Help for Depression -Part 2

Let him have all your worries and cares, for he is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you.                                                                                                                                            I Peter 5:7

Yesterday, I began the discussion about dealing with depression with the first of our three-part response- physical interventions. I mentioned the value of a physical examination, physical exercise, and the difficulty of overcoming the inertia of depression.

One cannot over-emphasize the value of movement and physical exercise. It offers both physiological as well as psychological benefit. Exercise, along with medication has been shown to be effective in the treatment of many depressive conditions. Add counseling to that, and you have now arrayed a strong plan to defeat depression.

The emotional response consists of first overcoming the denial about depression, and actually considering the fact that “maybe I am depressed”.  The decision to seek help is critical. Next, the attitude must be that there is a solution for every problem. “There are things that I can do to help myself. If the first things I do didn’t help, the next things will be more effective”. Such thinking is key in not becoming a victim, because, if we believe that we are victims- we are.

Creative outlets are extremely helpful. Anything that can make our world “larger” is helpful. Depression tends to make our world “smaller”. We can become inwardly focused and that can lead to brooding. Inward focus and retreat can be initially helpful, but that cannot be our on-going response to feeling depressed. I tell my clients that they can “visit there, they just can’t live there”.

So, writing, painting, making or listening to music, volunteering, connecting with others even (maybe especially) when we do not feel like connecting with others- these are extremely helpful attitudes in overcoming depression.

Depression is a serious problem, but it can be combatted with a full armory of resources. Please understand that I am aware of the depths to which depression can bring people, and I admire those people who are struggling through it. I simply want people to be aware that help is available, and asking for that help is a strong statement.

Willingness to deal quickly and directly with depression, with all the resources available is the way to overcome it. As noted yesterday, a physical examination, possible medication, exercise, taking a “solution for every problem” approach, asking for help, and prayer are the resources which we have. As they say in the recovery community, the program works if you work it.

Tomorrow, I discuss the spiritual dimensions in dealing with depression.

Prayer: Father, we know that you have a spiritual solution for every problem we have. Help us to persevere in seeking you, Amen.

Help for Depression

      I cry to the Lord; I call and call to him. Oh, that he would listen. I am in deep trouble and I need his help so much. All night long I pray, lifting my hands to heaven, pleading. There can be no joy for me until he acts. I think of God and moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. I cannot sleep until you act. I am too distressed even to pray!                                           Psalm 77:1-4    

      David, a man who was called a “friend of God”, wrote the passage above. Even David, a man close to God’s heart, got to the point where he felt isolated, devastated, and alone. It can happen to anyone.

      Clinical depression is different than periodic down moods that we all experience from time to time. Listed below are the diagnostic criteria for Major Depression from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition (DSM 5).

  • Depressed most of the day, nearly every day as indicated by subjective report (e.g., feels sad, empty, hopeless) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful)
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by subjective account or observation)
  • Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down)
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick).
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others)
  • Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide

      In order to have a diagnosis of Major Depression, one must experience five or more of these symptoms in a two-week period, and it also must represent a change from previous functioning. At least one of the symptoms must be depressed mood, or loss of interest in things that formerly brought pleasure.

      You will note that some of these symptoms are subtle, and could be attributed to other conditions. You also note that there are significant physical symptoms, such as loss of (or too much) sleep; significant weight gain (or loss); and agitation.

      As I suggested in dealing with anxiety, depression too must be addressed in the three dimensions in which we live- physical, spiritual, and emotional. For today, I am only going to briefly discuss the “physical” dimension, and I will address the others in subsequent blogs.  

      The physical dimension of overcoming depression consists of exercise, reaching out to at least one other person (communicating and initiating connection), and evaluation from a doctor. This is to rule out possible physical causes as well as to potentially initiate medication evaluation. Many physical conditions can cause symptoms which mimic depression- diabetes, thyroid disorders, neurological disorders, and a host of other physical ailments. If you are experiencing several of the symptoms below, I suggest a physical examination first. Your doctor may well refer you to a counselor as a follow-up, and I, of course, recommend that as well.

      The hardest step is always the best step. The malaise of depression causes inertia which is very hard to overcome. That is why engaging a partner in the battle against depression is so important. Do not try to do this alone! The insidious part of overcoming depression is that motivation has been eroded. People experiencing depression also have a tendency to isolate, which makes the condition worse. People who are seriously depressed must find the spark to overcome the inertia that seems overwhelming. Here is where the spiritual comes in. At this point, I will add just one spiritual dimension. Pray a simple prayer to “just help me take one step”.

      That is more powerful than you can imagine.

Prayer: Father, be with those who are feeling overwhelmed with depression. Help them to take one step, Amen.

What Does Love Look Like?

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; and here there is no conflict with Jewish laws.    Galatians 5:22-23 (Living Bible)

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

As I was looking at the verse of the day on my Bible app, I saw that it was the verse above (Galatians 5:22-23). I have read that the fruit of the Spirit is really just one thing- love. The words that follow- joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control can be read as attributes that are the natural outgrowth of a person led by love.

Jesus came to give that very simple message. Indeed, he lived it out. He also said that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. So, the intent of the Law was to try to point people to an overwhelming love. That was later explained fully by the presence of Jesus, and then the enduring indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

The end of the verse in Galatians (5:23) states that the fruits of the Spirit are consistent with Jewish laws. God’s plan all along has been to have people transformed into loving people- those who care for and nurture others. The Law is fulfilled in that way.

So, the Law is summed up in these words- Love One Another

Prayer: Lord, thank you for simple plans- plans that are simple, but not easy, Amen

Giving Gifts Back

Listen to me, all of you in far-off lands: The Lord called me before my birth. From within the womb he called me by my name.                                                                                                                                                              Isaiah 49:1 (Living Bible)

God equips us with many talents and gifts so that we can navigate this world. Even before we were born, God had put into our DNA certain traits and tendencies which we simply accept as gifts, not as anything that we have worked for. Now, to be sure, some people take those gifts for granted, and do not work to develop them fully. Some people take credit for the gifts that were not of their own making. Some, sadly, do not recognize the gifts that they have, even when others point them out.

Some have musical ability, others athletic ability, others academic ability, others mechanical abilities, and so on. Some have high abilities in several areas. However, we all have abilities in some areas.

Often, I will ask my clients to take the StrengthFinder (Gallup Trademarked) test. That test will help people identify one of 34 potential strengths. The strengths are then explained and clients can see how those strengths can be of benefit to themselves and others. Typically, when we go over the strengths, the “light goes on”, and they can see that they have that special ability in an area which they have been using for years without really thinking about it. It just came naturally to them.

Gifts and talents are like that. We often do not see our own gifts because we don’t value them. After all, the things that come easy to us, we think, must come easy to everybody. “I’m not that special”, we feel. “If I can do it, anybody can do it”. How often have you heard that?

We need to recognize and appreciate the talents and gifts that we have, and humbly accept that we have been given them for a reason. Those talents are God’s gifts to us. Our gift to him is to use them in the service of others.

Prayer: Thank you for the many gifts you have given to us. Help us to see them, and use them in your service, Amen


For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.                                                                             Hebrews 4:15 (Christian Standard Bible)

I wrote in yesterday’s blog that Jesus was completely human, having, according to Christian doctrine, “laid aside” his divinity in order to fully experience the human existence. He voluntarily came into a broken creation in order to save it. That was a supreme sacrifice indeed. A mystery to be sure.

I stated that as a human, Jesus made mistakes. He had to learn and grow- he had to experience life like the people he came to serve. While he made mistakes, had to learn things, etc., he did this without sin. So how does that work? How can one be in this world and not sin?

I think the answer is that he was in constant communication with his father in heaven. He never strayed far from his father, and therefore was “in this world, but not of it”, that is, not tainted by it.  

So, the lesson here is that the closer we adhere to our heavenly Father, the less likely we will be corrupted by our surroundings. No, it is not easy, and we will never be perfect at it. But as I have said in other blogs, being “on the right road” is the big deal. Practicing the presence of God in our life is the way that we can stay closer to the path that Jesus trod.

Prayer: Lord, help us to stay close to your presence, Amen

Yep, He Was Human

His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”

 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they didn’t understand what he meant.

 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.

 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.                                            Luke 2:48-52 (New Living)

The central tenet of the Christian faith is that Jesus, the son of God, set aside his divine nature and came to earth as a frail human being. Having done so, he became subject to all of the facets of the human condition. He had to learn things about how to live- learn toilet training, learn how to work, how to feed himself, understand language and people- all of it.

I think it is hard for people to square this understanding of Jesus’ humanity with the divine nature he had willingly set aside. Jesus had emotions. He got angry, sad, hurt, depressed, anxious, happy, playful. He would get sick, make mistakes, forget stuff. Yes, I said that Jesus made mistakes. He didn’t sin, but he made mistakes, and he had to learn.

I think about the passage when he got lost from his parents on the way back from the Temple. In his careless young mind, his parents should have known what he was doing even when he had not bothered to share it with them. He did not understand that parents worry about their kids, because he was a kid himself. He wasn’t being deliberately disobedient, he was being careless and thoughtless of what his parents were going through.

Later, Luke (who got his stories of Jesus’ early life from Mary) remarked that Jesus then “grew in wisdom”.  He learned about emotions and human interactions. I love that Luke shared this story. Jesus could truly relate with the people he was to redeem, and he understands in that special way what we go through.

Isn’t that as amazing as it gets?

Prayer: Jesus, thank you for the sacrifices you made for us- even to humbling yourself as one of your creation, Amen.

12th Step

Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.  Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.                    Philippians 2:3-4 (Living Bible)

There is a story in Alcoholics Anonymous about how Bill W. met Dr. Bob for the first time. These two gentlemen were the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, and they first met in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. There are many versions of the story, but the general outline is that Bill W., travelling and away from home and sober less than six months, was struggling with an alcohol craving.  He recognized that what he needed to do was to find another alcoholic in order to maintain his shaky sobriety. In a bar in the hotel, he met “Dr. Bob”, and from there is history. Their relationship and commitment to sobriety led to the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

I recall this story because recently I spoke with a man in recovery who said that he maintains his sobriety by finding other addicts to help. He helps himself by helping others. That constitutes the 12th Step of AA – Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This statement may at first seem paradoxical, but it is completely consistent with Christian theology. By looking out for the needs of others, we in turn are fulfilled and healed. We are all vulnerable, and when we can share that with others, we can help them on their healing journey. In turn, it reinforces our own recognition of dependence upon God.

Mighty good strategy, right?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the simple wisdom of Jesus, and all those who recognize dependence upon him as higher power, Amen

Another “Rest of the Story”

After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part…  Job 42:10-12

The book of Job is one of the oldest writings in the Bible, and it has been quoted, misquoted, and used out of context for centuries.  Don’t get me wrong, my guess is that I too will use it out of context and derive my own meanings, which may or may not adhere to orthodox interpretation. However, I will do my best to give you my ideas on the book.

The Book of Job is about suffering. That is why it has been so quoted and studied over the centuries. The one thing that is constant in the human story is suffering. I have pointed out before that Job’s “comforters” initially were very helpful to him when they simply sat with him and allowed him to share his terrible fate with them. It was when they offered their own ideas about why God had allowed such suffering that they caused Job more pain than ever. They accused him of having done some sin, perhaps something unknown, that God was punishing him for.

Finally, after what seems like an interminable amount of soul searching, speculation, and accusations, God appears on the scene and takes charge of affairs. God lets the men know that he alone was around when he created the earth. God alone has his reasons, or non-reasons for what he does, and because he is sovereign, he can, and will, do what he pleases. He owed the men no explanation for his actions, or for simply what he allows to happen.

After these men- good men by the way, well meaning people- finally got that message, God told them that they owed Job an apology, and he told Job to pray for them. God said that he would forgive them for the pain they inflicted on their friend, Job.

I thought this following sentence was very interesting- After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. It was only after Job prayed for his friends and essentially forgave them that God restored to him more than he had ever lost.

I am not suggesting that this is a formula for wealth or success. It was simply the way God worked. He restored Job’s dignity, then he restored his wealth after he had learned his life lesson.

There is so much to learn in this, but my takeaway is that God is God, and he certainly does not answer to me.

It’s just that I would like him to do that, and I need to catch myself on that one. How about you?

Prayer: Thank you for the lessons you give us. Forgive us when we expect that you, the sovereign God, owe us an explanation, Amen

The Real Miracle of Creation

 They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.                 Psalm 24:5

Psalm 24 starts by reminding the reader of the truth of who owns the creation-the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him. It was God’s plan and handiwork which brought about life, and all life is his. People argue about the mechanics of how the universe began, and it is a distraction from the miracle of creation. God has chosen to bless his creation, and the largest blessing is the fact that he has redeemed us from sin. Verse 5, stated above, tells us this very thing. God is identified as our Savior in this verse. Is there any more amazing revelation than that the creator of the universe is also its redeemer? This must change the way we see the character and nature of God.

Were he just the distant creator who simply wanted to be fascinated with his work, he would not be involved in our well-being. Were he simply a curious being who created this amazing universe to see how his creation would respond to it, he would also be distant and removed, like a scientist with an experiment.

But God created this universe as a loving being who wants us to ultimately spend eternity with him. Therefore, He has total and loving involvement, even to the point of providing the remedy for our sins. That is the miracle of creation.

Prayer: Father, thank you for loving us, and creating the worlds, not for your pleasure, but for our good. That is a love we cannot fathom, Amen                                                                                                                                                                                                                

What Do You Need?

Immature love says: “I love you because I need you” Mature love says I need you because I love you” Erich Fromm

I have an exercise that I give to my couples counseling clients that involves asking five simple questions that they share with one another in order to connect physically, spiritually and emotionally. One of those questions is “What do you need right now?”

A simple question, but an important one for several reasons. First, this gets each one in touch with what their own needs are. Often, we do not stop and think for ourselves what we might need at this moment. We need to first identify what we need before we can ask for it.

Another consideration is that sometimes we unconsciously assume that our partner knows what we need. We somehow expect that our partner can read our mind! It is just fine to identify what we need and then to ask for it. If we do not do that, we may get frustrated, and then we may blame it on the wrong person when that need is not met.

So, asking for what we need may seem like a simple thing- and it can be- but it does take some thought and communication.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us all the tools we need to communicate our needs, help us to use them well, Amen