On Faith: Back on track
It's that time of year when winter seems to stay a little too long and spring seems to come a little too late. Then a sickness comes along and makes things worse.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, depression and anxiety are major causes for illness and death. Maybe you're feeling a bit down this time of year. If so, you are not alone. A nationwide survey indicated that 6 to 8 percent of Minnesotans reported being depressed. Cold winters and long nights do not help matters. Those who study human behavior confirm the idea that if we do not take action, we will tend to stay "down in the dumps." Getting down occasionally is a normal human experience. Staying down is not.
In abnormal cases of depression, the individual wants to feel this way and tends to hold others responsible for it. He believes other people owe him special attention and sympathy. He does not know what has caused him to feel this way and fears that something worse may happen. This individual, with full support of family and friends, should get help right away.
In a more typical case of the "doldrums," we acknowledge that it is not good to be like this, and we do not want it to continue. We feel guilty about being depressed and are willing to admit that it is our own fault. We are not alone in this. Even people in the Bible suffered in this way. One person that stands out to me is the prophet Elijah who appears to be experiencing a temporary state of depression in I Kings Chapter 19. In that passage, three responses to depression come to my mind.
First, do a self-inventory and try to identify the possible causes for our depression. In Elijah's case, he wanted his life to be over because he did not believe he was better than his ancestors (I Kings 19:4). This was pride on his part. Other causes for depression might be selfish anger, refusal to carry out our responsibilities, or running from our problems. Honestly acknowledging our own sinful behavior is the first step to getting right with God.
Next, allow your feelings to motivate you to see what really matters. In I Kings 19:1-7, God sent an angel to encourage Elijah to look at the big picture. God used this down time in Elijah's life to guide the thoughts of his wayward prophet toward the task at hand — an upcoming journey that he needed to prepare for. God provided food and water to refresh him. Thus strengthened with physical nourishment, Elijah could respond to God's wisdom and encouragement.
Finally, choose to get back up and do what God wants you to do. In I Kings 19:8, Elijah "arose, and ate and drank, and went..." The depressed feelings were real, but thankfully, only temporary. When Elijah stopped making excuses for himself and started listening to God, his life dramatically improved. Elijah had failed to distinguish between what he wanted and what God wanted.
Getting what we want seldom makes us happy. Obeying what God wants is the right response. God wants us to make it our goal to be pleasing to him and useful to others. Being depressed and self-focused is never pleasing to God. Our designer did not create us to live that way. However, when we get our eyes off ourselves and focus on what's important, as Elijah did, God will restore us and get us back on track.
The Rev. Joe Whiting makes his home in Two Harbors with his wife, two sons, and a standard poodle. On Faith is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.