I fell into a depression when I was a freshman in college. I had become despondent as a struggling pre-med student. I was chasing a fantasy of being a medical doctor and trying to make my family proud of me. But I hated biology and chemistry! I felt sick to my stomach when I dissected a frog! I was scared to treat people’s medical problems, yet I trudged on from class to class and I fell asleep late at night studying textbooks that bored me to death.
In the winter of my freshman year I woke up to the chill in my soul and cried out to God for help. What should I do?
I needed permission to follow my heart’s desire to study psychology and learn how to help people to heal and to grow personally and spiritually. But there weren’t many Christians who were becoming psychologists in 1985. Most people thought it was kind of weird. And I was afraid to disappoint my family, especially my dad and grandfather who were so proud of me and told everyone: “Bill is going to be a doctor!”
I prayed and prayed as I wrestled within myself. I didn’t know what to do. I felt so trapped and so dead in my soul. I was so desperate to hear from God.
I Was Depressed Till God’s Word Gave Me Hope!
Finally, as a last resort and not knowing what else to do, I played “Bible roulette”! I picked up my Bible, closed my eyes, and prayed for God to speak to me from whatever page my Bible opened to! These are the first words that I read:
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters… Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live…
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near… “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth” (Isaiah 55:1-3, 10-11).
These words gave me such hope! I read them over and over. I believe that God in his grace met me in my desperation and answered my immature faith by providing the guidance I needed from Isaiah.
I was so thirsty for living water! I was so tired from laboring and spending money on what didn’t satisfy my soul. For the first time I sensed that it wasn’t just my desire to study psychology, but it was also God’s calling on my life. And now was the time for me to listen to God! Now was the time for me to heed his call no matter how my family would react to me dropping out of pre-med. (They came to accept and support my decision!)
This was a real turning point in my life. I thank God that after months of getting more and more depressed because I was ignoring my feelings of sadness and emptiness in my pre-med classes I took courage from the Lord through Isaiah and stepped off of the pre-med treadmill. I stopped trying to force myself to fit the mould of a doctor-in-training and headed into a new adventure with the Lord.
How Do You Respond to Sadness?
Many people that I talk to as a psychologist and spiritual director have made the same mistake that I did as a freshman in college: they don’t get help with their sadness and eventually they become depressed.
Depression can sucks the life out you – no matter how committed you are to Christ. Perhaps you know what it’s like…
- To have your mind full of self-condemning thoughts
- Or not to want to get out of bed in the morning to face the day
- Or to be so lonely that your skin screams out for a caring touch
- Or to feel so hopeless that you wish you could die
To avoid depression or get help if you’re in a pit is you need to get in touch with your sadness and share with with a compassionate person. (Dealing with anger is also important but that’s for another article.) We don’t want to feel sad and therein lies the problem that can turn into depression!
We learn a great deal about ourselves based on how we respond to the situations that disappoint or distress us. The worst things to do when we’re sad or disappointed are the very things that so many of us are likely to do: Get frustrated with ourselves or someone else, isolate, eat more cookies, pour a glass of wine, work harder, stay real busy, or put a smile on and act like everything is okay.
The Psalmist’s Honest Faith Leads to Freedom
With the help of Isaiah and the Psalmist, along with my mother’s empathy and prayers, I was able to admit to how sad and empty I felt as a pre-Med student and break out of my depression.
Prior to this crisis I had been learning from the way of the Psalmist. Particularly in the Laments (the sad Psalms, which are the most common type of Psalm in the Bible) the Psalmist showed me how to stop denying my emotion and instead cry out to God in prayer and put my confidence in his lovingkindness. David and the other prayer masters of the Psalms showed me an honest faith in God.
Honest faith. It’s what God prizes, but it’s rare in our world. Few people seem to be strong on both sides: authentic self-disclosure and positive-minded trust in God’s goodness. But listen to the prayers of the Psalmist who talks to God like he’s a therapist (and he is!): he cries and yet hopes, complains and still gives thanks, vents anger and yet submits to God, struggles with all that is wrong in his visible world and also learns to see and rely upon the hidden reality of the Kingdom of God in his midst.
I’m thankful that the path God had for me in his Kingdom led me to become a psychologist and to apply my training to helping other people, especially ministry leaders, to grow in their spiritual formation in Christ.
May the Lord help us to live with an honest faith that verbalizes the hurts we experience in our circumstances and puts trust in the goodness of Christ and his wonderful Kingdom of the Heavens in our midst.