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A mother and two children walk into the light / By kwest at DepositPhotos

What Depression Looks Like for this Christian

What Depression Looks Like for this Christian

By Danielle Stephens

Religious trauma is real. I say this as a person who hasn’t experienced any notable religious trauma, however.

My first church when I was sixteen had issues but nothing that left me confused about who God is or questioning his goodness. I knew church to be (on the whole) a loving place, a refuge. The fact that they called the auditorium a sanctuary seemed only too fitting.

Still, I believe people who suffer from depression are routinely traumatized by religious therapies and shaming tactics. This makes me hesitant to share what I feel has been helpful to me because it’s religious.

Depression Gets the Best of Me

As my Christmas article so keenly shows, depression still gets the best of me at times. It’s been really difficult to navigate this transition from being an “Office-Rat” Mom to “Stay-at-Home Mom.” On the one hand, I do well under pressure because I thrive at pushing past emotions when there are deadlines and people counting on me.

On the other hand, staying home is this fascinating dynamic of everyone constantly needing me but no clear deadlines, consequences or measurable successes. When my head is on straight, it is exactly where I want to be. My children are some of my favorite people. I don’t hate cleaning or cooking. I’m not terrible at the tasks I’ve taken on as home engineer. I’m not great, but I’m not awful.

Staying home affords me time to think in a way that working didn’t. When my mind started to stray at work, it wouldn’t be long before it was called upon. It forced me to keep my mind on the task at hand.

At home, my hands are busy, but my mind can be checked out. When it isn’t checked out, it’s overwhelmed with the sheer volume of data to process: who needs what, when; where did he leave that; can’t forget to thaw something for dinner; oh, that bill.

Not to mention the homeschooling attempt, the bit of accounting work I’m trying to keep on the side and the constant hum of wondering what is going well and not going well for all the people in my care, and how I can help.

My Life is Too Much and Not Enough

It’s somehow too much and not enough. The problems I am trying to solve on a daily basis are either gargantuan or insignificant. At work, I had problems bigger than remembering to thaw chicken, but nothing as large as how to homeschool a reluctant student.

Often since I’ve been home, I’ve felt like a helpless child. I don’t mean that I feel out of my depth. I’ve been looking after people for as long as I can remember. This is not new territory for me. I don’t feel unqualified or like I’m faking the role of responsible adult.

However, I do feel pressed emotionally in a way I can’t describe. My children need me to show them how to deal with their feelings, not how to ignore them. All the feelings that come up while raising kids makes me feel like I’m in the exact same position I was in as a child: surrounded by people who need me to be stronger than I am.

Christian Counseling Has Been a Lifeline

What Christian counseling has done is saved me from sliding into the role carved out for me by generations before — the career homemaker whose spotless house and well-mannered (terrified) children are the envy of all, and she knows it. Read that again. Christian counseling has saved me from that lifestyle.

I’m awake to the reality that my life and value are in Christ alone. He has not only given me new life, but a new story. I don’t need to retell the classic tale of Resentful Mother Martyr.

The answers to my depressive suffering aren’t found in human-centered solutions. There is some value in the reasonable ideas I’ve been given. I could go back to working. That would not be wrong. I could get back on medication. I might do that. I could put more effort into finding a hobby. I’m actually working on that.

My Depression’s Source Is Relying on My Own Self-Sufficiency

However, none of these solutions cures the heart that seeks to be self-justified. When I listen carefully to the cries of my heart, the common theme is I want to be enough. It breaks my heart that I am not enough to prevent harm to the people I care about. It tears me apart that I don’t always put forth my best effort. I go to sleep anxious about all I failed to do, and I wake up suffocating under the weight of all I need to take care of – knowing my own inability.

I can’t speak about others’ depressions, but I can speak about mine. I am depressed because I keep looking for water from broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13).

For as long as I can remember, I’ve relied on my own abilities to solve any problem I’ve encountered. I’m smart. I’m resourceful. But although I’ve been relied upon for more than I should have been, and have been praised for my strength, I am still human.

I’ve had a lot more practice at coping and problem solving than I’ve had at trusting anyone, God included. So I suffer from depression, and I may suffer for the rest of my life. The suffering comes from a lack of trust and searching in vain for ways to be self-sufficient. The secular ideas for helping my depression would make me feel better to some degree, but I would rather suffer honestly than build a life that insulates me from trusting God and others.

There Is Hope

My advice to those suffering from depression is to look at your heart with the Scripture and a godly counselor. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” (Psalm 42:5). And don’t try to forgo answering that question.

Staying home with my kids has challenged me in new ways, but all any circumstance can do is reveal what is already in my heart. Because of Biblical counseling, it’s easier for me to see where I am in need of God’s healing. My prayer is that seeing my struggles would help others see where they too might need God’s help. And selfishly, to ask for prayer.

I am no more enlightened than anyone else. I am just a sign pointing to the source. I’ve been written upon by grace – a grace I still need every hour.

I don’t want to push anyone into further trauma. I’m not asking anyone to abandon their good sense and endure abuse. If a Christian counselor tells you the solution to depression is “more faith” or disregards parts of your story that doesn’t fit their narrative of what they expect the Christian experience to be, please find another counselor.

But, if you’ve tried meds and therapy and are still only “just functioning,” don’t give up on yourself. You are beautiful and wonderful and a treasure. And if you don’t believe me, read Psalm 139.

For you formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

— Psalm 139:13-14

About Danielle Stephens

Danielle Stephens is a 30-something woman who has happened to find Jesus, a good man, an unlikely career of accounting, and more recently the role of stay-at-home mother to three sweet, rowdy children. She taps out thoughts in spurts of passion on her phone and publishes a tenth of them on her tiny blog, foundmercy.com.

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