I toyed with titling this piece “When Christians get depressed”, but that wouldn’t be honest. I’m not depressed, my wife had me tested. But seriously, amongst Jesus’s followers there are a few elephants in the room, and this is one of them. Christians do actually get low, blue and yes, even depressed. God help us, not even the pastors seem to be exempt from having a bad day or three.
So what happened? Aren’t us good ol’ Jesus followers supposed to brimming over with love and joy and flowers and sunshine? One thing I do know, is that melancholy has been a companion to me for as long as I can remember. I’m not incapable of feeling happy, far from it. I smile sometimes as much as once a month! But joking aside, what’s going on with me when I’m feeling low, and is it ok? I am I still a valid Jesus follower?
For me, the root of this pressure to be joyful is found in the letter to the Galatians:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
No law against showing joy. That’s good. What about not showing joy? I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have prayed for “the cloud to leave”, and for “Alex to be filled with joy”. I’ve nothing against these folks or these prayers for me. They are prayed sincerely and with love. But what do I do when the cloud stays put ..
What about my wife, Mother Duck? She has battled personally with depression. What if joy was so far from her that she was numb and felt like she was on her back in the bottom of deep pit with no way out? What then? Imagine she was at the back of the crowd with Jesus, dragging her feet and stumbling along behind all the happy dancing followers? Could she still call herself a Christian, a Jesus follower?
Is she not going in the same direction? Is she not following Jesus anyway? The judgement here is on those who didn’t care to turn around and help carry her, and those others like her.
Go back to the quote to Galatians and look at the list. I’ve met a good few people who struggle with joy, who are depressed. More than you know. These are the ones who somehow actually really overflow with love, kindness, goodness and gentleness. They might be too tired to show forbearance and suffer fools gladly. Maybe peace is far from them as their minds are filled with worries, both real and imagined. Maybe self-control is lacking and an extra glass of wine or packet of cigarettes is the thing that keeps body and soul together, but they are as valid and true a Jesus follower as any other.
I was a seminar recently for musicians playing in the church meetings. The seminar leader, Jake Hamilton (let me drop a name at least once 😉 <- see, I smiled ) gave an example of this idea we should only really express happy thoughts towards God. In the middle of the bible, is the book of Psalms. Basically a book of poems and songs, many by King David (of “David and Goliath” fame). He wrote some really good happy-clappy songs but also some really gloomy stuff.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
This guy was a King, set up by God and he’s moaning like this? I have never heard this sung in church. Ever. Never. What Jake said next wrecked me, and left in me nearly in tears.
These were also the final words of Christ on the cross.
My God. What an endorsement. For Christ Jesus, Himself, to use those as his last words. He completely got where David was coming from. He made David’s song of despair His own as He died.
Think about that for a moment before asking if it’s okay to feel less than happy as a Christian.
Here’s the thing ..
So, when we are having a low day, when we want to just hide under the duvet, if we are even depressed. Where’s Jesus? I guess He’s right beside us. Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has asked us to throw our worries and our burdens onto him. We just need to ask Him. Out loud, under your breath, in your heart.
“Jesus, I’m knackered. Please take these things from me that are making me unhappy and carry them for me. Thanks.”
He is saying, “Come to me everyone who is weary with their heavy burdens. Come to me and I will give you rest.”. He’s not saying you’ll suddenly be filled with joy, although that might happen, He is saying:
I love you, let me carry your burdens, let me walk with you. My friend.