Just Pray the Depression Away?
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 2 Corinthians 12:8
There’s no reason I should feel depressed. I’ve got a great life. I feel guilty for feeling this way. I’ve heard statements like these many times from those who wrestle with depression or anxiety for no apparent reason. Often, they feel like a failure. God has given me so much, it’s wrong of me to feel depressed.
In struggling with their mood, they’ll inevitably pray, which is an appropriate response. Take this away from me God. Then, if the depression isn’t lifted, they feel even worse. God, why don’t you help me? Don’t you care? Is there something wrong with me? The presence of the depression or anxiety, the presence of a struggle, stands as evidence to them of their failure or faithlessness, which makes them feel even worse.
This is often reinforced by other well-meaning Christians who haven’t suffered from depression or anxiety and thus, offer unhelpful advice. They prescribe more prayer, and they honestly expect the one suffering to be relieved through prayer. When prayer doesn’t fix it, even other Christians will begin to question the one struggling Hmmm, I wonder what they’re doing wrong.
According to today’s passage though, God allows some struggles to remain, even though we ask him repeatedly to remove them. In the narrative, Paul told of how he had a thorn in his flesh. We’re not told what it was, but he hated it and wanted it gone. To keep Paul dependent on God though, God said no, allowing the struggle to remain.
We’re all imperfect. We’re all flawed in different ways. Some of us wrestle with our mood, while others wrestle with tendencies for greed, pride, lust, anger. I’m not suggesting that feeling depressed is a sin. The underlying struggle isn’t a failure. Failure or success – right or wrong – is defined by how we respond to it. If, in our depression or anxiety, we engage in behavior that is destructive to ourselves and others, then we fail. If we drink to deal with our feelings or lash out in anger, then we’re in the wrong. If, however, we daily ask God what he wants us to do with our mood – and then we do it – that’s success. This may mean counseling, meeting with others, or even taking medication.
God uses our struggle to teach us faith and obedience. If we follow our way, we make things worse. In choosing obedience though, we can grow and change. As with Paul though, the underlying struggle may never be removed. Like it or not, God uses our struggles to shape us. Our response to the struggle is up to us.