Depression Part IIposted on October 18th, 2012 / by Bob Hamp / 5 Comments
The Spiritual Dimension
Let’s turn our attention to the spiritual component of depression. To really gain a helpful understanding I want to make this discussion separate from the previous one. Misunderstandings in this area can significantly increase shame if handled poorly. It is for this and a few other reasons that often, religious minded people struggle a bit more with issues like depression. Let’s first talk about what I DO mean when I talk about the spiritual dimension of depression, this will make it more evident what I DO NOT mean, and point us toward a helpful discussion of some spiritual/religious issues.
When God created the human race, He did so by taking an inanimate object (dirt from the garden) and breathing something called “The Breath of Life” into this man-shaped dirt. In one of the most amazing moments in the Bible, the dirt became a being, a person, someone with all the attributes of personhood. Adam had emotions, thoughts and thought processes. He had a body, and he had a connection to the Source of all Life.
This genesis, this origin is the act that gave man his nature and his function. It is the Breath of Life that made Adam become Adam, and it is the Breath of Life that allowed Adam to continue to function as Adam. Fully experiencing who he was in every moment, was the result of the constant flow of the fire-hose of aliveness pouring into and through his being. This simply means that Adam’s source was actually from outside of Himself. His source of being, his source of identity, and his source of alive-ness all originated from a source external to his own mind, feelings and body.
Life in general often leads us to focus on our self. Worse, life in general and depression in particular often leads us to not only focus on self, but to increasingly rely on self. Just like in the Garden of Eden when we see that something is wrong, our instantaneous thought process leads us to look inwardly to fix that which we identify as wrong.
We know it should be better. We know we should be better. So we set about to improve our condition. When we discover we cannot, we feel shame, and all the more impetus to try harder. We engage our thoughts, our will, all of our self-effort to try to force the experience of what we know should be. And in so doing we increase our focus and our reliance on our self.
This is the equivalent of trying to reach under our own feet and pick ourselves up off the ground. We cannot pick ourselves up. Not because we are bad or weak, but simply because we are ourselves. Leverage is a necessary component of movement; in the same way, leverage is a necessary component of moving our soul.
The professional psychological organizations have always acknowledged the effectiveness of the 12-step approach in dealing with addictions. And because of this, more and more the professional world is acknowledging the necessary role of spirituality in treatment of a wide range of human struggles.
Sadly, we as Christians are often the worst at twisting this around to mean something other than the powerful engine of aliveness that our spiritual life is intended to be. This is because we have in many cases reduced the word “spiritual” to actually mean something like “religious” or “my ability to obey God well.” In the same way as described above, when we define the word “spiritual” in this way, we actually return the focus to ourselves and our capabilities. We urge people all the time to reach under their own feet and try again to pick themselves up off the ground.
The 12-Step movement has helped people to language and understand that a return to spirituality is actually a return to honesty and reliance upon God (an outside source) in the places of our need. When I talk about the spiritual component of depression, I am really asking a fundamental question. What is your source? Is your source you and your will power? Or is your source the Presence of God, and the Power of the Resurrection of Jesus?
Two things are necessary to make this shift. The first is your own willingness to be honest about where you are. Not self-critical, but honest. God loves to meet our real needs, but first we must own that we have needs for Him to meet.
The second thing we must do is make a choice to depend. Surrender. This can sometimes be difficult because our own conscience often accuses us and demands that we try harder. Surrender is often counter-intuitive. I frequently pray with people who say, “Sometimes I just feel like giving up.” My most common response is, “I highly recommend that.” Giving up on your own attempts to fix yourself is the necessary step to changing sources. It feels like quitting, but it is actually the first step to starting.
When I talk about the spiritual component of depression, the natural tendency is to begin your shaming self-talk. Instead, consider that you have been unplugged. Anything that is unplugged runs out of power. Hear instead that you, like the rest of the human race were designed to receive your vitality and aliveness from a source outside yourself. Jesus’ death and resurrection was not simply about fixing your bad behavior, it was about restoring to you the way you were designed to function.
In Jesus’ own words, “If you knew who I was, you would ask and I would give you rivers of Living Water and you would never thirst again.” When you stop trying to be your own source of Life, Life is waiting to fill the empty places of your soul.
In our final post, we will look at ways you can cooperate with this flow of Living Water.