What does it mean when someone says they are depressed or have depression? The answer can be varied. Some people have had a problem or a hard day at work, home, or college and say they are depressed. For others it can mean a lot more and a lot deeper than that. It can last a few weeks, months, and even years. There are many different forms in which it comes. For instance, many mothers have gone through post-natal depression, not knowing what is happening to them. This causes great stress for the mother, husband, and family life in general. We do not understand how they feel, but we can see something of the hurt and distress it causes. We can all support them in prayer and help where we can.
My experience is different again. In 1986/7 we had been married three years with two sons. As a supermarket manager, I was working long hours, yet remained active in the assembly, but not spending much time with the family. We could not keep going at that pace!
We live even busier lives today, and we need to rest. Above all, we need time alone with God. I carried a New Testament with me and read whenever I had a break. Family life is very important too: to pray with our children and to play with our children.
One day I left home to go to work but went to a small seaside town called Saltburn-by-the-Sea. I had happy times there as a child. I sat all day, speaking to no one, and eventually went home at night. No one knew where I had been, and Pauline, my wife, was worried about me. I had little desire for anything and could not get motivated. Pauline took me to the doctor, and he sent a psychiatrist to our home. He took one look at my Bible on my armchair, Christian books in my bookcase, and texts on the walls, and announced that this was my problem. He told me I had ‘religious mania’. We had a strong conversation as I told him, ‘if you take Christ out of my life I have nothing’. I asked him to leave. Maybe some dear saint is finding life a struggle, or feeling lonely. No one seems to understand and it is often hard to pray and read the scriptures. How wonderful to know that our Saviour knows and understands. The scripture says, ‘Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you’, 1 Peter 5. 7.
‘Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth or song;
As the burdens press, and the cares distress, and the way grows weary and long?
O, yes He cares; I know He cares, His heart is touched with my grief;
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Saviour cares’,
Frank E. Graeff
Our situation got worse. I was taking more and more time off work. I could not cope in my job, and I couldn’t cope at home with a young family. I was admitted to hospital many times, and this affected us all. The boys and Pauline were struggling too, and found it very hard while I was in hospital because they had to leave me, and I was pleading with Pauline to let me go home. When I did come home it was also difficult. When the boys came in from school I went to bed, and when the boys went to bed I got up again. They thought that I didn’t love them anymore. Through all this I still managed to get to most meetings of the assembly, although Pauline did not always find it easy to get me there. This taught me a valuable lesson. That just because we are at the meeting, it doesn’t mean we are okay, spiritually, mentally, or physically. I looked fine, so I was fine. But that wasn’t really the case. If I had worn a sticker on my head saying ‘I am ill’ it may have helped. We greet each other and expect to hear ‘I am well, thank you’. We do this all the time, never expecting someone to say, ‘I feel dreadful’, or ‘Please pray for me’. We can all be faced with problems, involving marriage, bereavement, unemployment, illness, etc., and we can find it all too much. We need to show compassion, care, and support, and be a good listener. It can be very difficult and scary for anyone to admit that they have a problem with any mental illness, especially when it is possible to be told ‘Pull yourself together’, or ‘What have you got to be depressed about’. Such things do hurt and cause believers to keep quiet, and continue to burden themselves with it. We have had great support from many believers over the years. Some cared for the children when they were younger, others took me into their home to give Pauline a rest, and some have visited, prayed, and read the scriptures to me. We thank the Lord for them.
A reading that has been a great strength is from Isaiah chapter 40 verses 28-31: ‘Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youth shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint’.
Eventually, I gave up my employment as I could not cope, even though the company had, at first, been sympathetic. I struggled every day and became very tearful. I could not sleep and found it hard to talk to others. The decision was a hard one to take and, for a while, I got worse. Daily meditation on the scriptures is absolutely necessary as a believer. William Macdonald wrote on the Psalms, ‘Occupation with self brings distress; occupation with others brings discouragement; occupation with Christ brings delight’. It is possible that believers with depression can be occupied with self-pity. It is so easy to be dwelling on ourselves always, in our thinking and actions. Even when some Christians want to support and understand, if all we do is talk about ourselves, again and again, we may be pushing people away unintentionally.
Philippians chapter 4 verses 6-8 has helped in this situation: ‘Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things’.
We knew a number of Christians who had similar problems to ourselves, and they did not seem to improve, and some had suffered for many years. It was easy for me to think that I would be like this until the Lord comes, or takes me home. We all need to learn to trust the Lord daily and completely. In our family reading and prayer before the boys went to school we had to take each day and commit it to the Lord. Psalm 37 tells us, ‘Trust in the Lord’, v. 3; ‘commit thy way unto the Lord’, v. 5; ‘rest in the Lord’, v. 7; ‘wait on the Lord’, v. 34.
I was out of work for some time, but I did get out tracting, distributing literature, and visiting agricultural shows to witness. One day I was reading the scriptures at Isaiah chapter 41 and when I came to verse 10 I read those lovely words, ‘Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee: yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness’. The words ‘I will strengthen thee’ stood out to me, also the previous verse, ‘I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away’. These words to Israel really gripped my heart. Sometime later, I was preaching in the village of Wylam, and, as we went into the side room for a prayer meeting, the text on the wall said, ‘I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away’. I believed it with all my heart. My health did improve over time. Finally, I got a job in a smaller supermarket as a manager again, with less pressure. I continued tracting and, eventually, I was asked if I would go into a secondary school to speak to the pupils: 500 on one day, and another 500 another day. I had taken Sunday school classes, but I was not really a first choice to speak to young people. The Lord gave help, and I had much peace, and calm as I talked about my wonderful Saviour. That was in 1992 and, from that first visit, many doors into schools opened up, and we continue to this day by the grace of God.
It would be wrong for me to write this article without acknowledging the strength and support of my dear wife Pauline, who has been by my side over thirty-two years. Our vow included being together in sickness and in health, and we have had a lot of sickness, including some very dark and trying times. Only the Lord knows what Pauline has gone through. It is right that we should pray for those who go through illness, but never forget those who have the responsibility to care and support. They may need a break, or someone to listen to them. How important it is!
I was commended to the Lord’s work in 2001. I still get cast down at times, but the Lord is with me and has opened doors and given me the needed strength to speak to thousands of children and to teach the good word of God.
We fail, but ‘he faileth not’, Zeph. 3. 5.
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