Just to be totally up front here, this won’t be a post about Robin Williams and his suicide. There are plenty of people out there who are writing about that, and you can Google them to read their opinions (or just go to Matt’s blog and skip the Google search).
My goal isn’t to make some judgement call about the status of Mr. Williams’ soul before he took his life, or even to paint the picture that if he really loved Jesus, he wouldn’t have chosen what for many seems to be an unthinkable option. Instead, I’d like to take this post to talk about me and my choice to live.
I don’t talk about it much, but I spent the majority of my high school years sitting in a tuba cubby in the band room storage closet during my lunch break. I spent a lot of time alone, and my best friends were Charmin, Lassie, and Lady. No, that doesn’t mean I was close to toilet paper, the television and a woman. It just means that we picked strange dog names.
My afternoons were mostly spent behind the barn playing basketball by myself or walking in the woods by myself. If I brought along some company, it was one of the dogs.
Looking back, I realize that I spent a lot of time alone. At the time, I thought nobody liked me, but now, with the perspective that can only come from living long enough to get it, I realize that I spent a lot of time alone because I didn’t like me.
Bad grammar, sure, but dead on truth. And so, while I could add to the millions of words being written by people trying to point out all the problems Robin Williams had and all of the ways he could have handled them differently, I’d rather talk about some things I’ve learned over the years that have helped me in my own fight against depression. These aren’t scientific, mind you, but I pray that they’re helpful.
We weren’t made to deal with depression.
Proverbs 18:14 says that man can endure physical sickness, but no one can endure a crushed spirit. I know that in my darkest times, it helped me to hold onto the promise of this truth by remembering that God didn’t make me or you or anyone else to handle depression. It isn’t a cross to bear, because we weren’t equipped to bear it. Sometimes, when we are in the dark places – and only those of you who fight depression at its various levels of intensity will understand that darkness – it is so easy to buy the lie that we’re trapped there. That our “lot in life” is to be down while the fortunate ones were dealt the winning hand of happiness. False, false, A MILLION TIMES FALSE!!! When I feel the slightest twinge of depression coming on, I remind myself that I wasn’t made to handle it, and simply hearing myself say that can flip the switch.
God doesn’t call us out of our pain without first coming into our pain.
There are a lot of things about the gospel and the story of Jesus that I love, but this is the one that I love the most: Jesus became like us in order to bring us near a God who wants us to be like Him. He didn’t have to do that! God could have sat on His throne and called to us in the distance, “Hey! What’s wrong with you!! Get out of that pit and get close to Me!!”
He could have done that, but He didn’t. Instead, He sent Jesus into the pain of our existence in order to raise us to the glory of God’s presence. The author of Hebrews wrote that Jesus is able to empathize with our weaknesses (4:15) and save us because He has experienced everything we have, minus the sin (2:17-18). No matter what some want to say about God based on how His kids keep their distance from the hurting, He is a compassionate Father who runs to the hurting. In fact, Psalm 34:18 says that He is a God who is “near to the brokenhearted.”
Of all the tips that have helped me, knowing that God is WITH ME in the times when depression raises its ugly head has helped me the most. Depression wants to limit our perspective, but God wants to lift up our heads and give us a greater perspective by taking the limits off.
Good stuff for sure, but let me leave you with 3 practical ways you can fight depression (and you’ll be glad to know that these will help you even if you don’t love Jesus):
1. Know your seasons.
Everyone has good days and bad days, and most people can just kind of roll with the punches. But for people who battle depression, a bad day can turn into a bad week that becomes a bad month, then a bad year, and then a… Well, you get the picture.
But sometimes winning the fight is knowing the fight is coming, and that’s what it means to know your seasons. What events and circumstances routinely send you to the edge of that bad cycle? When you know that, it makes it easier to fight.
As an example, I never really understood all the excitement around New Year’s. I get that it’s a holiday and all, but I always felt like I was in a funk around that time. People would be happy about a NEW year and I’d be depressed at the thought of ANOTHER year. But after a handful of bad Januarys, I realized that it’s just a bad season for me. I could have beat myself up over it and “put on a happy face” but instead, I decided that I would never quit my job in January because I wanted to quit everything in January! Knowing my season helped me make a plan, and sometimes that’s all it takes.
2. Open the windows.
When depression starts to grab us, the first thing we want to do is go home, pull the curtains and get in bed. But nothing ever gets better by being alone for long periods of time, because at some point you will need to talk to somebody, and usually you’ll talk to yourself. That’s a recipe for disaster, because depressed you will never be able to talk yourself out of depression! Instead, open the windows and let the outside in. Depression’s biggest weapon is loneliness, and so we’ve got to refuse it! Sometimes, physically opening the curtains and the windows is enough to remind ourselves that there’s a world out there bigger than the junk in our heads.
3. Ask for help.
I love living in America and I think it’s the best country on the planet, but I hate the way we’ve allowed American individualism to convince us that the strongest among us never need any help. If you’re struggling with depression, TELL SOMEBODY!! It’s not a sign of weakness or insanity or an inability to cope. It’s a sign of wisdom that you can recognize that you weren’t equipped to deal with a crushed spirit and that others around you can provide the support you need.
James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so we might be healed. I’m not calling depression a sin, but please see the principle of needing help and asking for it! Allow others to see you – the real you – and let their strength give you strength.
My prayer for all of us is found in the challenge spoken many years ago from Deuteronomy 30:19: “Today I have set before you life and death … now choose life…”
…and really LIVE!