Journeying Out of Depression (The Road to Siloam)
The news came with startling swiftness that night. We don’t know whether it was prepared text or if the words flowed spontaneously, but one solitary angel was called upon to make an announcement that has never been forgotten.
Appearing in a small Judean pasture in the middle of the night, this messenger from heaven introduced the true light that had just come into the world to enlighten every man.
A few terrified shepherds listened in awe and then ran, but thank God someone remembered and recorded the angel’s words: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
None of the shepherds knew it then, but this was the dayspring from on high that had come to the people living in gross darkness.
Growing darkness: Depression
During the Christmas season, we rightly celebrate the arrival of the Light of the World, and we rightly remember that the darkness has not been able to overcome it. At the same time, this is the season when many are acutely reminded of a growing darkness that is spreading across our land. In the past, it went under various names, but today we call it depression.
If you have not been affected by the condition, you might not realize how fast this hydra-headed monster is penetrating every level of society and robbing people of all that they have and hold dear.
Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil
Who hasn’t heard of Prozac of Zoloft or Paxil or their cousins? These rescuers have helped many but have left others untouched. There is no magic remedy. In fact, many of the experts say that we are entering an Era of Melancholy. More and more people are getting depressed at younger and younger ages. The elderly are not immune either. Seniors are battling depression in ever-growing numbers. Some say that depression has doubled since World War II and is threatening to become the world’s second most disabling disease by the year 2020.
So just what is depression?
The problem is that no one knows exactly. Because this disorder is complex, manifests itself in so many ways and is often entangled with other health problems, it is sometimes hard to decipher what’s really going on.
When depression first gripped me, I viewed it as pastoral burnout and figured a good sabbatical was the answer. At first, I didn’t know that I was depressed and was primarily seeking relief from chronic fatigue and a 24/7 headache that never left me. I went to more doctors and tried more treatments than I care to remember.
In addition to conventional medicine, I tried naturopaths, homeopaths, acupuncture, chiropractors, kinesiologists and experimented with antidepressant medication. Somewhere along the line, I figured out that I was battling depression. None of the practitioners diagnosed it; I just figured it out on my own from reading.
What we do know about depression is that it disrupts the brain’s basic housekeeping rhythms and thereby produces numerous symptoms that can be readily identified. The list is long and involves a host of feelings, behaviors and cognitive problems including: noticeable changes in sleep and eating habits, withdrawal from favorite friends and activities, suicidal or homicidal indeations, increased feelings of worthlessness and despair, inability to concentrate or follow through on activities, difficulty making decisions, a tendency to be overly self critical and a difficulty trusting God and others.
“Nobody comprehends what a beast this is. It has stolen my life,” says Christine Margaret.
(US News, March 8, 1999)
Sometimes the clouds dissipate and hope emerges, only to vanish once again in a sucking vortex of despair, as New Jersey resident Grace Chamberlain testifies:
“Nothing worked. The darkness might recede for a little while, but it was always there, looming, threatening to swallow me completely.”
(Guideposts, June 2002)
Not all the reports, however, are so gloomy. With the help of various interventions, many sufferers recover and lead fairly normal lives. In fact, the National Mental Health Association reports that more than 80% of people seeking treatment show some improvement. There are remarkable success stories of recovery with and without professional help.
And what is sometimes puzzling for followers of Jesus, many folks improve quite nicely without any reference to God, prayer or the Bible.
Didn’t the angel say that there was a Savior for all the people?
God has designed the body with remarkable powers of recuperation and has given great skill to many physicians. We should not be afraid of tools that help. But for Christians, the path to healing begins with recognizing Jesus – and Jesus alone – as our Savior. That’s where the angel began at Bethlehem.
He said there is no place for fear. Furthermore, he announced there is good news because we have a Savior. More to the point, this Savior is for “all the people” – that includes depressed people. So, the good news is that we have a Savior who has overcome depression and is willing to walk this lonely path with us until we come clear through to true freedom.
At the same time, it is also true that Christians frequently find the path to the Savior blocked by a few misconceptions. Too often, they assume depression is the result of sin or some character deficiency. Well-meaning friends can add to the pressure by advocating more strenuous spiritual disciplines. ”If only you’d get serious with God,” they say. Like the disciples in John 9, they assume the blind man’s problem stems from his own sin or that of his parents. Jesus knew better. Yes, there may be unconfessed sin which should be exposed, but Jesus has additional purposes in mind. He calls them “the works of God” and insists they must be displayed. (John 9:3)
Jesus’ recovery program
In the case of the man born blind, displaying these divine works entailed a recovery program of several steps. First, Jesus spat on the ground to make some mud. Then he applied the mud to the man’s eyes. Imagine, if you can, the potential for disappointment. It’s one thing to be blind; it’s worse still to be publicly humiliated by subjecting yourself to an attempted cure that proves futile.
That is often what happens to depressed people. They go forward in the assembly for special prayer but find the darkness unaltered. The “mud” that was applied proves ineffective. Now, they face the indignity of having publicly revealed their weakness; furthermore, they must deal with well-meaning friends whispering behind their backs. Voices within and without rise up to condemn their infirmity. Despair sets in, and they cry out with the psalmist, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’…’Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’” (Psalm 42:3, 9).
Into this darkness, they Savior inserts two hopeful words: “Go wash” (John 9:7).
Somehow, the blind man found the pool of Siloam
We aren’t told the details of the process, but we do know that when this man came back, he was seeing. We also are often told to “wash.” Whether one is helped by medications, therapy with professionals who know the love of God, or support network of prayer warriors, washing always includes reaching out to reconnect with God’s love through the body of Christ. Some may wash by learning to recognize negative thought processes and replace them with truth. At times, we may be told to pay better attention to diet and exercise. After all, Elijah’s great depression was relieved after he ate, rested and exercised. (1 Kings 19:3-8)
We little know the distance to our Siloam. We can’t determine the number of washings necessary, because we cannot peer inside and see how many “works of God” are needed to make us whole.
For me, the washing came gradually. Over the years, I watched my powers of concentration recede and melt away until tiny chores assumed monstrous proportions. Simple phone calls were deferred for days in hopes that they might eventually become doable.
Would I ever reconnect with my former willingness to serve? Finally came the stark realization that I wasn’t “cutting it” at work. My position would have to be filled by others, and the family would have to move.
The Master said, “Go wash.” We did, and the long journey to healing began.
I was very fortunate to have a church family and my own family supporting me. Thirteen years later, we are still moving from state to state, but now it is different. Somewhere in the midst of my travels, I heard three words that changed everything: “acceptance with joy.” The phrase was the watchword for little Much Afraid in Hannah Hurnard’s classic, Hinds’ Feet on High Places. I had known the expression for years, but one day something inside finally gave way.
At last, I saw my former enemy, depression, as a friend to be embraced rather than a trial to be endured – I am learning to lean into it instead of flee from it. I now realize that when I asked God for relief, I unknowingly started a chain of events. As Laurie Hall described the process:
“It’s as if I asked God for bread, and in order to grant my request, He chops down trees, pulls out stumps, plows the field, plants and tends the wheat, all before finally threshing it, grinding it, and baking it.” (An Affair of the Mind, 1998)
I can smell the bread now and am having more tastes of freedom from depression. Yes, the road to Siloam is littered with potholes, but it is also sprinkled with glory. There is real bread.
The Bethlehem angel had it right. Fear and darkness are no longer our masters. There is good news, and it is for all the people: We have a Savior who is Christ the Lord.
Do you need to hear the good news that Jesus Christ is Savior? Today, you can begin the journey of healing. Jesus is reaching out to you today. He wants to become a part of your life and your journey to wholeness. Why don’t you take His hand today and begin the journey together by praying this prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to know You personally. Thank You dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of my life. Make me be the person You want me to be. Amen.
If you prayed the prayer above, we’d love to hear from you!
Used with permission: “Journeying Out of Depression (The Road to Siloam)“, appeared in In Touch magazine, November 2003. Copyright © IN TOUCH MINISTRIES. P.O. Box 7900, Atlanta, GA 30357. All rights reserved.