Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
I don't often remember the details of conversations with people. It would be nice if I did. Then I'd not be so surprised when my husband leaves for ten days of business. ("Don't you remember? I told you I'd be gone on an extended trip.") Actually, no, I don't remember, because I can't even remember what I did yesterday...
But there is one conversation I do remember. It's one that still haunts me. And I remember it in great detail.
I went to see my midwife for my visit following the birth of my first child. I had numerous health problems after the delivery, and hoped she would help me resolve them. I can still picture the room, where I sat, and my son asleep in his carrier on the floor.
She looked at me with concern and said, "I wonder if you might be suffering from postpartum depression."
In my mind, I thought: This is not depression. I know depression. I've diagnosed it and treated people for it. This is fatigue and stress.
I shook my head and said, "I'm just exhausted. And stressed. I need to get my health problems under control. That's all it is."
Almost ten months later, I watched a show on television where a woman described her experience with postpartum depression and with tears streaming down my face, I whispered aloud, "That's me."
I called my doctor the next day.
Depression is insidious like that. It hides itself behind circumstances and experiences. It can mask itself as anger or stress or grief. It remains in the shadows until it's become such a part of us, we don't remember when we didn't feel that way. Like the proverbial frog slipped into slowly warming water that eventually comes to a boil, depression creeps up on us, until we can't remember the last time we felt joy.
With my second pregnancy, I told my doctor right away about my history and we prepared for its return after the birth. And it did return, with a vengeance. But the second time around, I told people about my struggle. I reached out for community. I knew I was in the thick of it and that I needed people to walk with me in it. And they did. Sweet sisters in Christ, the pastor of my church, and my family all ministered to me in various and important ways. (I share more about my struggles in A Heart Set Free).
For those who struggle with depression, we need other people. We need those who know us well enough to spot the water boiling, who recognize that something isn't right. We need the church to love, support, and serve us. We need the body of believers to carry us through the darkness until the sun shines again.
How can the church community help those with depression?
When we know each other beyond the simple, "Hi. How are you? How was your week?" then we'll know when someone is struggling. We'll notice when they've missed church. We'll see the fatigue and sadness etched across their face. When we take the time to know one another well in the church, we'll know when one part of the body is suffering, because we'll feel it too.
When someone is depressed, there are many practical details of life that are hard to do. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ can volunteer to babysit. They can prepare meals. They can drive their friend to the doctor or counselor. They can take over ministry duties for a while. In these ways and more, the church can serve the hurting.
The church ought not to shy away from or abandon the hurting, nor should the church fear the depressed person's emotions. They don't have to know what to say or how to make the depression go away. But they can be there for their depressed brother or sister. They can listen. They shouldn't say pithy statements about how they'll feel better if they pray or read the Bible more. People who are hurting don't need advice. They don't need a spiritual to-do list. They don't even need a theology lesson. Rather, they need to know they are loved and cared for.
The church can encourage the hurting to get help from a wise counselor and seek a medical evaluation. They can offer to drive and/or accompany them to their appointments. And they can remind them that even the giants of faith in church history have struggled with depression (such as C.H. Spurgeon).
This is something my pastor did for me. He helped me lift my eyes to see Christ, the One who knows what life is like in this sin-stained world. Jesus took on our frail human flesh and lived a life of poverty, sorrow, and pain. He knew temptation, grief, abandonment, fear, and rejection. He cared about the suffering of my life so much so that he entered into it, living the perfect life I could not live, dying the death I deserved, and rising from the dead so that I would have life eternal. Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows, is my hope both now and in the future. For me, this truth brought light to dark places.
Some people struggle with depression for long seasons. Some battle with it their entire lives. It's important that the church sticks with them. It's not like getting over a cold. As the church, we need to patiently walk beside the hurting as long as it takes.
Depression is lonely. It's isolating. It's also deceptive. Those who suffer with depression need the body of Christ to walk alongside them, lifting them up when they can't do so for themselves. May we be believers who know when someone in the church is hurting and care enough to journey with them in the darkness. After all, it's what Jesus did for us. How can we do no less?
Image Credit: ©Unsplash/guillaume-bolduc
My husband returned home from work one evening and asked the kids how their day went.
One of my boys came up to him and said, "God answered our prayer!"
He and I had prayed about a little thing. A detail. We prayed for God's to work out the kid's sport's schedule so that it would be manageable and easier on the family. And he answered it right away.
A Prayer for Eyes that See What God is Doing in Our Lives
John Piper once wrote, "God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them." It's true, I am aware of little that God does in my life. I certainly notice the prayers he hasn't yet answered. I am well aware of the hard struggles in my day for which I find no relief. I even notice the heavy worry that weighs down my heart over the uncertain future.
But as I learn and grow in my prayer life, I've been asking God to show me more of those 10,000 things. I've asked him to show me more of his glory, his amazing grace toward me, and the way he works in all the details of my life.
This isn't a strange prayer to pray. It's what the Psalmist prayed, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things" (Psalm 119:18). It's also what Paul prayed for the Ephesians, "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe" (Ephesians 1:17-19).
My prayer journal is filled with the cries of my heart. I write out pages and pages of my worries and fears, griefs and sorrows. Each day, I pen my confession of sin and express my desperate need for God's grace to cleanse me with the blood of Christ. Included on those pages are also my requests for all those things I want God to do in my life and in the life of others. Whether it is for healing or provision, restoration or salvation, I ask God to work and move in my life and in the life of others.
I can look back in my journals and see the ways God has answered my prayers over the years. As I flip through the pages of time, I am thankful for all he has done. I can see how he has not failed to provide for my family. I can see his steadfast faithfulness and daily provisions of grace.
But the answered prayer that always blows me away the most, is the prayer that I would have eyes to see his glory.
Just as his glory is wide and expansive, so too is this prayer vast in its desire and hope. This prayer asks that I would be amazed and wonder-filled at who he is and what he has done. It is a prayer that I would see God as God and myself as dependent upon his grace. It is a prayer that I would see more and more of that grace at work in my life and in the life of others. It is a prayer that I would see his sovereign hand at work in all things, from the small details to the big. It is a prayer that I would notice and be able to see more and more of those 10,000 things.
I want my eyes opened to catch his glory.
Because the truth is, God is always watching and working. Not a bird falls to the ground apart from God's will. Even all the hairs on our head are numbered (Matthew 10:29-30). He is in control of every detail of our lives from the grand acts of healing down to the parking spot we find at the front of the grocery store. From the sun that shines overhead, to the soft pillow we rest on at night, to the people we encounter each day, God directs each and every event in our lives.
Even in my kid's sports practice schedule.
Rejoicing in the Wonder
It doesn't end with just seeing. As I see more of his glory, then I can sing his praises and testify to others of what he has done. As the psalmist wrote, "I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds" (Psalm 77:12). "Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!" (Psalm 105:2). Each day, as I ponder his works and meditate on what he has done, I sing his praises, rejoicing in all his works, both the grand and the small. I thank him for his steadfast love and that he cares for even the minutest details of my day. I dwell on even the hard things and thank him for his perfect discipline, shaping me to be more like his Son. And I share with others around me the amazing ways he works, testifying to his glory and grace.
This prayer is one God has not failed to answer. I am humbled and knocked to my knees as I see how much he loves and cares, provides and protects. Indeed, the more I watch and wait to see him work, the more I see of his wonder and glory. And the more I rejoice. Like the disciples who saw Jesus' glory in calming the wind and rain and said, "Who is this that even the wind and rain obey him?" I stand in awe and think, "Who is this that cares for even me?"
I have many friends through social media. I enjoy looking at their photos and engaging with them on their posts. I enjoy sharing common interests with them, especially those interests none of my IRL (in real life) friends share. Some I've met in person, other's I'll likely never meet. Of some of these friends, I've thought, "I wish I lived closer to her, I bet we'd make the best of friends."
There are many benefits to the relationships we have online. In the context of social media, it's easy to find like-minded people who share the same beliefs, perspectives, and experiences as we do. For those who often feel isolated and different from others in their community, the connections they make online is like a respite from their everyday. Sometimes it's easier to share with online friends the heartaches and trials we are going through than it is with our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family. We often receive immediate encouragement and feedback to something we post. We can reach out anytime, anywhere and someone will likely respond. Yet as beneficial as online friendships are, these friendships can't fill all our needs for community. There are some needs only a face to face, IRL friend can meet.
An online friend can't be present for us in our suffering. They might be able to send a heart-felt message or post encouraging words for us. They might pray for us. But they can't be there with us in the muck and mire of hardship, suffering, and sorrow. They can't sit beside us in the dust and ashes of our grief. They can't walk with us in the days and weeks following a heartbreak or tragedy. They can't give us a hug.
Physical presence is important in friendship. The Apostle Paul corresponded with a number of churches in his ministry and while he was able to exhort and encourage them through written words in his letters, he also desired to see them in person. "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine" (Romans 1:11-12). To have a friend we can count on to be with us face to face, is a real gift and one we can't take for granted. The level of encouragement we receive in person is richer and far deeper than a text, email, message, or post can ever be.
As much as we might share with others on social media, as much as we might enjoy our interactions with those friends, and as much as we might have in common, those friends can never know us the way IRL friendships know us. Online friends don't see the real us in our living rooms or at the kitchen table. They don't know our family and see the interactions we have with our spouse or children or other family members. They can't walk into our home and sense that something is wrong because the bills are piled high on the counter or the fridge is empty or the laundry hasn't been folded in a week. Real life friendships read the subtle physical cues such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice. They can see the sadness in our eyes and hear the fatigue in our voice. They can feel conflict in the air between us and our spouse or the tension with our children. They know when we need to laugh or cry, when we need advice or exhortation, when we need to have fun or just sit quietly with a cup of tea.
There is so much more to knowing someone than just knowing facts about them. Truly knowing someone involves years of walking beside them in the ups and downs of life. It's having a shared history and viewing their present through that history. It's seeing God's work in their lives through trials and joys and being able to remind them of how far he's brought them. While an online friend can know a lot about us, IRL friends know us at a deeper level.
When we are sick, an online friend can't show up at our door with soup. When we need someone to watch our kids so we can run to the store or go to an appointment, an online friend cannot help us. When our car breaks down, we can't call an online friend to come to our aid. IRL friendships are able to serve us. They can meet our physical needs. They can drop everything and show up when we need them most. This is where we see Acts 2 lived out in our lives--when the early church shared what they had with one another. It's often in serving one another where deep bonds are formed. Acts of service become part of our shared history and one we can't forget. It's where we learn who we can really count on in times of trouble.
God provides us friendships in many contexts. We all have friends who live far away. Most of us have virtual friends. But we also need IRL friends. We need face to face friendships, people who know us, the real us. Keep your online friendships and enjoy them. But don't forsake or underestimate the importance of IRL friendships.