5. Never Say This to a Depressed Christian: “I’ve Been Through Worse”
I had a relative say this to me with absolute resolve and conviction in her voice. She said, “Michael, whatever you have gone through, I have been though worse! So don’t try to give me your sob story.” She meant well, but this is not something to say to a depressed person. It may be true that you have been through worse and been able to get out of it. What you mat not know is that this is meaningless to the depressed for two reasons:
- Once you’re in the black hole of depression, the hole itself is the worst thing you’ve gone through. The tragic events that might have brought you there often pale in comparison.
- Suffering is relative. There are always going to be people who have it worse than you. This isn’t the issue. It’s how you perceive and internalize your suffering relative to who you were before. For some, the loss of a job can make them suicidal. For others (who live in harsher climates of society) even the loss of a child is expected and absorbed with less depression.
So depression is a very relative thing. Letting people know that you’ve been through worse—while it might be objectively true—can be both unwise and irresponsible. It will only harden the person in their depression.
6. Never Say This to a Depressed Christian: “God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle”
This is in my top 10 things of what the Bible does not say that Christians often quote as Scripture. There is nowhere in the Bible that says God will not give us more than we can handle. It does say that he will in temptation provide a way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13). But never does it say that God will not give us more pain and suffering than we can handle.
Many Christians have suffered to the point of death at the hands of executors. Many suffer to the point of death at their own hands. All we can say is that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). This may not solve our depression, but it does give us perspective. Even if our depression has caused us enormous doubt, this can be helpful.
7. Never Say This to a Depressed Christian: “Depression Is a Sin—You Should Have Joy in Your Life”
This always comes from the person who has never experienced real depression. Once you have, you would never say something like this again. Unfortunately, this often comes from those who feel that it’s their job to deliver us from this evil. But is depression a sin? I don’t think so.
Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This mourning should not be thought of as some temporary bout with suffering. It’s not purely circumstantial (like mourning for the death of a loved one). The Greek word for mourn (pentheo) is a present active participle. It is actually the best word to use for “sadness” or “depression.” Christ is saying that those that are always (present, active) sad and down, will be comforted. The comfort, in the context, does not come in this life, but in the life to come. So far from being a sin, depression is often going to be the progressive state of the “blessed.”
How to Bear the Burdens of a Depressed Christian
So, if these are the things you don’t do, what do you do? If you have a loved one who’s depressed, it is hard to handle. It can cause depression in you if you are not careful. All you want to do is solve it. Please understand, it’s not your job to solve the depression. You may be able to be a great influence in getting the depressed to feel better, but God has not given you the responsibility to deliver a loved one from depression. Let yourself off the hook. Don’t make yourself responsible for something you cannot do. Though you may be used by Him to bring the depressed to wholeness, you are not the Holy Spirit.
Most of what you “say” will only cause more depression, as shown above. This was the mistake of Job’s friends. They stayed silent for seven days (Job 2:13). They should have stayed silent for good. After seven days, they couldn’t take it any more and made all the mistakes we’ve looked at.
Silence, with your arm around the depressed, is the best advice. There may be a time for verbal inquiry, but this needs to come naturally and without judgement. You’re not given a podium to preach to the depressed; you’re given arms to hold them. Even if this doesn’t “work,” your goal should not be to bring them out of their depression. Your goal should be to be there for them their entire life if necessary. It is a terrible burden to bear when this is a loved one, I know. But this is how we bear the burdens of the depressed.
“Silences make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying but the never needing to say is what counts.” —Margaret Runbeck
When someone is there for you without all the answers and requiring you to follow their advice “or else,” you have a true friend. And, unfortunately, these friends have been rare from the beginning of time.