You may be reading this hoping no one knows you are reading this. After all, how can a person who has dedicated their life to helping others know and rejoice in the love of Jesus be depressed? How can someone who repeats Bible verses intended to help others, feel so sad that there seems to be no hope? How can one who works in a church feel distant from God?
You are probably reading this with a bit of trepidation and fear that this is yet another well-intended piece on depression that will basically tell you to let go and let God. Or to pray more or to read the Bible more or to find renewed joy in your vocation, or to take a break, or to get exercise, or to. . .
This is not written with the intention of solving anything. This is written in order to remind you of what you know, to grant you what you already have, and to give you a gift.
This is not written in order to diagnose depression or to describe depression. Nor is the intent of this writing to make you feel guilty for not believing enough or trusting enough. The goal of this writing is not to suggest that if you really believed or understood Jesus you would have peace and feel joy. The last thing anyone needs is to bear the weight of Jesus’ love as guilt and oppression. You and I know that Jesus is peace. But when sadness and depression have their way, even the message of God’s love can make us feel guilty because we know that we should rejoice in that, but we aren’t. The obvious fear and condemnation that comes as a result causes us to question our faith or to find evidence of lack of faith (or a “strong” faith).
I would like to remind you of what you already know. Hope is found in Christ alone. Read that again. You already know it, but we all need to be reminded. In CHRIST alone. In Christ ALONE. Do you see what role you play? None. It is not contingent on you.
Hope, joy and peace are gifts from God to you. In Christ. When God makes promises, He keeps them. In Christ . 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (NIV). God promises peace and joy and hope for those who are in Christ. And He has kept these promises through the death and resurrection of Christ. Promises made. Promises kept. And promises delivered to you through Word and Sacrament.
Do not give in to the temptation to judge God by your perception. Trust in His Word. His promises are kept and fulfilled in Christ. And Christ gives you what He accomplished through grace. You know this. But it’s good to be reminded.
When we hear the Word of God, the Spirit works faith in our hearts. When the Spirit works faith, we receive from God His gift of love. That gift changes our lives. This change is not necessarily felt or experienced. The more we base the reality of God’s love and promises on our feelings, the more we will be discouraged and question Him and ourselves.
In Romans 7, Paul describes the dichotomy between his continued sinful life and the reality of his life in Christ. He laments that no matter how hard he tries, he continues to fail. He fails to live the life of one who is in Christ. He continues to fail to make choices in line with his faith. His conclusion of the whole matter is, “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). This is the Apostle Paul writing at the end of his extremely successful ministry. This is the Apostle Paul writing after living his faith in laudable ways for over thirty years. His conclusion? Wretched.
The struggle of Romans 7 is resolved not by working hard or by believing more. The challenge of Romans 7 is solved by the gift of the Spirit because of the work of Christ, as described in Romans 8. Paul states, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:16-18).
Receive what you already have. Christ has claimed you to be His own (Isaiah 43:1). In your Baptism He has claimed you as His own. Now, receive what is yours through the gift of God’s grace in Christ. You have peace. And joy. And hope. You have forgiveness. You don’t always feel forgiven, yet forgiveness is yours because God says so. Peace and joy are also given to you by God’s grace. Receive what you already have. In Christ.
Many times we are tempted to measure our worth by our performance. Many times our fear of failure drives us and results in negative perceptions. Many times our concern for what others think of us shapes our definition of who we are. The more we look at ourselves and our performance, the more we are prone to depression and being trapped in a downward spiral.
So receive what you already have. Grace. You aren’t called to measure up. You aren’t called to perform at a certain level. You are in Christ. You are a co-heir with Christ. You are loved by God in such a way that He gave His Son Jesus to make sure you are His and with Him forever. You are loved—without requirement of performance or measuring up.
So now receive a gift. It is the gift of contentment. Rest in Christ. He is your Sabbath. God loves you. The Spirit is working in your life to give you what you need. The Spirit is working in your life to keep you in Christ. Right now you might be struggling with depression or sadness. But find contentment even in this. For God is with you. He is not waiting for you to feel better or to move beyond your depression or sadness. God is with you in your suffering. Your Savior Jesus knows suffering. In this midst of His suffering, God abandoned Jesus, so that you might know and believe that God will NEVER abandon you even as you suffer.
The love of God is not a goal for which you strive. The love of God is a gift given. Receive what you already have. Remember what you already know. God loves you. You may find yourself unable to perceive His love or feel His peace. Hope might appear a distant mirage. But love, peace, and hope are yours. Gifts given by the One who gives all good gifts. They are promises kept by the death and resurrection of Jesus.