God Healed My Depression, But I Don’t Know if He’ll Heal Yours

About 28 years ago, God healed me of depression – suddenly and unexpectedly. I had struggled throughout college with this overwhelming sadness: it felt like falling into a pit with no means of escape. Some weeks were better than others. But, when my depression was at its peak, I would duck into a bathroom and cry four to five times a day. Then, I would dry my eyes, wait for the redness to subside, and exit with a smile.

I was horribly ashamed of my condition – so ashamed, I never saw a counselor and so ashamed I never told my friends or family. In my family, we never discussed things like depression. We were Christians. We were lights on a hill and bound for heaven. Why on earth would we be depressed? To make matters worse, I was in college, presumably having the time of my life. My parents had always talked wistfully about their happy college days and I knew they expected me to love college too. I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I pretended – and suffered silently.

Certainly, Scripture refers to our emotional, spiritual and physical aspects as integral to each other… No doubt, our spiritual health affects our emotional health and vice-versa. But, what does that mean when treating those who suffer from emotional and mental issues?

This continued for four years, but dramatically changed one Wednesday night during a service at Willow Creek Community Church in the northwest Chicago suburbs. I had recently graduated from Wheaton College and my husband and I were in the congregation singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Suddenly, I was flooded with this overwhelming sense of love and immediately, I recognized the source. Had I never experienced God’s presence, I might not have recognized it. But, having known the Holy Spirit as a teenager, it was like embracing a long-lost friend. I began crying uncontrollably, which was notable because I hadn’t cried in many months: I had stopped feeling altogether. But, in that moment, the angst that had built up over the past four years gushed like a dam that had just been breached. I don’t know how long this encounter lasted, but when it was over, I was changed. The sadness was gone – completely gone – and taking its place was irrepressible joy.

Sometimes I hesitate to share this story with friends who struggle with depression. Many of them have suffered for years, even decades, with this debilitating condition. They’ve prayed and sought healing, but are still waiting for deliverance. There also are those, like Saddleback Pastor Rick Warren and his wife Kay’s son, whose depression reached such intensity that he committed suicide. Honestly, I don’t know why God healed me the way He did. And, I don’t know why He doesn’t heal everyone. I also don’t know why He didn’t heal me earlier – and why He allowed me to struggle so intensely for four years. All I know is that God heals – and that for me, my depression had a spiritual cause and a spiritual solution.

Looking back, I can see clear reasons for my depression. For one, I was experiencing an identity crisis. From third grade to high school graduation, I lived in a small Pennsylvania town where my family was very well-known. My dad was one of only three surgeons in the area. My mother was superintendent of our church’s Sunday School. My siblings were well-known too. In fact, my next oldest sister was Homecoming Queen. And, I was the athlete.

Up until college, these things formed my identity. But, at college, some 650 miles from home, I was nobody. No one knew my family. No one cared about my athletic accomplishments. And frankly, I didn’t feel like I fit in. Everyone seemed more sophisticated and accomplished than me. Many were valedictorians or salutatorians in high school. (I was not.) And clearly, their education at top suburban schools put my small-town education to shame. For the first time in my life, I felt inadequate, inferior and profoundly confused.

On top of this, I began to experience a spiritual crisis. I had grown up in a non-Charismatic evangelical church. But, the year before attending college, I got involved in a Charismatic youth outreach and had some very intense, mountain-top spiritual experiences. At that time, Charismatic was a dirty word at Wheaton. All things Charismatic were considered weird, overly-emotional and doctrinally unsound – at least, that was my impression. I quickly learned that identifying as Charismatic, or attending a Charismatic church, would be social suicide. So, I went to the churches everyone else did and kept my Charismatic leanings well hidden.

I also encountered nominal Christianity at college, which left me disoriented. In my small town, I had only a handful of Christian friends, but those who professed to be Christians actually lived it. There was no incentive to pretend. At a Christian college, though, there’s a lot of incentive to pretend: everyone is supposed to be “Christian,” and spirituality is valued. However, many students’ behavior, at least in my social circles, didn’t match their profession. I’ll never forget my first weekend at college. My entire floor went to see “Risky Business,” an R-rated movie with lots of promiscuous sex and little to no redeeming value. I stayed in my dorm room – alone. It was awful.

I came to a Christian college because I loved Jesus and deeply desired strong Christian friends. But, many of the students I encountered seemed jaded about Jesus. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me. Was I just a starry-eyed, infatuated teenager? Was Christianity really worth my life and passion? Or, was it something to be sidelined while pursuing more important things like career and financial stability? Slowly, my passion began to fade. God began to feel very distant. And, I became more miserable than I ever thought possible.

Soon, my emotional struggle spawned intellectual doubts. If God was real, why couldn’t I feel His presence? Was God simply an invention of man?… I think deep-down, I realized God was my only hope. I knew nothing else could fill the gaping hole in my soul and lift my depression. I either found relief in God, or no relief could be found. 

This was my existence for most all of college. I prayed repeatedly for God to take away my depression and change my circumstances. One semester, I even tried rising at 5:00 every morning to spend an hour in prayer and reading Scripture. But, instead of drawing me closer to God, it just intensified my disappointment and made my depression worse.

Soon, my emotional struggle spawned intellectual doubts. If God was real, why couldn’t I feel His presence? Was God simply an invention of man? In one of my philosophy classes, the professor had demolished many of the arguments for God that I had thought were so convincing like the “Watchmaker Analogy.” I still had a flicker of belief, but it was nearly extinguished.

So, when I showed up for that midweek service at Willow Creek, I was a mess. Thank God, I continued to attend church during this dark season – mostly out of habit and to please my husband. Plus, I think deep-down, I realized God was my only hope. I knew nothing else could fill the gaping hole in my soul and lift my depression. I either found relief in God, or no relief could be found.

In the days and weeks following my encounter with God, I feared the depression would return. I was afraid something would happen to trigger a downward spiral, but it never did. Sure, I got sad and depressed when bad things happened, but I bounced back and generally, became the happy, optimistic person I had been before college. God also began to show me that my identity didn’t depend on anything I did, or the family to which I belonged, but solely on my relationship to Him. I was valuable and worthwhile because He loved me – and nothing could ever take that away. My husband and I got involved in the church and found many other fully-grown adults equally passionate about their faith. Many had personal stories of God’s rescue – and now, I had mine too.

Biblical counselors like Heath Lambert say mental illness is a construct that psychologists have invented – and that sadness is a spiritual condition, not a mental one. Certainly, given my experience, I resonate with that. Others, like Amy Simpson, say mental illness is a very real condition that often requires psychiatric and medical treatment. I have several friends I highly respect who agree with Simpson – and strongly advise against a spiritual-only mindset.

Certainly, Scripture refers to our emotional, spiritual and physical aspects as integral to each other. King Saul, for example, rebelled against God, so God rejected him as king and sent an evil spirit to torment him, which eventually drove Saul mad. No doubt, our spiritual health affects our emotional health and vice-versa. But, what does that mean when treating those who suffer from emotional and mental issues? I’m not really sure, but I’m looking forward to discussing the issue with Lambert and Simpson this Saturday on Up For Debate. As for me, I feel somewhat like the blind man Jesus healed: “One thing I do know, I was blind and now I see!”

 

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9 thoughts on “God Healed My Depression, But I Don’t Know if He’ll Heal Yours

  1. Pam Sharp

    Thanks for sharing your testimony about your experience with depression. I am a licensed social worker who has worked with many clients over the years and experienced depression first hand several years ago. I am of the opinion that only God knows what it will take to make us more like Jesus Christ. I ended up in counseling with a Christian and taking an anti-depressant for 9 months. I would not want to walk that road again, but I am glad that I did not waste that time of pain. I grew closer and more dependent on God and saw myself in a different relationship with Him. I think the church just needs to be open to both sides of this debate. Each one of us is different and only God knows what our healing will look like.

  2. That was really good. Love hearing testimonies. They are so encouraging. May I say it’s really good to see a woman that debates and enjoys asking the hard questions. That sounds awful, but i don’t come across many women who actually do. Love your show, and thank you for your openness and honesty.

  3. Judith Adams

    I can relate to your experience and testimony. God has rescued me from years of stuttering, unhealthy habits, the lack of self esteem, and then extreme pride. He is the one friend that has shown me himself and how he wants me to be more like him. I give him all the glory.
    In all my struggles, he was the one I went to for help. I was also too ashamed to share my struggles except to a few close friends. When I went to him, he stayed by my side throughout the healing. I thank Him everyday for his faithfulness.

  4. Fairenda Wood

    Thank you Julie for todays program. My deceased husband of nineteen years was in depression for over five years before God called him to HIM in Glory. He was treaated in Grand Rapids, Michigan at a Christian Institute for 19 days, at The New Hope Counseling Center for seventeen days in Huntington, WV. And at St Joseph Hospital in Lexington Hospital when Dr. Granager perscribed shock treatments and he signed and insisted that I sign for these treatments. He relived all of his life after these treatments. A total nightmare! The medication for depression caused him to have Pancreaatitis. This caused a large cyst on his pancreas that was
    full of fluid and backing into his stomach. He was taken to surgery where this fluid was withdrawn, sent home after a couple of days and fell dead in our yard after being home for a week. His manner of death was a blessing and a shock! He had decided to not attend the church because of his nerves being so bad. He would perspire profusely when in church. The members of the church, including the Pastor, did not understand his illness. They left us alone to battle this disease. He had retired from the Railroad in December of 1989. Passed into eternity September 14, 1995. It was a frightening experience. He had been married before we were married and had a daughter who was told that I broke up the home. I did not know either one of them nefore I met him at the hospital while on duty. I refused to date him for two months becauase of the child. I had not been a Mother and I feared the position. He loved this child and he never told her anything negative about her mother. She was eight years of age when we married. We had been married almost thirty one years when he deceased. I do feel that circumstances in our lives play an important part in our ability to function mentally. He had been a Christian for nineteen years; However, he worked constantly as a Conductor and was unable to attend Church regulary. He carried his Bible to work in his Bag and did read when he had the oppportunity. I do believe that medicine is necessary at times; However, I also feel that it is a chemical and will help in some situations and cause other medical problems that can destroy. SIN is the situation in which we were born and we cannot evade this truth. We can help ourselves; However, we can be defeated in circustances that we have no control. When we have children, I believe that we should do all that we can do to save the marriage. My deceased husband and I have a daughter that is almost forty four years of age. We had one grandchild when he passed that was in our home. Jealousy is a sin that was originated from the evil and will cause much discord in homes. I love my Daughter three grandchildren and two great grans. Every decision we make has consequences. LIFE can be beautiful or it can be ugly. It depends on the choices we make. The flesh is weak and who knows what we are going to have to face! I trust that when our Lord looks at my heart HE SEES HIS LIGHT! GOD BLESS YOU JULIE> Fairenda Wood

  5. Hi Julie:
    I just finished listening to the last part of your radio broadcast this AM. I heard a few of the ladies problems with depression and read your heart-breaking testimony. I sense the Lord is sad that Believers do not understand the cause of depression (D) and the Remedy, He paid such a heavy price to provide for us.
    Depressions definition: a severe despondency and dejection accompanied by a feeling of hopelessness, is a real clue as to the source of the problem.
    Depression is a spiritual attack on the mind and and its healing requires a spiritual answer. D. is caused when an evil spirit attacks our mind with demonic thoughts!
    Man is composed of 3 parts, Body, Soul (mind, will & emotions) and Spirit.
    Unfortunately our greek (university) educational system only deals with man as a 2 part system e.g. Body and Soul.
    But man has a Spirit, which when we are Born Again, comes in contact and communication with the God of the Universe. It can and will also be attacked by the god of the underworld, e.g. Satan, the Devil, through his demonic workers.
    We know the works of God: Joy, Peace, Love, Healing etc. however for some reason people are ignorant of how the Devil works: Hate, Depression, Lust, Fear, Infirmity etc.
    We have been given a powerful weapon to ward off the attacks of Satan that come against our mind. It is called the Authority of the Believer and is given to all Born Again Believers.
    One scripture says it all:
    Behold, I (Jesus) give you (Believer) the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy (spiritual forces), and nothing shall by any means hurt you (the believer, exercising His authority), Luke 10:19 NKJV.
    I know it sounds simplistic and psychiatric counselors will deny this truth, but any believer can be set free from the dreaded D. in 3 simple steps:
    1. Recognizing that forceful thoughts of Despondency, Dejection and Hopelessness are coming from a Spirit of Depression.
    2. Realizing/remembering that you as a believer have Authority over these thoughts.
    3. Exercising that Authority by addressing the attacking Spirit of Depression and commanding it to leave you go to the waste places.
    Jesus, Peter, Paul and the Seventy (Luke 10:17), never counseled anyone to get psychiatric help, they just cast out the spirits and went on their way rejoicing.
    A great help in understanding how these spirits operate on our psyche can be obtained by reading C.S. Lewis, classic opus, The Screwtape Letters.
    There is an excellent online bible study on the subject at: http://www.greatbiblestudy.com/basics_deliverance.php
    Believers do not have to suffer years of debilitating mental anguish. The Devil’s primary battlefield is the mind. Our Lord has given us authority to dismiss mental attacks.
    Blessings as you share these important truths.
    Ted

  6. ROBERT MCLAUGHLIN

    I READ YOUR ARTICLE AND WAS DELIGHTED TO YOUR HEALING THAT WAS PERMANENT . I IDENTIFIED WITH THE SYMPTOMS AND HAD TWO OCCURRENCES OF PARTIAL HEALING FROM CHURCH MEMBERS WHO HAD HEALING PRAYER TIMES AND WAS REALLY STARTLED BY THE ONE OCCASION OF THE PEACE AND RELIEF FROM DEPRESSION BUT IT RETURNED . ALSO YOU WERE ABLE TO GET A JOB OR CAREER THAT TOOK COLLEGE TO COMPLETE WHICH IS A MIRACLE TOO. MY JOB I WAS FIRED FROM AND COULDN’T FIND ANY OTHER WAY TO WORK ANY LONGER AND TOOK DISABILITY TO THIS DAY ..WHICH TOOK 3 YRS. AND GOING IN FRONT OF A JUDGE ,WHO SAYS YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE YOUR DEPRESSED !! I WANTED TO PUNCH HIM BUT MY DAD WAS WITH ME AND CONFIRMED MY CHANGE IN DISPOSITION AND WAS AWARDED IT . WHICH GAVE ME SOME INCOME BUT STRUGGLED AND NOW TODAY I’VE SORT OF HIT A PLATEAU WITH THE HARSHNESS OF DEPRESSION BUT ONLY TO HAVE OTHER MEDICAL PROBLEMS TO CONFUSE THE MOOD AND THOUGHTS ..BUT OVERALL FEELING MUCH BETTER. THANKS FOR YOUR RISK TAKING SHARE ..VERY GOOD !! AMEN

  7. Your story about struggle with depression is very honest and inspirational Julie.
    Since you are an expert in the field of depression, maybe you would like to read and share your opinion about article on depression that my company recently finished. Do you mind to email you the link?

  8. patrice

    I thank God i dont suffer with depression ….my friend has…and he told me abt how far it can get. However, I do have anxiety and that is a whole can of worms in itself. I remember listening to priscilla shirer… What she said made a lot of sense… ” Our job is to believe God is able, whether he’ll heal you or not is God’s business, his sovereignty… ” all were supposed to do is know that he is able…bc like the author stated, God doesn’t heal everyone…and I just think back to the man born blind…and they asked why and if it was due to sin…and the Lord said, ” it was for Gods glory”

    His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

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