This excellent look at seasonal (and clinical) depression originally appeared on Julie Ganschow’s blog, Biblical Counseling for Women on September 14, 2015. I am re-posting it here with Julie’s permission.
Where Are You in my Sorrow, God?
by Julie Ganschow
This time of the year begins to usher in greater feelings of depression for some people. As the daylight hours get shorter and the weather gets cooler, we spend more time indoors and simply have more time to think about our problems and woes.
There seems to be plenty of sorrow these days! I have a couple of friends who are very ill, some others are facing the loss of their jobs, families are blown apart because of sexual sin, and the general mood tends toward fear, depression, and anxiety brought on by situations that feel out of control. I can truly relate to these emotions.
“Oh God, where are you in my sorrow? Where are you in my distress? Where are you with answers and help? Oh God I need you. I am washed over with grief and sorrow, my heart is failing within me. Oh God, comfort me in my distress this morning! Lift up my countenance bring me hope and joy! Remove these dark clouds of despair from my heart and mind. Each time I think the darkness can grow no deeper I am brought lower into the abyss of sorrow and mourning. My life has taken jolting twists and turns and I fear I do not know where I will wind up in the end. It is as though I am on a runaway cart in the darkest cavern and I am holding on for dear life. Where can I find You Lord? Where do I go to bask in Your goodness and light? I wish to hide myself in Thee, in the folds of Your magnificent train. Comfort me in my distress Oh Lord, for I am weak and failing to stand.”
You can hear my grieving heart in this excerpt from an untitled psalm I wrote years ago. In those days there were times my emotions wanted to sweep me away and I was a person in deep distress. Perhaps these sentiments describe where you are today.
When I was struggling with depressive feelings I had no shortage of people suggesting I begin taking medication. I languished in this place for about a year and I have to admit, that when I was “washed over with grief and sorrow” day after day medication was a tempting (but fleeting) thought. No one likes to suffer, no one likes to feel sad, and if there is a way out of it, then what is the harm in taking it? I did have to grapple with those questions during those dark days when it seemed I would never genuinely smile again.
While I have not experienced anything like that since then, there are still occasions when I get down in the dumps over one thing or another. Like you, I still have problems and trials that assail me. When I am in that place of emotional turmoil, all I want to do it sit and stare at the wall. I could spiritualize it and say that I am “being still before God,” but in my heart I know what I am doing has little or no spiritual benefit. I know that what I am really doing is meditating on my problems and ruminating on my sorrows.
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Psalm 13:2 (NASB)
When the Psalmist says he is taking counsel in his soul it means he is thinking about his problems. This is resulting in having sorrow in his heart all day long. Perhaps you can relate to this as well. Do you find that the more you meditate on your problems the deeper you sink into sorrow?
I would like to offer you something that may help. First it is important to understand that our emotions are the physical experience of our thought life. In other words, our feelings and emotions are the responses of the things we think about that either please us or displease us. The billions of thoughts we think each day often provoke emotional responses that relate to what we call happiness, hope, well-being, sorrow, despair, fear, or anger.
Our thoughts come from what the Bible calls the inner man, which is the place of reason (Matt. 13:15), feelings and affections (Ecc. 7:9; Isa 35:4). Our will, desires and belief system also resides in the inner man (Ps. 25:12).
Thoughts are obviously a function of the brain. The brain is an organ that serves the body and almost always functions as it has been created to operate. The brain carries out and reflects our hidden inner thoughts, or what we can call the hidden desires of the heart. Thoughts in the inner man bring about chemical reactions in our physical body. The brain is constantly receiving information, taking in data and converting it through amazingly complex series of chemicals and electrical impulses into vision, smells, motion, emotions and sounds the body makes.
The connection between the inner and outer man cannot be separated. When we think positive or negative thoughts, we experience emotions and our bodies go along for the ride. So thinking is both an inner man activity and a bodily function. God has created us to be both distinctly human and distinctly spiritual beings. We are the only created beings that are like this! This is why the Psalmist says “we are fearfully and wonderfully made!” (Psalm 139:14)
We could say, our feelings reveal our hearts to us. I have come to realize that most of the time my feelings and emotions are my responses to things that a sovereign God has brought into my life. He allows hardship through financial reversal, He allows rebellious children who throw away all the truth that has been poured into them, He allows job loss, He allows our husbands to sin against us, He allows our bosses to treat us unkindly, and a host of other negative things to enter our lives. How we respond to these or any other things that take place in life reveal what we believe about God.
In our humanity, our deceitful hearts take us places we don’t want to go. This is why the Spirit of God must be leading the charge for change. I have a hard time discerning what is in my sinful heart because I lie even to myself! But God who sees and knows all; He is completely aware of all of the contents of my heart and only He can help me to overcome.
So many times women have told me what a huge change they have made as a result of doing the following exercise: the next time you find yourself feeling down, take a piece of paper and write down what you are thinking about. This should help you understand why you are feeling the way you are feeling. Once you identify what you are thinking, then get your Bible out and compare your thoughts against the truth of Scripture and see if is measures up to God’s unchangeable Word. See if you can identify what you are desiring or worshiping in your heart. You should be able to determine if you are practicing some form of idolatry, and once you know what you are wrongly worshiping you can repent and return to worshiping God alone.