…always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18
So how, exactly, do these verses—and this advice—help you if you’re suffering from depression, especially grief-driven depression?
At first glance, you may react immediately by saying, “I can’t do those. Rejoice? Give thanks in everything? And then you’ll probably add, “And how can this be God’s will, to rejoice in this pain, to give thanks in my loss? It’s impossible, and I don’t even think it’s right.”
I can understand those feelings, and I’ll admit it’s difficult for me to respond in the manner laid out in these verses. I’ve found that it takes perseverance, discipline and a complete change of heart and mind to put these into practice.
But I’ve also found that when I do respond this way—and sometimes it takes a monumental effort on my part to do so, to war with my flesh and mind and wrestle them into submission over this—it provides me with healing and peace I can’t begin to describe. Healing and peace that burrows deep into my soul and heart, that causes an immediate change of attitude and outlook on my circumstances and on my life.
Paul knew what he was doing when he instructed everyone to practice these behaviors because he knew it’s good for you to do it. It’s good for your mind! And what’s good for your mind is usually good for your body, soul and overall health.
So let’s go through each of them. They’re pretty basic and won’t take much time to cover.
Hmmm. Really!? You can’t be serious! Oh, I can assure you he is. Rejoice. Always. Even when you don’t feel like rejoicing. Like love, rejoicing is an action, and often, when you start acting in a loving way, your mind and body follow along for the ride. And so it is with rejoicing. When you raise your hands in praise and happiness and change your speech to positive words, and force yourself to think good, rejoicing thoughts, your mind responds. (Remember the cognitive-behavioral therapy I referred to several posts ago?)
Your mind will trigger a release of endorphins and feel-good hormones to bring your thoughts, mind and body into line with your actions. But you must let it all go; no holding back on this one. If any stray negative thought enters in, and you indulge it and start mulling it over and open the door to it, your rejoicing will evaporate like a dove under the flick of a magician’s wand.
When I think of Victoria now, and find myself sliding down into that black hole of melancholy and self-pity, I turn my focus instead to the wonderful memories of her and that pregnancy, and think ahead to the future, of being reunited with her for eternity. And in that thought alone I can rejoice mightily! I unconsciously smile, an automatic reaction to the happiness that creeps across my heart. My entire body bursts with joy over those thoughts. There is nothing sad about them.
I’ll tell you a story that gives you an idea of the sense of humor God has.
About ten years ago, Chris and I were struggling with work stress and life stress, both of which strained our marriage. Chris was having a particularly difficult time and ended up having to take doctor-ordered disability leave. Once again, I found myself at my rope’s end, not knowing where to turn, how to turn or when to turn. So one night I grabbed my Bible and retreated to our front porch rocking chair to cry out to God, to wallow in my agony.
“Okay, God,” I sniveled, “I want to find a perfect psalm. One of those real heartrending ones David penned when he was at his wit’s end and felt abandoned and finished. Find me a real good one!” I flipped open my Bible to the Book of Psalms and stared at the words through blurry eyes. Tears dripped onto the page as I peered and squinted at the Psalm lying open before me.
“What?” I whispered, mildly irked at the verses that leapt off the page at me. “No, God. That’s not what I was looking for! This is a praise and worship psalm, not one I can really sink my aching teeth into. What do you mean by leading me to this one?” After several seconds of pouting and internal argument, I murmured an “Okay, I’ll-read –it-but-I’m-not-going-to-like-it” response and dove in.
As I read aloud the psalm of rejoicing and praise to God, my heart filled with love, understanding, forgiveness and peace. The words eradicated every ounce of sadness from my cells and caused my heart to pound with joy. Within seconds, my attention had flipped from focusing on all of my hurts, to how great and capable my God is. I actually felt a bit embarrassed and silly about my wallowing. For the next half-an-hour, I hugged my Bible close and thanked God for His wisdom and guidance, His loving, tender touch and redirection of my focus—from me and my doubts and human limitations, to His omniscient power to change my circumstances or guide me through them. Tears poured harder at the realization of His guiding hand. And then I laughed outright at the irony.
He had taken me where I didn’t want to go, knowing that I needed to go there.
If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to do so. Rejoice, even in the most difficult of circumstances. You’re not rejoicing about them, but you’re rejoicing through them. It will change your perspective.
Pray without ceasing.
This is pretty straightforward: Always be in an attitude of prayer, thoughtfulness, mindfulness (remember that post?), ready to hear God’s voice and leading. It makes you more sensitive to the Spirit and to His guiding hand.
In everything, give thanks.
I know. How does someone possibly do that given the agonizing pain and grief they’re mired in? The answer? You can’t. Not in your human flesh anyway. This is something where you need to surrender everything to God, and let Him do the thanking for you.
In order to accomplish this, I usually say something along these lines, “Okay, Lord. Everything You do and allow to happen, You do for a purpose. So, please, let me learn what it is You have to teach me right here, right now. Don’t let me rebel against it; let me sink myself into it so I can learn all You have for me to understand.
I remind myself (or try to) of the old Scottish adage that says, “The vine is never so close to the vinedresser as when it’s being pruned by Him.” The pruning hurts, but it’s oh, so necessary for the most prolific growth to occur. (More on this in a much later post.)
And then there is the thanks I can give—and which renews my hope—at the reminder that God is still on the throne, He’s still in control, and prayer changes things. Sometimes what prayer changes is not the situation, but me, my attitude, my outlook. My heart.
So the main takeaway point is that there is always something for which I can give thanks. And giving thanks does wonders for my mind, body and soul!
Pray the Scripture.
This one isn’t in the list, but I have found it to be one of the most singly powerful ways to pray. Use Scripture to pray for yourself, your spouse, your children, your family and friends. God promises that His word will not return void unto him, so you can be assured that you are praying powerfully, in words that will be pleasing to God. Words that you can wrap around your heart and soul and soak yourself in. Words that will change you, inside and out.
The bottom line is: Do NOT let anything or anyone steal your joy! Not even you! So often we give our joy away, or steal it from ourselves because we are so self-focused. That alone can keep us in bondage to depression and pain and rob us of the sound mind God wants us to enjoy.
Good luck on practicing these principles. Please let me know how it goes!
I’ll be praying for all of you!
NEXT WEEK: Relieving depression with manual therapy. The following week we’ll finish this series on beating depression with cognitive-behavioral therapy, and the first week in February, I’ll return to my story. You’ll want to join me for that, to read about the miracles, the internal struggles, the extreme battles with evil and spiritual darkness, the high-risk pregnancy, the joys, the losses, the angelic visit. All of it. It’ll be a story of redemption and joy you won’t want to miss.
Until next week,
Thanks for joining me!