In the Mabbat Facebook group, I’ve been posting a Bible study guide each week, and right now, we’re in Colossians chapter 2. (Here’s the link if you want to check that out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks It’s going up in weekly installments in the Facebook group, and then I’ll post it as an e-book after we’ve completed it in the group – more on that to come next month!) Each week, there are a few notes, and then there’s space on the page for you to do some creative assignments to deepen your study of God’s word. I’ve discovered as I write the Bible study prompts that there are some things I would love to add but don’t really have the room for if I stay focused. So I decided to share those here on the blog.
Oftentimes as I’m reading the Bible, I find ideas that correlate with things I’ve learned in therapy. I don’t know why that surprises me, because I firmly believe that God gave us the Bible as a blueprint for living the best lives we can.
In Colossians 2:2, Paul expresses a desire for the church members to be “knit together by strong ties of love” before he expresses his desire for them “to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan.” As a lifelong church member, this felt backwards to me until I spent time thinking through it. Aren’t we supposed to have Jesus first and only? Isn’t he sufficient for all our needs? Yes, but… Our standard church answers leave a lot unexamined. Jesus gives us the tools we need, and he will faithfully meet our needs, but we aren’t absolved from investing a little elbow grease in the process.
Paul wanted the church at Colossae to be bound together in love to provide an environment that fosters learning, trust, and care for one another – an environment that will encourage confidence in the knowledge of God. As I breathed in that verse, I understood that we can’t see Christ’s love unless we are expressing it and receiving it, and that is the primary function of the church – to be a network of Jesus’s love and grace.
How does this fit in with depression coping skills? I’m glad you asked. Strong relationships are key in combatting depression. There are plenty of scientific studies (as well as every therapist I’ve seen) that tell us the more connected we are to other people, the lower our risk of depression and substance abuse. If you have depression, think about your symptoms. Do you find that you pull away from people and, however unintentionally, isolate yourself? Do you drop out of activities with other people that you enjoy? Do you back out of engagements with family and friends?
Paul knew it was vital for the church to have strong, loving relationships to understand the fullness of God’s love, and it’s vital for our daily lives, too. Especially if you battle depression.
So how do you do this when you are in the throes of grief and depression? First, let someone in. Find at least one friend that you can trust, and open the door. Share with them, and listen when they need to share. Then add another friend. Then join a group – maybe go to a class you enjoy and start meeting the class members, or go to your local church and join a small group or Bible study class. Slowly expand your circle and invest in those relationships. In my experience, the more connected I am to my family, to my circle of friends, and to my church, the better I feel and the easier it is to get out of a funk when I fall into one.
Another verse that grabbed me in Colossians 2 is verse 7. It’s a beautiful image to think about: “Let your roots grow down into him…” It’s also a solid way to build a foundation for faith. First, establish roots, then build, then grow, and then overflow.
That’s not just a solid way to develop faith, but it’s also a solid way to build mental health.
You need roots – some basic skills to recognize depression in your life and some basic skills to combat your symptoms (a treatment and/or maintenance plan). Once you have that, then you can start building up your coping skills and work towards a “new normal” as your symptoms stabilize. Then you will grow stronger, and then you’ll be able to share and help others. The thing about this setup is that you can never neglect any of the stages; they’re all continual and build on each other. As soon as you skip a step (ignore your roots, say), the entire thing (your mental health) comes crashing down.
This may be less dire for episodic depression and acute grief that will pass once the circumstances shift, but if you struggle with depression as an ongoing issue, you know you need to keep your eye on the ball and not ignore the things that keep you healthy. I have recently been able to stop my antidepressant medication, but I can feel it when I let stress build up and skip the things that make me feel sane, like exercise, eating well, writing, and art. When I see my cues – a short temper, complete lack of motivation, and a desire to eat all of the chocolate in the world – I know it’s time to evaluate and get back to basics of self-care. Sometimes, I know it’s time to check in with my therapist.
What does your root structure look like? Do you have a solid foundation of self-care and coping skills? What does your life look like when you are “overflow” stage? If you’re not there, what will it take for you to get on the right track?
*I am not a professional therapist or counselor, so I don’t offer this as a replacement for professional care. If you are dealing with depression, please talk to your doctor and make a plan to begin healing. I believe that Jesus can heal us, but I also know that he gave us tools like doctors and psychologists to help us when we need it. If you are not getting better through prayer and healthy habits, please seek professional help. I hope if nothing else, I hope my example can help remove the stigma that so often shadows mental health issues in our churches. If you don’t know where to start, contact me, and I’ll be happy to help you locate resources in your area.