I was reading a book at a large table at a Starbucks and before I got up to leave I decided to try to initiate a gospel conversation with a woman who had sat down at the opposite end and was busy working on her computer. I waved to get her attention, she took off her earbuds, and I said “I have a question I often ask random strangers” “Oh, I love that, go ahead” she answered. “What do you think happens after we die?” This led to a long conversation in which it turned out she – Jennica - is a Christian but often experiences doubt about her faith and depression, especially in the bleak winter months. My outreach conversations often become pastoral rather than evangelistic when I meet fellow believers, and I was glad to give her some advice from my own experiences with depression earlier in my Christian journey. I’m sure there is more I could have said, but I thought I would share what I told her here in case it might help others.
I told her how I had noticed a pattern in myself every February, where the lack of sunlight, cold weather, a busy work schedule, and usually a lengthy bout with bronchitis would keep me from my usual exercise and outdoor prayer habits, and this would cause a downward spiral that led to a dark depression. Jennica could relate to the busy work schedule as we are both high school teachers, and she would often get bronchitis and fall into a mid-winter depression also. It’s good to look back and be aware of these patterns so we can prepare for them and reverse them.
Part of the problem is physical, but part is also theological. As we fall out of a daily devotional habit, we take our eyes off of God and often compare ourselves to other people. I told her how important it is to focus on God’s holiness and the cross of Christ. Comparing ourselves to others often leaves us wanting and feeling like we deserve more, but focusing on God helps us realize our own sin and need for the grace that we don’t deserve. It might seem depressing, but to realize what a wretch I truly am fills me with a constant sense of wonder and joy that God would have saved me in the first place and allow me to call Him my Heavenly Father.
Jennica also told me about some disappointments in life and feelings of anger toward God. I told her how God had brought me to discipleship early as a Christian, how I had prayed “God, you gave your life for me, now I am willing to give my life for you”. Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”, and when trials come to me I am quickly reminded that I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, this is what I signed on for as a follower of Jesus.
Finally I talked with her about the importance of a daily time devoted to God in prayer and reading the Bible. We lose perspective when we don’t constantly check in with God and His Word. The truths of Scripture are meant to be repeated often, and we need constant exposure to God’s truths, even when we feel we’ve heard it all before, because we are constantly bombarded with worldly messages that distract us away from them. Now is a good time, when we are in the mindset of establishing good habits for the new year, to establish some godly habits that will bring us through the threat of mid-winter depression and beyond!