How Can I Have Joy If I’m Depressed?
One of the more surprising aspects of our current society is the “loneliness epidemic.” According to Forbes, nearly half of Americans experience some form of loneliness.
The [repeated or prolonged] feeling of isolation and lack of social connections can often be an open window or an open door to depression — a common condition affecting our youth at an alarming rate.
What is depression? This is an interesting question to answer because it depends on the context. There are actually several different manifestations of depression.
From a general medical or physiological standpoint, depression can involve a chemical imbalance in the brain, directly affecting [physical and mental] behavioral habits.
Common symptoms would include an intense mood of despondency, low self-esteem, fatigue, loss of interests and energy, appetite changes, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and thoughts of death and suicide.
From a spiritual standpoint, depression could be defined as the temperament of being severely dejected and downcast because one feels or perceives to be far from God’s presence.
Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, the famous Welsh preacher, described depression as the disquieting, troubling, and perplexing sadness that overwhelms our spiritual self.
As an individual who has wrestled with depression — and suicidal thoughts — I can tell you I have investigated numerous means and methods to endure and overcome my suffering. And what I have found most satisfactory to deal with depression is faith in Christ.
Regardless of whether we’re talking about depression from the physiological or spiritual point of view, the Bible actually has plenty to say and helps us navigate the dark days with joy.
The Scriptures affirm that we can have true, real joy even in the depths of despair and depressed darkness:
- God is with us: He will never forget nor forsake us
- God is for us: His love for us is eternal and attentive
- God uses His church to comfort the hurting: Brothers and sisters in Christ are used by God as sources of serenity to the afflicted
In the Psalms, we repeatedly find King David crying out for the presence of God:
“Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” [Psalm 10:1].
“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” [Psalm 13:1].
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from my words of groaning?” [Psalm 22:1].
These are sentiments with which I am well acquainted. There are moments in which my heart feels abandoned, forgotten, and destitute. In other words, spiritually isolated.
But the Bible reassures us with the fact that God is ever-present.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually me.” [Isaiah 49:15–16].
“I will never leave you nor forsake you” [Hebrews 13:5].
These are remarkable statements. It is a beautiful image of God’s faithful promise to never forget or forsake His chosen people.
So, despite David’s many heart pleas, we also find him consistently comforted by the reality of God’s faithful presence:
“And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” [Psalm 9:10]
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” [Psalm 23:4]
“I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look on Him are radiant, and their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him from out of all his troubles” [Psalm 34:4–6].
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” [Psalm 34:18].
God is with us is a powerful tool of peace for the depressed and afflicted soul. I do not stand alone in the darkness. God is undoubtedly there.
Not only is God with us in the downtrodden days, but He is also for us.
“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” [Jeremiah 31:3].
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” [Romans 8:28].
In Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that God has so woven and designed our life’s events to ultimately work out in our favor. Because God has lovingly chosen and adopted us into His family, all that happens to us in this life is apart of His sovereign will to transform us into conformity with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
That is precisely why the Apostle Paul says he was sorrowful yet always rejoicing [see 2 Corinthian 6:10]. Clearly, it's not an either-or scenario. We do not have to bounce back and forth between joy and depression. It is possible to rejoice even in the midst of depression.
Why? Because joy is not rooted in our current circumstances or present feelings, but in the reality of faith and hope in Christ and His eternal love for us.
My depression does not dictate Divine reality. No matter what I experience — be it the death of a loved one, cancer, loss of employment, breakup, etc. — my identity in Christ and the promise that He loves me unconditionally cannot be broken, robbed, or destroyed.
I can rejoice in the darkness, knowing that Jesus is my Lord, my Light, and my Love. Whatever gloom and grief I encounter now will be used to draw me closer into fellowship with God.
In every trial, we have victory in Christ. This is a truth that will break the burdens off Christians’ backs and allow us to address and adapt to our specific struggles.
With that mindset, we will understand why David said, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning… You have turned my mourning into dancing” [Psalm 30:5, 11]
And ultimately, Jesus Christ Himself shows us how to endure the dark days. Jesus finds comfort in both the sovereignty and security of God and in the surrounding of His closest friends [see Matthew 26:36–46].
There is a repetitive theme taught in Scripture about being surrounded by a body of believers and Christian companions:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” [2 Corinthians 1:3–4].
“Bear one another’s burdens” [Galatians 6:2].
The Scriptures place a heavy emphasis on community because we are created as relational creatures; we were meant to live and do life with others. God has specifically designed the biblical community as a tool not only to cultivate the maturity of Christians but also as a weapon against the forces of darkness.
God strengthens and stabilizes us through our turmoil with our vertical relationship with Him and our horizontal relationships with other Christians.
As John Piper says, “In Gethsemane Jesus shows us another way…Find your trusted spiritual friends. Open your soul to them. Ask them to watch with you and pray. Pour out your soul to the Father. Rest in the sovereign wisdom of God. And fix your eyes on the joy set before you in the precious and magnificent promises of God.”
Over and over again, the Scripture shows us that this life was not meant to be traveled alone. God has not called us to a Rambo, solo-ops mission; He has called us into fellowship with Him and other Christian disciples.
We fight depression best when Christ is our supreme treasure and our pinnacle pleasure amid a God-centered, biblical community of fellow believers.
As someone who has dealt with both physical and spiritual depression, I can attest to the fact that Jesus Christ has given me more comfort than any medication or stress-relieving habit. My ultimate medicine for melancholy is my Maker.
Having let go of seeking to understand every “why” of my seasons of sufferings and, instead, focusing on “who” [i.e. Christ] sustains and strengths me, I have seen tremendous gains in gladness.
This very peace, pleasure, and power to endure the pain of depression are available to all who are united with Christ by faith.
It is by this faith, I see the sun beyond the ominous dark clouds. I can rejoice in my suffering because I know my Savior is with me and loves me through the pain, and I am surrounded by like-minded people who will love and encourage me.
So, when I am depressed, I seek and strive to live and abide in Paul’s words:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice… The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 4:4–7].