Jimmy Buehler: Welcome to the members’ podcast. This is where we let our hair down a bit and have a little bit more of a raw conversation than we already do.
We are talking about depression; what we want to talk about for the next 15-20 minutes is how do we really counsel people? What are the ways that are helpful to counsel people who are suffering from depression?
Before we get there, I just want to thank you as our members for the support that you give us. The ways in which you support us really enable us to bring a lot of people rest in Christ. Jon sends Justin and me just various little blurbs of people who thank us for helping them rest in Christ. None of that is possible without your support. So, thank you for supporting us.
Jon, I think you’re going to lead us in here and how we counsel people through these ways in which are helpful. So why don’t you bring us in.
Jon Moffitt: Two separate conversations this week: one with a guy from India and another guy from South Korea, and they both have found our podcast in the last two months. Both told me that they have never truly understood rest or understood assurance. Once they found our ministry, they’ve been able to experience that.
Just to encourage the listener: people around the world truly are being impacted by this message. Just know that we are super thankful for what you’re doing. One of the things being in the COVID-19 circumstance is there is a lot of people who, left in their own fear and anxiety, left in their homes, are going to start to become very depressed.
I’ve got several more scheduled conversations with people who are going through this state. I have to reach out to them and pull it out of them. “How are you doing? What are you feeling?” Eventually, I can get it out of them: “Pastor, I’m feeling really depressed at the moment.” When I get on the phone or a Zoom call with these people, my first step with someone who is suffering is always to listen.
Paul says this on two separate occasions: comfort the weak and weep with those who are weeping. It means to come alongside and suffer with them, to bear each other’s burden. So, if their burden is depression, he does not say, “Come fix it for them.”
Galatians 6:1 says if they’re in sin, we’re to help them out of that, but this isn’t an issue of sin but of circumstance. This is a difficult season, and it’s causing some issues where there’s melancholy of the soul. The first inclination of the pastor should not be, “Okay. Here’s how we’re going to fix this…” Nothing creates a greater amount of pressure and deeper mounts of depression than to think, “Oh great. I’m coming to get fixed, and he’s not even hearing me. They’re not even listening to me.” Often people suffer because they just don’t have anybody to explain what’s going on. They feel trapped. They feel as if no one understands.
The first thing that I think anyone needs to do when you’re counseling is to just listen. Learn how to ask questions; where you’re not talking, you’re leading them to open up and expose the darkness of their soul. I’m sure Jimmy and Justin can attest to this: one of the most therapeutic parts of battling depression is being able to just tell people, “I don’t know what’s going on.” Just having someone listen.
“It doesn’t sound very spiritual, Jon.” You are being very spiritual. That’s what Paul means.
Justin Perdue: Dare we say you’re being obedient to Scripture. You’re doing what the apostles exhort us to.
I’m not going to repeat everything that Jon said, but I may say some of it again and let that be a lesson to the listener of how united these three pastors are in thinking about how to counsel people through depression.
I agree, Jon, that the first thing we do is not say anything. We listen. If we do say anything, we don’t just quote the Bible. Perhaps begin with, “Brother or sister, I love you, I’m here, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what you’re going through. That oftentimes is so encouraging. We feel less isolated and more like, “Okay, I’m not entirely by myself here. My brother or sister in Christ is listening to me,” or, in this case, “My pastor is hearing me, and he is identifying with what I’m saying. He gets that this is hard even if he doesn’t understand everything about it.” The last thing in the world we need to do is approach counseling somebody who’s battling depression land say, “Here’s how we’re going to fix you.” That’s really detrimental and damaging. Listen, demonstrate compassion and mercy with your speech, and then if you’re going to give people Scripture in the short term, I’m going to go back to something I said in the, in the regular podcast: give them Christ. Point them outside of themselves and towards Jesus and his sufficiency, his love and mercy and compassion toward them. Point them to the fact that Christ was a man of sorrows. Help them see that they’re not insane, that God’s people have experienced these things before. It can give us a sense of comfort to know that there isn’t anything uniquely wrong with me. There’s nothing that’s uniquely wrong with us that we’re battling these things and feeling these ways. We have to start there if we’re going to be any kind of help to people.
Invite people in with your demeanor and your posture, as Jon was saying, invite them to open their hearts up and really share. A lot of times we’re ashamed of the things that we’re thinking and feeling, and we don’t want to say them, but it’s good for us to say them. Your posture is a pastor who has to invite that and make the person feel safe to say that kind of stuff.
Jimmy Buehler: Something to keep in mind is that the culture in which we live here in 21st century America, as we think about the pastoral office, teaches us to desire a quick fix. We can become easily frustrated with people who are constantly struggling with the same things. “I’ve been pastoring this person for five years, and they don’t seem to make any progress.” We need to be ever so careful about that.
Certainly, there can be things that we get frustrated over in terms of “progress”. But when it comes to this topic of depression, melancholy, lowliness of heart and state of mind, there are no quick fixes. There are no microwave approaches to counseling people. We need to be careful. We need to care for their souls and be mindful of the unique ways in which they are wired. There is no medicine bottle that if you just take two of these a day, you’re going to be fine.
You may walk and pilgrim with people for the vast majority of their life, and at the end of their life, when perhaps you’re doing their funeral, you say something like, “Billy here struggled with depression his entire life. We didn’t really see any ‘progress,’ but what we did see is a good Savior who sustained his faith during the veracity of his life.”
I just want to encourage particularly the pastors who are listening – as one who struggles with depression, one of the things that were often provided to me was, one, is there a sin that you’re hiding? Or two, are you reading and praying enough? My goodness. Just to heap Law on somebody who is struggling with depression is not going to have the outcome you think it’s going to have.
Jon Moffitt: The other option often is to hand somebody a book and say, “Read this, and it’ll fix the problem.”
Justin Perdue: Spurgeon Sorrows isn’t going to fix anything. Let’s just go and say that. It’s just going to help you diagnose yourself a little better and point you to Christ.
Jon Moffitt: If you are in the state of depression and it’s not something that you have had long bouts with, and this is new for you… I remember working with a young man when I was in college ministry. He had suffered depression for his entire life, and he had gone to see so many counselors. By the time he had got to me, I honestly told him, “What do you expect me to tell you that everybody else hasn’t told you?” I finally sent him to a doctor. Because he would say, “Jon, I can’t think of a sin. I can’t think of a reason. I’ve got a great job. My family loves me. I love our church. I love God. I love the gospel. I’m being honest with you, Jon; I don’t have a secret sin. And yet there are times where I can’t get out of bed for three days straight. I have to have someone call my work because I can’t get out of bed.”
I said, “You got to go talk to a doctor. I just don’t know.” But there have been other times where the depression was because they had been physically assaulted, and it was something that they had never really gone through before. They had never really processed what was causing them so much grief and pain. To help them grieve and help them bear that burden, they were able to come out of depression. But those are two very separate circumstances. You cannot say that there is one solution to both situations cause there’s just not.
Justin Perdue: I’m going to offer a few helps for depression. As I’m counseling people and living life with them, these are things that we would talk about over the course of time. This is not something that you’re going to dump on somebody in the first meeting, but you’re going to think and talk about these things in an ongoing way.
We will begin with searching the word of God but use the word of God in the way that we’re describing – not as a medicine cabinet, but as a testimony to the faithfulness of God and Jesus. Encourage people to lean into the church. That’s another thing. To the covenant community of the church, our brothers and sisters whom we walk with and live life with, as we’re battling depression it’s really important that we would lean heavily on one another.
Now I’m going to transition to some other things, at the risk of sounding absurdly unspiritual, that I think really do matter. From a reformed perspective, it makes entire sense because of how we understand the fall and the effects of sin on the totality of our person. Jon, you already mentioned about seeing a doctor – that’s something that we should encourage people to do. You might want to talk to your doctor about what’s going on with your body. Perhaps, like what Jimmy was saying in the other podcast, that maybe medication would really help you.
My wife wouldn’t mind me sharing this: she is on antidepressants and has been on them at various stages in our marriage. They have been very helpful. They don’t fix everything, but they knock the edge off, and they help people get their feet under them a little bit. So, yes, go see your doctor.
Some other things to consider: how are you eating? Is your diet reasonable? How much sleep are you getting? What does your rhythm look like with your sleep schedule? Are you getting any physical activity and exercise? How often do you enjoy good food and good drink? How often do you laugh? Do you get time with friends where you can just let loose and cut up and joke around a little bit? How often are these things happening in your life?
I could go on with a number of other lists. Those things might sound unspiritual and just sort of practical and worldly, but they’re not. This is how God has made us. These kinds of things are not the cure, but those are things to consider in the lives of people as we try to help them think through and sort through what’s going on.
Jon Moffitt: To disconnect your spiritual life from a physical life… I know it’s true from my own life. If I don’t eat healthily and I don’t get enough sleep, I become very melancholy; nothing’s right, everything’s wrong; I can’t think straight, and I can’t study. What you do physically can affect you spiritually.
People are going to be critical, but you are a physical being. Your body responds to what you do to it and how and what you put into it. So, I think you need to be cognizant of those things.
I couldn’t agree more with you, Justin, that we have to be aware of our surroundings and what’s causing it. I’ve even had to encourage men to change careers. “You have to get a different career for the sake of your health and the safety of your family because you’re destroying your body.” Maybe you need a day off. Maybe you’re struggling like crazy because you’re just burning it at both ends. Maybe you need a vacation and some diversion from the task. It can be any number of things that might help. It might not cure it, but it might help.
Jimmy Buehler: One of the things that I told people in my own experience is this: as you’re struggling through this, you don’t want to approach your own care like a knife where one stab is going to fix it all. It’s more like a forked approach where you have physical to pay attention to. Certainly, there are some spiritual things.
I do want to say this. You can be caught in a pattern of sin, and it’s no wonder you’re depressed because you’ve been hiding something. For me, there was a little bit of that. There could be a natural disposition, but I also want to give people realistic expectations.
My wife and I dialogue about this all the time. My wife is just overtly a positive person. She’s happy-go-lucky. Jon can attest to this, as he knows her pretty well. I am not that way. In fact, before we were married, before we were even dating, my wife and I were sworn enemies over this topic. She even called me overly negative.
But the thing is you have to be realistic with yourself. You may not ever be that positive person that you want to be, and there has to be contentedness in Christ where you realize, “I just may not be that positive person.” That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be the negative jerk all the time, but be realistic as you approach this topic. You’re not going to be the happiest person that you may likely be.
Before we wrap it up, gentlemen, any other words that you would want to counsel?
Jon Moffitt: I want to go back to something that Justin said. If you’re new to Theocast and you haven’t heard this a lot, we do emphasize the means that God has provided. Those means aren’t to create within us this victory. The means are designed to bolster your faith, strengthen your faith, to cause you to have a stronger trust in the work of Christ.
One of those means is the local body. The moment we are regenerate, we are brought to life, God brings us in and calls us family; He calls us children. We use His word body – hands and feet and eyes, and we’ve all been gifted. The body is designed to help you struggle through this. This is why Paul says again in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens.” This is Ephesians 4, where he says that when the body functions properly, it builds itself up in love.
It does not say when you digest enough Scripture, and you memorize it, and you pray enough, you’ll build yourself up. It says when the body functions properly. Those of you that find yourself in the throes of deep depression, you need to trust the means that God has provided you to get through this every single day; that you can fight one more day to find hope, to look forward to the returning, to actually be a semi-functional. You need to trust the means, which is his preached word, the sacraments, prayer, and the body, the functioning of the body.
We do hope that this conversation was helpful for you and to our members.
Thank you for your support as we continue the work of the Reformation in the 21st century. Again, we invite you to check out Theocast.org, where you can find more resources like this as we seek together to rest in Christ. Thanks again for listening.