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Cling to the Light: How to Cope When Suffering with Depression

Dear friend, if you’re among those who cry out to God and yearn for his comfort, know you’re not alone. Your walk in the darkness cannot hide you from the Light of the World (John 8:12). Even when you can’t feel his presence, Jesus remains with you until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), and nothing—not your shame, your despair, or the agony of depression—can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:38–39).

Though every hour may seem hopeless and every day a painful ordeal, healing is possible. The following practical guidelines can ease you toward a place of greater wholeness. Keep in mind these suggestions don’t take the place of professional counseling.

Confide in Someone You Trust

When we struggle with depression, we often feel isolated and alone. We fear others won’t understand our struggles and will condemn us for our inability to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” So while we thirst for companionship, our shame silences us.

But when flailing in the dark, we need the guiding hand of fellowship more than ever. Though fears of rejection may haunt you, identify people in your life whom you trust and then confide in them about your struggles. Biblical counselor Ed Welch advises,

Tell someone you are depressed. That is a small, risky yet doable step. It might feel like you are coming out of hiding and acknowledging something hideous or shameful. But tell someone. If you have no idea who to tell, tell your pastor. Among those who responded [to our survey about depression], there was a chorus that never stopped singing the same refrain: “Don’t isolate. Don’t isolate.”

Honestly sharing your struggles helps others better love you and helps you remain engaged. Safe people may include immediate family, a dear friend, a mentor, a counselor, or (and especially) the church. The body of Christ is designed to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), so connect with your pastor or members of your church who can weep alongside you (Rom. 12:15).

As you voice your pain, invite others to pray with and for you. Private prayer may feel laborious, but requests on our behalf can provide a balm for our weary souls. No matter whom you invite into your confidence, be forthright about what helps and what makes days worse. Allowing others to be present with you without pretending all is well can give you the freedom to heal.

Seek (and Accept) Help

Depression is much more serious than a glum mood, and an early step toward shaking away the shadows and reclaiming your joy is to acknowledge you need help. You can’t overcome this affliction alone.

The first stop when seeking help for depression is your primary doctor’s office, but it shouldn’t be the last. While a doctor determines whether an antidepressant will help, it’s critically important to couple any medication with counseling.

Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, or you can seek out a Christian counselor through various online resources like Anchored Hope, which provides clinically informed biblical counseling remotely. Additionally, both the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) and the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) host helpful search engines with contact information for Christian counselors across the country.

If you’re among those who cry out to God and yearn for his comfort, know you’re not alone. Your walk in the darkness cannot hide you from the Light of the World.

If a doctor recommends antidepressants, don’t view this as a failure. Such medications can be a crucial component of recovery, especially when combined with counseling. Though getting out the door to an appointment can feel impossible at times, aim to continue therapy as best you can.

If you don’t connect with or grow to trust the first counselor you see, seek out another therapist rather than abandoning treatment completely. Recruit a trusted friend to help you research options and to drive you to and from appointments. Lean on others to ease the burden and keep you accountable when your motivation is at a minimum.

Focus on Doing the Next Thing

Depression feels like a mire of meaninglessness, but daily structure can keep you moving forward even when your mind and body want to surrender. Elisabeth Elliot, a missionary well versed in suffering, relied on an old Saxon poem to prod her to “do the next thing”:

Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all resultings, do the next thing.

Doing the next thing can offer a lifeline in depression. The next thing need not be momentous. It may be the only task your mind can handle in a given instance—getting out of bed, making lunch, calling a friend, taking a walk, or driving to work.

In her book on grief, Clarissa Moll reframes the daily routines of “eat, sleep, exercise” as “nourish, rest, move.” The words mean the same thing, but hers can seem less daunting to a weary heart. When simple tasks seem arduous, focus not on the responsibilities that loom but only on the next thing: Nourish, rest, move. Repeat. As much as possible, incorporate these into routines to conserve your energy and limit the burden of daily decisions.

Lean into Prayer

Depression muddies concentration. We may yearn for God’s Word but find our eyes gloss over familiar verses without comprehending them. Our hearts cry out for help, but we can’t organize our anguish into a coherent prayer.

The psalms are life-giving in such moments. When you’re feeling well, bookmark particular psalms in your Bible to which you can turn when the fog of depression again clouds your thinking. When you’re sinking into the depths, allow the psalms to anchor your prayers. Recite them as if they were your own words.

If a doctor recommends antidepressants, don’t view this as a failure. Such medications can be a crucial component of recovery, especially when combined with counseling.

If the Spirit moves you, add your own language of lament, pouring out your woes to God. Lift up your prayers even if they dwindle to single phrases—“Lord, have mercy on me,” “Father, please help me.” God hears our prayers (1 John 5:15), and when our own words fail, the Spirit speaks on our behalf “with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

My prayer is that when gloom descends and living seems unbearable, the body of Christ will offer a cool cup of water and you’ll find hope in God—even if it’s only glimpses at first. When church members bolster one another with the message of God’s grace, and we cleave to one another as brothers and sisters, we can chase away the loneliness.

After all, our hope isn’t found in the work of our meager hands but in Christ, through whom God shows his boundless love, mercy, and forgiveness. And when we encounter that love, pinpricks of light penetrate the darkness.

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