#depanx *

I had the privilege of speaking to a few hundred high school kids earlier today about Depression and Anxiety at Presbyterian Youth Summer Camp. We’ve been looking at how God provides Hope in Darkness through the lens of 1 Samuel.

This is a topic quite close to my heart, and I thought it was worth brain dumping some of the things I said this morning, possibly with a bit more refinement.

To be honest, this post has been brewing for a while. There is a lot I want to say about this topic; but it’s so big and it’s hard to get the right words to say, and to know the right time to say them.

Depression is something that we’ve been aware of in my family for quite some time. I have a number of close family members who have suffered from depression and anxiety in varying forms; as well as a number of good and close friends who have and continue to struggle with it. I’ve been privileged to be part of their network of support people and to be able to care for them.

Today, it’s still something we live with every day. Some days that’s easier than others.

What is depression?

Depression takes many varied forms. Typically it’s a loss of pleasure or interest in the world. Sometimes this can be accompanied with an unbridled sadness; but not necessarily. Often it’s the feeling of not being able to find joy in anything.

There isn’t one cause for depression. Sometimes it can arise out of a situation Sometimes it can have no apparent or particular cause. For some people, depression lasts for a few weeks, months or years. For other people depression is something that stays with them for their whole lives.

In many cases of clinical depression, people who suffer from it frequently have difficulty processing serotonin. Sometimes their serotonin receptors don’t react well to the release of the serotonin within their brain which affects their ability to maintain a mood balance. Sometimes their brain can be overstimulated by serotonin. Many anti-depression medications help by adjusting the way the brain processes these chemicals, helping it be more or less receptive.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is often linked to depression, but is not the same thing as depression. Typically it’s a feeling of uncertainty or nervousness. People who suffer from anxiety may feel on edge or like they’ve done something wrong.

Like depression, there isn’t one cause for anxiety. It can be caused by life events, and may be affected by many other conditions or situations.

So how do we fix it?

Often it’s easy to think that Depression or Anxiety define a person who suffers from them. Because they affect the way you interact with the world, it can be difficult to seperate them from the rest of your personality.

It’s important to recognise that even though it can seem like it’s a core part of your personality, it’s not what defines you; and people do recover from, and learn to manage depression — just like any other chronic illness.

As a Christian, the first, and perhaps most important thing is to remember to pray about it. God can heal people who are suffering from Depression and Anxiety. We need to remember that God hears and listens to our prayers and can, and does, heal people who are sick with depression. But it’s also important to remember that sometimes God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we expect. That doesn’t mean that we’ve done anything wrong, or that our prayers are ineffective — but rather that God’s plans are bigger than ours.

Prayer isn’t the only thing that we can do — and it’s good to know what other things might help as well. There isn’t one set of things that work for everyone; rather, each person who suffers from depression or anxiety needs to work out what combination and balance is right for them.

To do that, it’s best to get the help of a professional. Your local GP can get you started, and refer you to an expert clinician who can help with counselling or more specialised treatment programs. In many cases a large part of your initial care is also covered by Medicare in Australia.

Often it’s good to chat to friends or family as well. They can listen and walk beside you while you suffer. It’s good to remember that they can’t fix it — but they can love you in the midst of your struggle.

There are a number of good resources online that can help you with reading material. These include:

Sometimes life can be particular hard and people can struggle to see a path to keep struggling through. Services like LifeLine and the Kids Help Line are there to help in these instances — and are only a phone call away. LifeLine’s phone number is 13 11 14. The Kids Help Line is 1800 55 1800.

My friend suffers from depression or anxiety. How can I help?

Loving and supporting someone with depression and anxiety can be hard; but it’s worth it! The most important thing you can do is to simply be there for them. Remember that you can’t fix it, and your friend or family member probably isn’t looking for you to make it better. Remember that, just like a broken arm, healing takes time and people can’t and won’t just “snap out of it”.

There are some great resources around to help people who are supporting those who suffer. Websites like the ones above have great articles on what it’s like to go through Depression and Anxiety. One of the resources I’ve found most helpful personally is a beautiful set of comics called Kinds of Blue. This particular comic by Karen Beilharz was an absolute relief when I first found it because it made sense of a lot of things that had been floating around my head but I was struggling to articulate.

And keep praying for them. Pray that God will heal them; and that He will help them to learn to manage their illness. Pray that they will find comfort and compassion in him. Pray that God will give you the strength and energy you need to love them well.

What does the bible say about depression and anxiety?**

The bible tells us to pray in all situations and all circumstances, and constantly. It tells us to pray for healing. When we don’t know what to pray, Romans tells us that the spirit prays for us knowing what we need to pray for.

When Jesus preaches his famous Sermon on the Mount, he tells his disciples that they didn’t need to worry because God would supply all their needs, just like he clothes the flowers of the field or feeds the birds of the air. We also know that Jesus experienced pain and anguish — to the point that he even sweated blood. The bible tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way, and that he is able to sympathise with us whatever we are going through.

But the best hope is that of a new, redeemed creation. 1 Corinthians 15 promises us a new body — not a spiritual, ethereal body, but a physical body. We know that the old will be gone, and the new will have come. But best of all, there will be no more mourning, sickness or pain. Revelation 21 paints a beautiful picture of what it’s going to be like:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:3-4 NIV)

I long for the day when Jesus returns, and all things will be renewed.

Come, Lord Jesus.

* The title #depanx is a reference to the internal channel we’ve been using to talk about this amongst our planning team on Slack as we’ve been getting ready for PY Summer Camp. Slack is an excellent tool for collaborating with remote teams and facilitate communication between people in disjoint locations.

** This isn’t intended to be a detailed theological paper covering all the biblical references and theology associated with depression and anxiety. In fact, the bible says plenty of other really good things to people that are in the midst of depression and anxiety. It also says lots about how we can love and care for people who are sick or injured — just like people suffering from depression. If you want to read more, The Wandering Bookseller has a good collection of Christian books on depression.

Why I get concerned about articles like “The Myth of the Hateful Christian”

Last night I came across a very well written article by John Dickson exploring “The Myth of the Hateful Christian“. John is (almost always) well reasoned and written on a wide range of issues surrounding the Evangelical Christian Context in Australia, and this article is no exception.

I had posted this article on my Facebook feed with the following, surface level analysis:

I read this article by John Dickson tonight. I think he may have captured a large part of where the problem may come from; but I wonder – to what extent is the Christian church, when in argument with secular society, responsible for consistently re-establishing the framework of grace – each and every time we begin a conversation.

John touches on this at the end of his article when he writes “[a]s Australia secularises, perhaps there will be less and less of a tradition of grace. Ethical disagreement may increasingly be equated with judgment and bigotry. Christians need to think through the implications of this for how we communicate in public.”

But surely as we analyse this, we also need to ask the question of how /will/ we communicate, and in what way does our message need to be nuanced to reflect the culture and society we are actually speaking to.

I wasn’t flooded with likes or shares, but as I looked at the shares and subsequent on-shares over the last 12 hours or so, I’ve become concerned about the way that articles like this are used.

My hypothesis is this – a number of Christians use articles, such as this, to justify and then excuse why the secular world takes offence at the position they hold on moral and ethical issues.

Whether it be issues such as Same Sex Marriage, ordination of practicing Homosexuals, Euthanasia, Abortion, the Role of Women in the church – in each case, the church often has quite distinct, counter-cultural views of how these individual “moral” and “ethical” topics play out within the life of the church, and the world. We are often very quick to state our view as the “Christian” view because “God says it in the Bible” – but very slow to shape and mould our argument to win the hearts of those we are speaking to; and then when people react negatively to our arguments blame those that listen for our failure to communicate.

While it may be true that we are not speaking to a culture as steeped in grace as we once were – if anything the fault should be ours for becoming lazy and complacent about the argument we place forward and assuming that our listeners will assume grace.

It is true – the Church must remain salt and light in the world. We, as Christians, believe that belief in Jesus is necessary for salvation and the chance to live life to its fullest. Now we just need to learn how to share that, as a Church, with the world we live in.