And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty…” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. ~ 1 Kings 19:9-13
Depression is our spirit’s response to life’s heaviness. As such, it contains two elements: grief, as we mourn what we’ve lost. And reflection, as we process what we’ve lost.
Both require time and compassion.
Depression many times for a Christian is at its heart a theological struggle. Elijah’s spirit needs time to adjust to what’s just happened to him. He didn’t expect things to unfold the way they did. Someone once said that depression is anger turned inward, and no doubt, mingled with his sorrow, Elijah is angry. But not only with himself. Go ahead. Admit it. Say it. He’s also angry with…God.
Back in college, I belonged to a “church” that told me if I had enough faith, I would be healthy. Just one problem – my body was caked with sores and lesions caused by psoriasis. Believing the lies this “church” told me about God, I threw away my medicines. Rather than watch God heal me for my obvious faith, I got worse, and nearly ended up in the hospital. I fell into a very serious depression. But at its root was an anger at God. God wasn’t supposed to treat me like this – at least the “God” I had been told of.
Life didn’t add up with my beliefs. My head was poisoned with false teaching, and I needed time to figure out what the truth was.
Depression can be brought about by loss. By sudden trauma. Unexpected sickness. Excessive stress. It can be brought about by wrong-thinking about life. Depressed people are full of negativity about themselves and about how life should work.
How does a depressed person emerge out of this long, dark tunnel? How can we minister to someone who is struggling with depression?
There are a number of ways that God ministers to Elijah in this moment. But here’s maybe the most important lesson. God treats Elijah with tenderness.
God wasn’t in the great wind, or the mighty earthquake. He wasn’t in the blazing fire. He was in the whisper. The still small voice. That’s where he heard and met God.
Isaiah 42:3 says of Christ, “He will not shout or cry out. A bruised reed he will not break. And a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” It’s a beautiful image of how to treat someone who is depressed. You treat them just like a flickering candle. You tenderly hover over them, you guard them, you go slowly. You don’t rebuke them for their weakness, or pepper them with Sunday School answers. You listen, you hug, you stay close.
When friends came to comfort Job in his trials, they started well. They sat with him silently for seven days. But then they blew it when they did one thing – they opened their mouths. From there it went all downhill.
It’s with a still, small voice that healing can begin.