Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Bondage of Depression - The Onion of Despair

Jesus said a lot of things. But to me, the most important thing He ever said was this:

"If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)

When you're battling depression, there's one thing you must get to: the truth. But therein lies a problem. Unresolved loss, anger and fear usually indicates self deception, which means you may be in a place where you don't know what it is that you are depressed about in the first place!

On the other hand, if you are depressed and you know why, then count yourself lucky. Some people who are really, really depressed haven't a clue why. They are so out of touch with their emotions and feelings that, if they're not in the middle of a depressed episode, they will deny to your face that they're angry or hurting about anything.

I was one of those people.

I was talking to a therapist when she looked me square in the face and said, "... well, you look angry to me. Everything you say is like darts spitting this way or that." I figured that since she knew more than me (at least, that's why I was paying her $125 an hour), then maybe I should consider that she was right about this "anger" she saw in me. I honestly did not believe her. But once I opened myself to the possibility that her theory was correct, I began to see myself clearly -- that's when I discovered the thing I call the Onion of Despair.

Unresolved anger, fear and loss is like a pill you swallow that doesn't go away, rather it grows day by day, adding a new layer with every new thing that rubs you the wrong way. That is, until some other unsettling event comes your way, and you swallow that pill too, which then grows day by day. Eventually, after you've stuffed so much anger and so many fears into your soul, you'll find yourself well within the center of debilitating depression: your head hurts, your body hurts, and all you want to do is make the pain go away. Some people find a Doctor who gives them a pill that takes the edge off, others self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, others find a weapon...

You must know the truth ...

The first thing you've got to do is know the truth, the truth about your belief systems. For example, if blue moons make you sad, and you believe the moon is blue, then you're going to be sad whenever you see the moon: "For as he thinks within himself, so he is ... " (Proverbs 23:7) In this scenario, we must understand that the first problem to solve is the improper notion that the moon is blue. Everyone knows that the moon is made of cheese, and as such, it must be white, or at least an off-white-yellowish color. Therefore, one must chose to reject the blue-moon lie, and believe the cheese-moon truth. So, now that we're on our way to discarding the lie of the blue moon, we must then determine, why did we believe the moon was blue in the first place?

And off comes the first layer of the Onion of Despair.

Once you've discovered the lie, you can then inspect your belief system and find the root of that lie. In doing so, you are successfully in the process of peeling off a layer of the Onion. If you're like most people, you'll eventually discover that there are multiple layers to your Onion that need to be handled. Each layer has a new problem to solve, a new loss to let go of, a new fear to deal with, or a new anger to address. So don't be discouraged when, after you've peeled off a layer and world looks a whole lot brighter, some time there after you find a new problem pops up. That's how it works. We are complex people with complex problems to solve, there's no getting around this simple truth.

This is not to say, however, that every fear, loss or anger is based solely in a lie - clearly when we've lost a loved one we're going to suffer in that loss. The problem occurs when we refuse to let go of that which we cannot hold onto. Once your mother is gone, there's nothing you can do to bring her back. Grieving for a period of time is normal and natural. But refusing to let go by placing memorabilia in your life that draws you back into grief on a daily basis, for months or years on end, is not normal or natural. When a person refuses to let go of something lost, they're holding onto a false reality. Although one never "gets over" a great loss, the healthy person learns to live with the loss, and learns to let go.

The blue moon vs. cheese moon myth is a trite example of the pitfalls of truth vs. lie, but it does help describe how our belief about a given thing can affect us. Once we've discovered that blue moons make us sad, we're on the right path to peeling apart the Onion. In this case, we discovered we always saw a blue moon, even though it was cheesy-white. We compared baby blue with cheddar white and observed the error. We may not, at this point, remember that it was a friend who persuaded us to believe the moon was blue, or that a particularly bright moon was out the night that friend died, but we have at least pulled off the outer-most layer of the problem.

Dealing with the outer-most problem you can lay your hands on will not resolve a deep rooted depression overnight, but it is a beginning, and it is a valid, iterative (if not recursive) process.

So what are we to do in the meantime, how are we to survive this process with a glimmer of hope?

You survive by changing your belief system about yourself. It's one thing to deal with anger issues regarding a person who has wronged you, but it is clearly another issue to deal with one's misconceptions of themselves, particularly in the area of who we are in Christ.

Depression has an insidious way warping our self-image. In actuality, this warping of our self-image is a Spiritual battle:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with TRUTH, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness , and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit ...(Ephesians 6:10-18)
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for theweapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ ... (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Ask yourself these questions, and provide honest answers:
  • Are you strong in the Lord and the Strength of His might?
  • Do you believe your struggle is not against flesh and blood, but is a spiritual battle?
  • Have you taken up the full armor of God?
  • Do you pray at all times in the Spirit?
  • Do you take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ and discard harmful imaginations?
If you answered 'no' or 'sort-of' to any of those questions, then you have an obligation to discover why you refuse to whole-heartedly believe the truth, because when you choose to maintain a flawed belief system, you are in bondage to it:

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. (John 8:34)

Choosing to believe anything makes you the slave of that belief system. Choosing to believe the truth sets you free, choosing to believe a lie puts you in bondage to that lie.
For the Christian battling depression, freedom is not based on our belief that Jesus is beautiful or precious, nor does this belief system set us free from depression, as John Piper would assert. Our freedom comes from defeating the lies of Satan, believing the truth, turning to God and resisting the devil: which is why we must process through the layers of the Onion that surrounds our inner most hurts, fears and angers.

What we choose to believe about the truth (of any situation) is vitally important to our walk in Faith, our life in Freedom, our tearing down of strongholds and depression -

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds ... (2 Corinthians 10:4)

So, if you believe you're a good for nothing, broken sinner, then you will act like a good for nothing, broken sinner. And if you believe the change in your life is harmful, then you will avoid the change. If perhaps, you can't avoid the change, then depression will set in. Why? Because of fear. You perceive and believe harm is coming yet you have no way to avoid it.

Just as our actions and attitudes will different when we choose to believe that we are justified and sanctified Saints of God, then confronting our fears and finding and dealing with their causes will peel away that layer of the onion and allow us space to change our minds regarding a given thing:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

The process through the Onion of Despair may not be an easy one, but we survive by knowing and believing who we are in Christ.

Study this list of the attributes of the Child of God. Prayerfully deal with the ones you don't believe; memorize the scripture references (click the link to see the background verses), and trust God to love you as you are, as you confess your fears and your angers, and let go of your losses.

In Christ I Am Accepted ...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Bondage of Depression - A Root Cause Analysis


I'm not a psychologist, but I know a bit about depression. I lived intimately with it for most of my life, but God freed me from the bondage of depression years ago. This was not an overnight process. God lead me through it step by step. Occasionally, it rears it's ugly head, and if I'm not careful, I'll find myself in funk for days, even a week or more if forget the lessons I learned.  So, in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, we're going to delve into this phenomena called depression.

John Piper has an edited transcription on depression, entitled Can Christians be Depressed? The first postulation posed in the article states that the root of depression lies in the fact that something is wrong with the depressed person's hope. John Piper states: "All discouragement and depression is related to the obscuring of our hope, and we need to get those clouds out of the way and fight like crazy to see clearly how precious Christ is."

What?  Is this man actually serious?  As if depression and discouragement are even at the same par, the same level, or even slightly alike; that it's just about me refusing to know how precious Jesus is.  So, there's a little fluffy cloud of despair obscuring my vision of preciousness of Jesus. Fine. I'll just change my mind about that simple fact and puff that silly little cloud away with a breath of fresh air and everything should just clear right up.

In my opinion, John Piper knows as much about how to battle depression as he believes in the Man in the Moon. Comparing depression to a loss of biblical hope, let alone despair, is both insulting and misguided at the same time.  Clearly, this man has never been balls to the wall depressed.


The Truth About Depression
Any good psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you (excluding of course, any physical aliments such as hormonal imbalances) that there are three root causes of depression:
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Loss
I would add a fourth cause, that of satanic oppression, but that is a subject for another post.

Nevertheless, if they're really good, they'll say 'unresolved fear', 'unresolved anger' and 'unresolved loss' or possibly even 'great loss.' However, if you spend any time at all researching depression on the Internet, you'll find a whole lot of reasons for depression other than those. But spend just a bit of time considering those other reasons and you'll find that you can pigeon-hole all of them into one of the following: fear, anger or loss.

However, the actuality is this: fear is the root cause of both anger and loss.

Consider for a moment: a loved one has a terminal illness, which leaves you depressed for many, many weeks. You know they're going to die, and you won't have them any more. You wonder, how you will cope with out them? You wonder, how are you going to fill the void their death will leave in your soul? Will the void destroy you? Will you survive emotionally? How will you pay the medical and funeral bills?

What exactly are we describing here? -- Fear.

Consider again: a loved one has been involved in a tragic automobile accident. They have multiple, and severe injuries. The Doctor cautions you that they may not make it through the night. Your mind races: will they live, walk again, smile again? Will I have them back? And why did this happen? Because a drunk driver hit them head on. Your anger rages against that man.

What is at the root of this anger? -- Fear.

There are many forms of loss and anger - some greater, some lesser than others. But if you will be patient and are willing to do some serious, soul wrenching introspection, then you may just find that at the root of your depression there lies unresolved anger, loss and/or fear. Furthermore, I'm willing to bet that at the root of any of your unresolved anger or loss you will find one or more fears.

God has a few specific words about fear:
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:15-18
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

... Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Corinthians 8:1)
While we may believe that courage is the opposite of fear, it is love the defeats fear since love edifies.  There is no fear in edification, for that which builds you up does not and is not tearing you down.  Courage simply says "I will stand in the face of danger, regardless of the potential for loss."  Love says, "there is no loss, there is only adding of strength and fortitude - love says 'I will build you up.'"

What we need to understand about fear, more specifically - unresolved fear, is this: fear involves your perception of personal harm towards yourself - which is the opposite of love. Whether it involves a form of punishment or a form of loss, and the consequences of that loss, fear revolves around you and yourself, or possibly those of which you're responsible. Fear is a reflection of the harm that you believe to be fact, it is your understanding of how the situation is harmful to you.

Furthermore, your unresolved fears reflect the limit of your faith in God to meet your needs: they demonstrate the boundaries of your trust, the limits of your belief and the depth of your love for God, '... because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.'

You may believe that you love God very much, but if you are hanging onto unresolved anger, loss or fear, then those things speak very loudly to the extent you're willing to trust and believe Him, and in essence, love yourself because He first loved you.

God designed fear to be helpful to us, but only within the context of His sovereignty and grace. It is never intended that it should remain unresolved. Anger, and it's root cause fear, must be dealt with, and it must be dealt with immediately.  Fear is always dealt with in truth:
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (Ephesians 4:25-27)
To harbor anger and fear, is to regard sin in your heart, it is falsehood. To let the sun go down on your anger is give the devil a place to sow the seeds of depression, it gives the devil a foot hold for oppression in your life.

Search your heart, find your angers, your fears, your losses. Let go of that which hinders you, and seek God's face through His word in order to be strengthened and healed. Seek the ministry of your Elders and your Godly friends; confess and repent of your sins.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Plucking the T of TULIP.

Within Calvinism, there is the idea of the TULIP, an acronym that describes the fundamental axioms of Calvinism. The TULIP was constructed...