy or the motivation for anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity. On one occasion, a friend was moving and in a moment of renewed energy, I offered my help. When the move date actually came I wondered why I had made the offer… I didn’t have the energy that morning that I had on the day I had made the offer. But during those few hours of physical labor, putting someone else’s needs before my own, it was as if my former self had re-emerged. And in helping someone else, taking the focus off myself, it felt good. I felt good. For a short while, I had a fresh understanding of the verse, Nehemiah 8:10: “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
What can you do for someone else today?