Pain is not depression. This is not widely understood, but should be shouted from the housetops. Emotional pain is not the same thing as depression! It will liberate you to understand this one truth.
I am well aware that this needs careful explaining. Depression in general is murky and the “pit of depression” is a very dark place indeed. Little light penetrates. One’s whole perspective gets captured by the pain and controlled by hopelessness. I know, because I tumbled down into it many times in the past. But NO LONGER, now that I know the truth!
The truth is that you can have mental and emotional pain and not suffer any feelings of depression. Pain is not the same thing as depression. Why is this so important? Practically everyone has emotional pain of one kind or another: deep grief, feelings of rejection, bitter unforgiveness, nagging doubts, dread, guilt, regret and remorse. All these negative emotions are extremely painful. What’s more, they will sit on anyone’s heart like a ton of bricks, if you let them lie there long enough.
What Makes Depression so Depressing?
So, that heavy pain that wrenches my heart, that’s depression, right? No, that’s emotional pain. Each painful, negative emotion I mentioned has its own remedy. You can deal with it successfully. If you want to get free of it and if you learn how to deal with it God’s way, you can fight back. (Please see our absolutely free, eCourse for emotional healing at our website). Sure, it hurts to feel the pain, but if you’re willing to fight for your freedom, you need never fall into depression while you’re climbing out of the pit.
These painful emotions are merely the “witches brew” of tangled feelings which make up depression—not depression itself. Depression only begins if we begin to lose hope. Everyone knows what discouragement and disappointment feel like when some hoped for outcome gets dashed, or someone we love lets us down. This temporary wounding of hope is entirely normal.
However, if we give in to those feelings we may start to let go of hope. This opens a door for darker and deadlier feelings of depression to come upon us. Then, if we give in to despair, we can fall into the very pit of depression. That’s where abject hopelessness rules over us like a cruel tyrant.
Depression, Meet the God of Hope
Often enough, we let go of hope because our situation really does seem hopeless. The feeling of despair cannot be shaken. Our understanding can’t see a way out and our feelings refuse all comfort. Unlike Father Abraham, however, we may “stagger” in unbelief. Our “impossible” seems too big even for God. Our heart gets the message and sinks through the floor boards. There is nothing wrong, by the way, with your heart or mine. Anyone’s heart will begin “killing” them with the pain of depression, if it gets the message “for me, there is no hope.”
Nevertheless—and this is a huge nevertheless—our God declares Himself “the God of hope.” No matter what happens, He always has a plan in mind and a way forward through the thicket to give us “a future and a hope.” Our part is to cling to Him and follow His lead (Jeremiah 29:11). We are even commanded never to let go of our hope in Him, because it is the anchor for our soul (our inner life). Why? Because God knows that it will destroy us, if we let go of hope.
We have run to God for safety. Now his promises should greatly encourage us to take hold of the hope that is right in front of us. This hope is like a firm and steady anchor for our souls. Hebrews 6:18-19 CEV
Are We Listening and Learning?
A loving parent says, “Don’t touch that hot stove.” A willful or unenlightened child touches it anyway and gets burned. Have you been “burned” by letting go of hope? The fires of hell will burn us every time we do. This is not what our loving Father wants for us! He who gives the warning knows that He always has a hope-filled plan ready for our rescue. This means that no matter what, it is always possible to cling to our hope in God. But you must be willing to fight for it.
Fight to keep up an active belief that God is with you, working for you, and will ultimately help you come out on the other side. In this way, you won’t feel the pain of depression, despite all the other pains assaulting you. You will even begin to feel the lift of a faith-infused hope. Why? Because you are refusing to give up on God, or give in to the feelings of discouragement. The unique pain of depression comes from the feeling of hopelessness and despair which a person allows to capture their heart.
Oppression Is Not Depression!
I call this way of freedom “laboring under oppression.” It is so very different from suffering depression. Under the oppression of negative emotions, we fight to hold on to hope. At the same time, we also fight to identity and get free of the negative emotions that are dragging us down. If we maintain the stance of a fighter, then we are actually becoming an Overcomer. You cannot be an Overcomer (see Revelations 2) without something to overcome! In this case it is emotional pain.
We overcome emotional pain first by learning to NEVER let go of the hope that we have been given. That keeps us free and clear of depression. Then, we learn to overcome the oppressive feelings we are under. We do this by identifying which negative emotions are causing the pain and dealing with them God’s way. We carry every negative emotion captive to Christ and hold it up to His truth until we see something in God that shows us what to do with it. Then the healing begins. (Take our free eCourse for emotional healing!)
Perhaps I have a tighter definition of depression than clinicians do. I do not see it as “heaviness of heart.” That comes from all kinds of emotional issues. The distinctive thing about depression (as I am describing it) is the giving up of hope. This carries a pain all its own, one that is successfully remedied by learning how to cling to the hope we have in God. Once that pathway to having hope gets restored, the person is out of depression’s “pit.” This frees them to focus on the issues weighing them down.
Depression and Body Chemistry
I completely agree that depression is not overcome by slogans or by efforts to “pull oneself up by the bootstraps.” Mere faith in God or belief that Jesus is Lord is often not enough. (It takes a resolute and active belief in His promises–see The Power of Believing at our website.) So, of course Christians are just as afflicted as non-believers. Indeed, I would venture that Christians can be even more prone to depression, if they don’t see God working in their lives as they hoped or expected. Genuine hope, however, is not based on seeing results, but on believing that what God has promised is the truth.
I understand, too, that there is a physiological aspect to intense depression. In depression, the body chemistry works against us, failing to produce the “feel good” hormones. However, is it really a matter of chemical imbalance? If that were true, there would be no hope because that would mean that our body got programmed against us. Certainly, when heaviness weighs on the heart, it will (by the mind-body connection) affect all kinds of systems in the body, adding to the problem. But did the body take the hit first, or did the heart? Please see a related article: “What Causes Addiction: Is It a Chemical Hook?”
The Choice that Liberates Us
Here is the liberating truth: No matter how we came to feel so depressed, we ALWAYS have a choice how we are going to respond. Some choose to respond to the affliction of their emotions by giving up. This sinks them further into futility, hopelessness and depression. Others seek freedom, refusing to give up on themselves or on God.
Long before I ever got rid of the negative emotions that were crushing me, I got free of despair and depression. How? I refused to let go of hope. The hope that I pinned all of my hope on was what I came to call “The Magnificent Promise.” My heart floated over any problem or pain—once I learn to fully believe the promise.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 MKJV
I put the “working all things for good” into the unseen future. That kept me free of depression’s unique pain and let me always feel good that I was walking towards something better. Now, that future has arrived. But faith in the promise held my heart up while I waited and worked for it to get here. That uplift was a much-needed blessing in itself!
The Choice Is Yours
We have a choice. We can choose to hold on to hope. Or, we can choose to give up on God’s eventual help and give in to the downward pull of emotions. This is a decision that anyone can make. It makes a huge difference! Is your stance going to be that of a fighter (with hope of eventual victory), or a victim (fated to suffer, despairing of victory)? Choose wisely!
Of course, the issues that cause us pain are usually many and complex. Nevertheless, no matter how heavy the oppressive feelings are, they are a separate issue from how a person chooses to respond to them. As a fellow sufferer of depression, Winston Churchill, once famously said about a different battle for freedom (1941), “Never give in. Never. Never. Never!”
Let’s cling to the hope set before us and never give in to feelings of depression again!