Church people are sometimes well-intentioned but hurtful when they approach all discouragement as a matter of simple obedience to the Lord.
Discouraged people often need words of encouragement and even admonishments. Yet we risk doing more harm than good if we always approach sadness and despair as merely matters of choice. Some kinds of sadness have physical causes that cannot be adequately managed by choosing to see things differently. Biologically based depression cannot be treated exactly the same way as intense normal sadness.
The following one-liners are sometimes thoughtlessly spoken to discouraged people:
- “Just cheer up!”
- “Don’t be so negative!”
- “You have a lot to be thankful for!”
- “Complaining is a sin!”
- “Do you think God owes you a better life?”
The key to helping someone who is battling despair is to patiently ask caring questions about their struggles. Seek to understand the full picture before handing out advice. Don’t be too hasty to launch advice at people in ways that are not helpful and perhaps serve our egos more than their needs.
Please remember that the brain is perhaps the most complex human organ. A good friend of mine is a neurophysiologist and, more than once, I’ve consulted with him about the neurological challenges people experience. He fully affirms that (like all other organs), the brain doesn’t always function in health producing ways. Relatively recent discoveries in the field of neuroscience have provided hope for those who suffer with neurological issues like depression.
I am grateful for the medicines available to assist those who struggle with depression. And those who benefit from such medications must never be made to feel embarrassed about it. They are no different from those who take medications for deficiencies in other bodily organs. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, but woefully and tragically fallen.
Those who battle prolonged and debilitating depression that negatively affects their daily lives and relationships should be directed to seek medical counsel. They should also be encouraged to be open to the possibility of medicinal aid.
Yet medicinal aid must never be understood as the total solution to depression. We are more than bodies with physical needs. The other dimensions of our being (spiritual, emotional, psychological and social) must receive thoughtful attention in our battle for health. A holistic approach respects all the dimensions of personhood created by God.