Last Saturday I purchased a wonderful find at Powell’s Books (Portland, Oregon’s own homegrown new and used bookstore) – a used book called “Invisible Light: Poems about God” – for only $4.50. And it is in excellent condition. It is a collection of poems by various poets, some well known and some not so well known, as well as a few Psalms and other pieces of poetic scripture. I noticed in the table of contents that there were two poems by William Cowper, who I first heard of when reading “When the Darkness Will Not Lift” by John Piper. (See my book review of that book here).
Both of Cowper’s poems were so beautiful; made me wonder why I even try to write poetry. (But I do know my poetry is getting better, and reading poems like Cowper’s just makes me want to learn more about poetry and get better at writing it).
I want to share one of Cowper’s poems with the readers at Broken Believers. I do so because it is a great reminder that even when we think we are too lost and broken to be of any use to God, even then God can do the impossible. He can take a broken vessel and cause great light and wonder pour from its cracks. I am thankful for the poetry Cowper wrote, and for the witness that he provides of the truth that God uses the broken for astonishing things.
You see, Cowper suffered from recurrent bouts of depression and severe mental illness. At times he was convinced that he was damned for all eternity, and that he was a lost soul. Nonetheless, he was able to write some truly inspiring poetry and hymns to glorify God. This particular poem will cause the “Comfortless, broken, afflicted to delight in the joy of a life to come where all pain and sorrow will cease, and the glory of Jesus will be all we need.”
If you are struggling, feeling like you can never be of any use to God, take heart. God is in the business of using His power and wisdom in tandem with the broken believer to accomplish great things.
The Future Peace and Glory of the Church
by William Cowper
Hear what the Lord hath spoken:-
O my people, faint and few;
Comfortless, afflicted, broken,
Fair abodes I build for you:
Thorns of heart-felt tribulation
Shall no more perplex your ways;
You shall name your walls, Salvation,
And your gates shall all be Praise.
There, like streams that feed the garden,
Pleasures, without end, shall flow;
For the LORD, your faith rewarding,
All his bounty shall bestow:
Still in undisturb’d possession,
Peace and righteousness shall reign;
Never shall you feel oppression,
Hear the voice of war again.
You no more your suns descending,
Waning moons no more shall see;
But, your griefs for ever ending,
Find eternal noon in me:
God shall rise, and shining o’er ye,
Change to day the gloom of night;
He, the LORD, shall be your glory,
God, your everlasting light.
“In my search for a counselor, I visited a secular psychologist, read books written by extremist biblical counselors, and had tearful talks with my own general practitioner. I wish I had known then what TYPES of Christian counselors were out there and how on earth I could find help I could trust and afford.”
Why Educate Yourself about Christian Counseling?
Perhaps you do not suffer from depression, have a great marriage, kids seem to be doing okay, everything is fine. Why should you look into various types of Christian counsel?
1) Think of a Christian counselor as an invaluable resource, much like the family lawyer, pediatrician, or accountant. When problems arise, wouldn’t it be nice to already have the information you need regarding local counseling services?
2) It’s always a good idea to have information at hand so that you can guide distraught friends and family members to a trusted counselor who can offer biblical guidance and support.
If you are a believing Christian, I MUST recommend seeking a Christian counselor.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”
The Problem with Secular Counsel
Many secular counselors will take your faith into consideration when treating you. However, as citizens of heaven,seeking counsel from a non-Christian is much like seeking counsel from someone who doesn’t speak your language…and he or she does not speak yours. Progress and inroads could be made, but in the long run, little will be accomplished.
There is wisdom and truth from godly counsel:
“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong.”
Find a Christian who is a professional counselor. There are a number of directories on the internet. Each individual counselor is different from the next, however, and you will need to interview any counselor before you decide to use his or her services.
If Possible, Find a Specialist
You may wish to choose a counselor who specializes in a specific area. There a number of issues for which people seek counsel, including:
Coping with Stress
Major life changes
Religious doubt/ confusion
Sexual/ intimacy difficulties
The first thing to consider when choosing a Christian counselor is whether or not they are capable or qualified to handle the particular issue you seek counsel for. A marriage counselor may not be the best person to go to if your thirteen year old daughter is battling anorexia. This seems like a given; however, be sure your counselor has experience handling your specific issue.
Decide whether or not you would feel more comfortable seeing a man or a woman for your particular problem.
Seek a Licensed Professional
Also, if you seek counsel outside of your church, make sure your counselor is a licensed professional. I suggest finding a professional who holds a minimum of a master’s degree in their field of study, who has completed the required number of supervised hours, and who has passed your state’s examination to become a licensed counselor.
Remember that most counselors employed by churches are Professional counselors, but few are not. A church counselor should be qualified through their educational experience, should have some sort of license or certification that enables them to counsel (generally they have a Christian counseling certification awarded from various Christian counseling training programs or colleges.)
Interview Your Prospective Counselor BEFORE Your First Session
Going into a counseling session before you know where your counselor is coming from can be dangerous, especially when you are in a vulnerable emotional position unable to clearly think or discern the counsel you receive.
Before your first session, make the counselor shares your faith and concerns about the issue at hand. If possible, bring a trusted companion along to get their opinion about the practice you are considering.
Some questions to ask your potential counselor are:
What is your Christian counseling approach?
Do they adhere strictly to biblical counseling or do they consider psychological approaches as well?
What license or certification do you have? Is it from an accredited college? A Christian college? A training program?
Are you affiliated with any particular Christian counseling organization?
How do you integrate the bible into your counseling sessions?
How do your incorporate prayer into your counseling practice?
Do you have experience counseling people with (insert the issue for which you seek counsel)?
What is your payment structure?
Will my insurance cover my sessions with you?
What is your view on psychoanalysis, medication treatments for psychological ailments, and other scientific approaches to mental illness?
If you have an opportunity to interview your potential counselor in his or her office, take a good look at the books on the bookshelves. The types of books displayed give you an excellent indication of the types of counsel you will receive.
Before you make your final decision, pray on it, consult your Bible, and if possible, talk to your trusted general practitioner before seeking therapy.
Educate yourself about the various types of Christian counselors. When finding a Christian counselor, remember to find a licensed, experienced CHRISTIAN professional capable of addressing your specific issue. Interview your prospective counselor before attending your first session. Go prepared with a series of questions that will help your gain knowledge about the kind of counsel you will be receiving. Prayerfully consider whether or not you and the counselor are a good fit.
Taken from a great website for believers with issues:
Robin Williams’ recent suicide has risen the awareness of many people. Over 70% who commit suicide are mentally ill.
One out of five Americans will experience a mental disorder during their lifetime. But, people can get better. With proper treatment, most people with a mental illness recover quickly, and the majority do not need hospital care, or have only brief admissions.
Mental illness has traditionally been surrounded by community misunderstanding, fear, and stigma. Stigma towards people with a mental illness has a detrimental effect on their ability to obtain services, their recovery, the type of treatment and support they receive, and their acceptance in the community.
Exactly what is stigma? Stigma means a mark or sign of shame, disgrace or disapproval, of being shunned or rejected by others. It emerges when people feel uneasy or embarrassed to talk about behavior they perceive as different. The stigma surrounding mental illness is so strong that it places a wall of silence around this issue.
It is like hiding the “pile” instead of dealing with it properly.
The effects are damaging to the community as well as to the person will the illness and his/her family and friends. But at Mental Health agencies and groups all over are working hard to erase the stigma associated with having a mental illness.
The emphasis needs to be on supporting and treating people in their own communities, close to their families, friends and familiar surroundings.
Yet discrimination and community misconceptions remain among the most significant barriers to people with a mental illness being able to actively participate in the community and gaining access to the services they need.
But it is not only people with a mental illness who experience discrimination and stigma. Rejection of people with mental illness inevitably spills over to the caregiver and family members.
Improving community attitudes by increasing knowledge and understanding about mental illness is essential if people with a mental illness are to live in, and contribute to, the community, free from stigma and discrimination.
“People with mental problems are our neighbors. They are members of our congregations, members of our families; they are everywhere in this country. If we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish from which those cries for help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go away. Because it will not go away, and because of our spiritual commitments, we are compelled to take action.”
“So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.”
Ephesians 4:25, NLT
I intend to be simple. I am worried and distressed by my own confusion and a simple disorientation about my own detachment to what is spiritual. I confess a trust in Him, but am wary of an evil attachment to things that take me away from Him. I know this sounds confusing, please bear with me.
I turn to Him, and yet I know that I know that a small part of me does not really belong to Him. I want to belong, but am conscious that I just don’t work into the Kingdom. I am a liability. I quickly will admit to some confusion, but I have no real intention to deceive anyone. I desperately want to be His, but I’m aware of issues that would defy such a connection.
I have an incredible infatuation with Jesus, and His teaching. He is the most amazing man to step out out of the ‘river’ of the human race. I see in Him so much, and deep down I want to fall on my knees and worship Him. The things He did are honestly the most sublime in the history of man. He is astonishing.
And yet, I continue to struggle. I see all of this and yet I’m confronted with my own issues. I know what I would like to be. But if I press, I begin to short-circuit. I do, certainly turn it over to Him. But I also am aware of a certain antipathy or rebellion (although that word seems too harsh) against the whole idea of grace. I can not figure ‘grace’ out. Grace perplexes me. It is the ‘Gordian Knot’ of the entire human race.
But I do connect with Him. My bipolar would quickly render me a traitor. I vacillate much more then the average person. Ultimately, I do turn and trust Him. He has led me to a wonderful place. If it is all a delusion, then so be it. But I will still believe in Him who gave Himself for me.
If that makes me a disciple, then so be it. But I know I am the least of His. I guess faith would venture more. But I scrape up all that I have and a saving hope it is enough. I look at the accounts of Him and am pretty much astonished. Jesus did things, consistently, above others before Him and after Him. He is quite exceptional.
I am a follower. I will struggle, and then have to deal with that sin. But I do believe and intend to keep believing. I only wish I was more consistent. I sometime wonder that in the “Book of Life’ if my name would include an asterisk. (“Made it, but by the skin on his teeth.”)
Don’t fret, I am under His hand. He deals with me, and fully intends to lead me, home. I so do want that. If on that Day, you hear someone hollering, it will be me back in the 715,426,488th row, shouting ‘I am finally here”, in the fellowship of heaven.
Some will understand this:
“He who has this disease called Jesus will never be cured.”
One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless. The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity. You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems. This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.
You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver. This support is received in three different ways.
First, emotional support. Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.
Second, I would suggest physical support. You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met. (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.
Third, spiritual support. It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship. These three have obvious effects on the caregiver. Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself). You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving. I think this is critical to your relationship. Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.
God gives special grace to the caretaker. My advice is to take it, and then use it. Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver. Present your afflicted one to Him. Be supernatural in the mundane. The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me. It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.
“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”
Luke 5:18, ESV
My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty. Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one. Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities. Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver. Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.
Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information. If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me. I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will. May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.
Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem.
2 Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance.3 So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”4 David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house.
2 Samuel 11:1-4, NASB
Where was the real battle being fought? David walks the rooftop and engages the enemy; it was within his own heart. He puts himself right into sin.
Perhaps he couldn’t sleep. It was a warm spring night, and he needed air and to stretch his legs. His troops and his generals were out to war. Maybe he was anxious about how things were progressing. Perhaps he was not where he should be.
Little did he know but he would face his own battle up on his roof.
David was a seasoned veteran; a trained warrior with skill on the battlefield. But he was also king– with kingly perks. He had wives and concubines at his ‘beck and call.’ His “appetites” were sufficiently met. That is the prerogative of kings.
She was naked– and more beautiful than he had ever seen. A servant was near, and he wanted to know more about her. He began to plan how he could have this exceptionally beautiful woman.
She was also the wife of Uriah, one of his elite warriors and one of his “mighty men,” (2 Sam. 23:39).
But he burned for her, and wanted her now. He had lost the battle.
Even kings “reap what they sow,” (Galatians 6:7-8).
“Father, keep us in the battle and protect us from sin. We want to please you. Don’t let us walk in sin and disobedience. Amen.”
Professor Mitchell, what is the difference between being depressed and just feeling bad about yourself?
Sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference; sometimes you’re not certain. I look for clinical indicators of depressive illness: whether the person’s life is becoming impaired by these bad feelings, when it’s starting to interfere with people’s sleep, appetite and weight, when it’s interfering with their work and concentration, they’re having suicidal thoughts, they can’t buck up. Those symptoms help me to sort out whether it’s just life problems or whether it’s more.
So depression is an illness?
Yes. Even though there are both psychological and physical parts to it, it makes sense to think of severe depression as an illness. There are good medical and psychological treatments that can help people get out of it.
What proportion of the population is depressed?
Figures vary, but over a lifetime about 15% of the population are prone to getting depression on at least one occasion. So it’s relatively common. Some people only have one episode, but for at least half of those who suffer depression once, it is a recurring experience.
Is depression the sort of thing that certain personality types are likely to suffer?
I think that’s true. Anybody is vulnerable to becoming depressed, if things get difficult for them, but some personality types are more prone than others. For instance, if you tend to look for your own failings and weaknesses, if you expect disasters, you are prone to becoming depressed. People who have fragile self-esteems are prone; people who are excessively perfectionistic can be thrown when things don’t go quite right; people who have long-term high levels of anxiety.
Can you describe what it is like to be depressed?
Patients find it quite hard to describe. They often use analogies, like there is a ‘black cloud’ or a ‘weight’ on them. They say that they just can’t enjoy things any more, that they can’t get the drive to do anything; they stay in bed because they just have no energy or enthusiasm. They tend to ruminate and think about their failings, their hopeless situation. But many people find it hard to communicate the experience; even very articulate people have told me how difficult it is to communicate the experience to other people.
On the other side of the fence, what is it like to be close to someone who is depressed?
I think it’s very wearing. It never ceases to amaze me how couples stay together, particularly when it’s prolonged. Even with the best of good will and human kindness, long-term depression can be a very tiring experience for a spouse or close friend. You may get little response from a depressed person, little enthusiasm, withdrawal. They don’t want to interact socially and sometimes they can be quite irritable. Within a marriage, tension may be increased because the depressed person has no interest in sexual activity. So these things exacerbate the problem.
I sometimes hear it said that depressed people ought to just ‘snap out of it’. Can they do that?
Not when the depression is severe in the way we have been talking about. If someone can snap out of it, usually they have by that stage. In general, a depressed person doesn’t like the experience and if it was a matter of just getting on and doing something, they would have tried it. Sometimes people need to learn psychological ways of getting out of the depressed state. But sometimes there is a biochemical process going on that means the person isn’t physically able to snap out of it, without professional help.
Often there is a mixture of the physical and the psychological. It’s very rarely one or the other. The more I see depression, the more I see a complex interplay between personality, the biology of our brains and our life experience.
So depressed people can’t snap out of it, but they also can’t explain very easily what is actually troubling them. It’s a very frustrating illness!
Absolutely. It’s hard for people who haven’t dealt with it professionally to have any idea what it’s like to be depressed. So people have this difficulty understanding it, and this tendency to think that the person should be able to get out of it, and the depressed person has difficulty explaining the experience and feels frustrated and stigmatized when people are telling them to snap out of it, because they know they can’t snap out of it. There is enormous tension.
I suppose the big question is, for both the depressed person and those around them, can depression be cured?
Most people with depression can either be cured or significantly helped by available treatments. These days, we have very good treatments. We can’t help everybody, but we can help the vast majority of people we see.
Is it always a long-term cure, or can it happen quickly?
It varies. Often within a few weeks many people have benefited significantly. Some forms of depression require more long-term psychological treatment, others respond very quickly to medication. And there are grades in between.
Is depression like alcoholism, where you can get it under control but never really be beyond its reach?
For most people, that’s probably a realistic comparison. I tell people that they are always going to be prone to becoming depressed, so they need to be wary about relapses in the future. They need to be sensible about their medications, learn techniques to help them, think about whether there are aspects of their lives that they need to change. We can’t always prevent future episodes, but we can usually make them less likely.
The poet Les Murray recently has been very public about coming out of his depression. It’s interesting that some of the best poetry is written by people who have been depressed. Look at William Cowper, a Christian poet and hymn writer who wrote some of his most moving material during periods of profound depression. So depression can be both creative and destructive.
This raises an important issue for Christians. How do we connect our mental and our spiritual lives?
Cowper became very doubting at times, during his depression. One thing many Christian patients say is that God seems very distant during such periods. I’ve come to accept that as part of the depressive experience rather than a problem with their faith. I’ve seen people with a very deep faith, who yearn to be close to God, and who when depressed feel very barren and remote from God. For instance, J. B. Phillips, the Bible translator, was profoundly depressed for much of his adult life. He has described this sense of distance from God.
That is very distressing for Christians. They begin to worry that it is a lack of faith or lack of spiritual growth. But having seen it enough, I think it is just an expression of the depressive experience. Many Christians also feel that depression is a sign of weakness, of spiritual inadequacy, and they have a strong sense of guilt. Unfortunately, I think that often the church, explicitly or implicitly, has encouraged that—that if you have depression, it’s a reflection on your spiritual life. This adds an incredible burden to people who are already feeling guilty and self-critical. It’s a bit like Job’s encouragers, who basically made him feel worse.
Why does there seem to be a large number of depressed people in our churches?
It’s often the more sensitive people who become depressed, and there are often a lot of obsessional and sensitive people in churches. My experience is that there is a lot of depression in our congregations and that we don’t handle it at all well. We often infer, explicitly or implicitly, that the Christian shouldn’t have the experience of depression—that it’s not part of the victorious Christian life. And that causes enormous guilt and makes people less likely to talk about it. I think we have a lot of silent suffering going on in our churches. People just aren’t getting helped, because they feel guilty about having depression. We need to bring out into the open the fact that depression is a common experience, even within the church. And that being a Christian doesn’t stop you from getting depression. And that having depression is no more a failing than having diabetes.
In general, the church deals very badly with mental illness. In the middle ages, it was considered demon possession; in the late 20th century it’s considered a symptom of spiritual inadequacy. But it isn’t necessarily either of these things.
Are people in very demanding ministries especially prone?
They are prone; I don’t know about especially. They are in line for so many of the factors that contribute to depression: burn-out, demoralization, excessive demands, not looking after your own emotional needs, not having time to yourself. I see some of the casualties, and often by then it’s too late because someone has resigned from the ministry or become completely disillusioned. And it’s all too hidden, too hush-hush. We’re dealing with it no better than the secular world; in some ways we’re doing worse.
What then are the ways that a depressed person can be helped, both by individuals and by the church?
Well, especially in the early days, one can be supportive, help people get back into their lives—those normal things of friendship and support, being a sounding board, willing to listen to difficulties. These things might be sufficient to alleviate the early experience of depression.
But if we’re looking at a fully formed depression that’s been going on for a while, the person should be encouraged to seek proper professional help. That doesn’t always mean a psychiatrist; it might mean a GP or a counsellor. Just someone with the skills and training to help. So that’s the first thing, when the support networks have been stretched to the limit.
While that process is happening, it’s important to be around for the depressed person, accepting the fact that it might be a frustrating experience until that person picks up. Not feeling that you have to do everything yourself. There has to be a point where a friend accepts that they can’t provide everything the person needs. That point is usually indicated by signs like someone crying constantly, their work falling apart, withdrawing inexplicably, perhaps losing weight. These things indicate that the depression is getting severe.
Finally, do you think depression has become more of a problem today than it used to be?
It’s an area of debate. There’s no doubt that depression has always existed. The old Greek medical writers are clearly describing patients with depression. There was a book written in the 17th century called The Anatomy of Melancholy which described what we would call depressed patients. So it goes back through the ages; it’s part of the general human experience.
The issue is whether it has become more frequent. People have looked at the occurrence of depression in groups of people born in different decades in this century, and the frequency of occurrence seems to go up as the decades continue. People born in the 60s are more prone to depression than those at similar ages, but born in the 30s. Now, the significance of that is debated. It could be that people in recent decades simply have become more willing to admit to their depression, hence the higher rate of reports. Or it could be true that it is becoming a more common experience, and presumably that reflects changes in society. What those changes are is a very difficult question to answer.
So it’s hard to say whether the loneliness of urban living is a major factor?
Well yes, and it’s a very interesting area of debate. The World Health Organization has released predictions of the impact of different illnesses over the next century. They are saying that depression will be the 21st century’s most disabling condition, in terms of the impact on the individual, frequency and cost to society, on a worldwide basis. That survey included all medical conditions, including cancer and heart disease. So there is a recognition that it is a very prevalent condition, and that it is a very disabling condition to have. Whatever is causing it, we’re going to have to deal with it.
Philip Mitchell is a Professor at the School of Psychiatry, Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, Australia.