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A Pastoral Response to Depression

A PASTORAL RESPONSE TO DEPRESSION

 Dr Augustus Lawrence

Family Ministries Director

Depression is an illness that has globally impacted every society regardless of status.  It knows no respecter of persons and has no boundaries.  It is a present reality of our times and every pastor can testify of encountering it at some point in ministry.  Like a pendulum, it swings and crosses from one end to the other causing mental anguish.  Depression can affect a person’s ability to perform routine tasks with perhaps calamitous consequences for relationships with families and friends.

While it is true that a person can be treated and recover, depression can metamorphosize  into a protracted malady that may negatively impact a patients mental health as well as the well-being of their families.

We live in a world littered with challenges and the Christian is not immune to depression.  Faith in God is not a protective shield from the pains and ills of this life neither is it a placebo that can wish depression away.  It touches the lives of all people including servants of God.  The Bible is replete with examples of God’s servants, many of whom experienced dark moments.  Moses, Job, Elijah and Jeremiah as examples of godly men who at some point in their lives experienced depression.   The poetry in the book of Psalms depicts the real experiences of people of faith who had ‘hit rock bottom’  and experienced depression.

Listen as the Psalmist cries out from the pit of despair.

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? And why are you in turmoil within me?”  Psalm 42:5

Then we have Jeremiah whom in Chapter 20 gave us a miserable description of the effects of his depression.  Since space does not allow, we can attest to the enormous depth of Jeremiah’s discouragement which is an encouragement to us of how God still used him.

But how should we respond to depression given that we have been called to minister to all peoples including those brothers and sisters who may be walking through the valley of depression?

First and foremost, we must understand that even though depressed people may feel guilty, worthless or valueless, at the top of our response should be a message of love and skilled pastoral care.  A skilled pastoral care is one that is on the one hand able to identify symptoms of depression and on the other be able to provide an effective intervention to ascertain the severity of the illness.

Secondly, we should respond to depression by understanding that even in our darkest moments God is working.  It may appear that God is silent and has distanced Himself from us, but we can be assured that all along our darkest moments of being discouraged, defeated and depressed God has been and is still at work.  It was the Psalmist who cried out to the Lord in Psalm 22:2 “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,’.  Silence met his cry.  This God who is silent in our time of need assured us in Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.

Finally, we can respond to depression by understanding that regardless of our experience in this life, we must never cease to consistently, persistently, continually, talk to, pray to, sing to, shout to, cry to, rejoice to, again and again, until He provides an answer.  The bottom line of our response is to discover that there is but one to whom we can go and that is the God that says, look to Me and live.