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 ...

3 comments:

Jim said...

David, that is one fine study.

David Means said...

Thanks Jim. I've lived it. My prayer is that others will find this and in at least some small way, people will be helped.

slm1960 said...

Fabulously written, and so inspirational. I am so proud to be your sister, David. Most assuredly you have captured the spirit and the Word of God as well as the power we have to overcome our onions of despair. You rock out, my brother.

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