History is filled with instances where God's people felt the dark night of the soul, which refers to spiritual “depression” that feels like a shroud of darkness — or night. Even those with immense faith, like David, Jeremiah and Elijah, suffered from spiritual depression (Psalm 51, Jeremiah 20, 1 Kings 19). This night is no ordinary bought of depression, but it is a sadness that is linked to a crisis of faith.
The truth is, despite living a faithful Christian life, believers still have issues with depression, failure and anxiety. The life of a Christian is not a constant high, nor is it free of illness — physical or mental.
Reading through the New Testament, the theme of tension between what Christ has done, and what He is going to do is consistent. This tension displays itself when believers look forward to a glorious future but are still saddled with their past.
While this all seems grim, God provides us with tools that can help boost our mood and encourage our faith.
- Spend time alone with God and with scripture — allow yourself time for processing. This can begin a unique and more personal understanding of scripture. The Bible explicitly tells us in Psalm 91:1 that whoever sits in God's presence will find rest in His shadow.
- Deal with the negative — it's easy to ignore the root of the feelings or to put off dealing with them altogether, but the more difficult thing to do is to tackle the feelings head-on while taking care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to drink in the experience of suffering and seek meaning in it.
- Find someone who understands — find a high-level mentor who can offer wise counsel or an accountability partner who has walked through the same tribulations and survived them. A guide who has gone through the dark night of the soul can help courier you in the right direction and steer you away from mistakes they previously made.
- Build a support group — while a mentor is essential, surrounding yourself with a church family or a Bible study group can make an enormous impact. Making and having friends that share the same beliefs and values help you navigate the feelings that cause confusion and harm.
- Write down things you're thankful for — gratitude exercises can have tangible benefits. These include lower stress levels, a new perspective of what is truly valued and clarity on the good things in life.
- Seek professional help — understand that faith and fear can be experienced together. Be open to professional help. Without a carefully planned strategy to deal with mental illness, prayer alone is not always enough. Counseling and psychological or medical treatments can allow you to be your healthiest self and live the life God intended for you.
Don’t underestimate the power of these small steps. With these effective and varied coping strategies coupled with compassionate support, the heaviness can get lighter, and even if it does not right away, it can be a stepping stone to a deeper walk with the God who embraced the cross.
—Jon Paulien is dean of the Loma Linda University School of Religion.
This article is based on Jon Paulien's Facebook Live segment, "Why are so many Christians depressed?"