Recently I spoke at two events on the subject of depression. Both times I opened up with the same question: “Who present knows someone who battles depression, or who, at some point in life, experienced depression yourself?” Each time the answer was unanimous. Everyone raised a hand.
Depression and ministering to those who have depression is a subject that we must deal with. As one who has had tough spots in the dark dungeon of depression, I know how life-giving and important it is to have a spouse who can help pull you out of the dungeon into the light of day. Here are a few thoughts to help you serve your spouse during a dark season of the soul.
Know that depression happens to mature Christians
As we minister to our spouse it’s important that we know and communicate that depression and sadness of heart happens to people who love God. A depressed person often feels like an anomaly and can be struggling with guilt and condemnation already. After we assess their heart to see if these feelings are present, if their depression doesn’t stem from unrepentant sin, affirm this truth to them.
Charles Spurgeon, a popular pastor who was very public about his battles with discouragement, once said, “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise are not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”
Scripturally speaking, the cold breath of the blues brushed against the prophets Elisha, Jeremiah, David, Jonah, and the Apostle Paul. Let’s not forget about the sadness of heart that Jesus experienced as a “man of sorrows acquainted with grief.” Praise God that we have a high priest who is able to sympathise with us in our weakness, one who rejoices with us when we rejoice and weeps with us when we weep! Our spouses need to know that we, like Jesus, sympathise with them and love them beyond their depression.
Practice the ministry of presence
Sometimes the best thing we can do for a depressed spouse is nothing but be present. Being present means being on call to serve. Serving may look like extending grace and taking care of house chores that the spouse normally would complete. Or, serving may look like giving a back rub or singing your spouse’s favourite songs.
Don’t take their lack of energy towards you personally
When a person is depressed they are disconnected. They don’t want to be around people, and they’re trapped many times in their own mind. Emotional and physical intimacy during this time may be minimal. While we don’t want to encourage a spouse to be sinful in any circumstance, at the same time we want to extend grace as best as possible. It is the average heart’s temptation to internalise situations and blame ourselves for the way someone else is responding to us. Fight this temptation by pointing your heart to your identity in Christ.
Pray for and with your spouse regularly
Sometimes we think of our prayer as inaction. However, prayer is the action that God uses to grow us! When a person is depressed they have a hard time seeing tomorrow. Nihilism slowly settles in, and they can easily forget about the God of all comfort and hope. Prayer reminds us that there is a God who is bigger and better than we are. We have a Heavenly Father who loves us and wants to be near us in our darkest state!
The Psalter is full of cries from the depressed. The songs are prayers of the heart. In many Psalms the writer begins in a pitiful state but ends up having a praise party! Use the Psalms as prayer prompters and pray them over your spouse and with your spouse.
Help get your spouse on a daily routine
When a person is depressed they want to withdraw. Our goal as fellow sufferers is to help them to push outward rather than fold inward. I once heard a pastor preach at a conference who suffered from very debilitating migraines. He said that doctors couldn’t figure out why his migraines persisted. He used to lay in a dark room for days until the pain ceased. However, after realising that there might not be a cure and that he would be ineffective as a pastor if he continued this way, the pastor begins to minster despite the headaches. He forced himself to serve rather than surrender. After the session he revealed that he had a debilitating headache even as he spoke but that he learned to minister with his thorn!
As caregivers we want to pray for wisdom to help our spouse to be productive when they are in a pit. This means, helping them plan out their week and work out their plan. We need to help them put up boundaries and keep them.
At the end of the day, loving our spouse through darkness means doing everything we can to make sure they know they are loved. Sometimes this means speaking hard truths to them in love, but many times this means entering into their state as a listener and a lover.