It was Christmas Eve. Every member of Bill’s family was on their way home for Christmas dinner, followed the traditional 11:00 Candlelight Christmas Eve service. Just after midnight, the family would exchange gifts. It would be a glorious Christmas…except for the elephant in the room. Bill was depressed again this year.

Bill had been battling depression for many years. For the past six months, he didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. He kept coming to the realization that his family would be better off without him. So…just hours before the first family member was to arrive…and while his wife was out running last minute errands, Bill utilized the time alone…to take his life.

In the note that he left for his family, Bill told them that he loved them… but he did not want to live anymore. He couldn’t go on. And, he thought that it would be best for them to be together when they found him. Part of the sickness of chronic depression is that the suicidal person believes that their family would be better off without them…not realizing the emotions that they are unleashing in their family members.

In William Styron’s brilliant book, Darkness Visible, he describes his own descent into a crippling and almost suicidal depression and despair as “feeling like you are drowning in quicksand and you can’t get out.” This is the way Bill felt. In his pursuit of freedom from “the quicksand” he left his family to deal with his body, his death, and loads of emotions: shock, anger, betrayal, guilt, and grief…among others.

Depression is a disturbing reality that impacts almost everyone in our society in some way. A recent cover story in Time Magazine focused on the crisis of chronic depression that impacts 16 million Americans or almost 7% of our adult population. 30 % of people with depression are not helped by anti-depressants. Psychiatrists believe that this may be responsible for the escalating suicide rate…especially among young people.

For example, I’m thinking of a 20-year-old sophomore at Kent State University in Ohio who had 8 friends from her high school graduating class commit suicide in the past 18 months. Each one was addicted to pain killers, or Rx drugs…and in some cases, they were addicted to heroin. She is writing plays to raise our consciousness to the opioid epidemic in our country, and the despair that is underneath it. This crisis is not only about drugs…it is a crisis about the hopelessness that so many people in our society are feeling right now.

What can we do when life seems overwhelming for us…or for someone we know and love? Chances are that everyone reading this devotional knows a depressed person. Remember…we may be a lifeline to them.  I encourage you or your loved ones to regularly read the psalms…especially when life seems overwhelming.  They give us a taste of reality and they don’t sugarcoat feelings.  The psalmist is refreshingly honest with God. In Psalm 139, for example, the psalmist feels like running away from God…only to discover that wherever he goesGod is already there! Psalm 139 and other psalms are reminders that we can bring all of our feelings to God…even our anger…and God will meet us where we are. There is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. Even to Hell. The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof that God will go to anywhere to save us…even to hell and back!

A few years ago, I was walking down the streets of New York City and I saw a sign outside a bar that read, “Attitude alteration hour. 4:00-5:00 every day. Have a drink and leave with a new perspective!”  Many people do just that…go to a bar searching for a new perspective. But…THE BEST attitude alteration hour I know is reading the Psalms and praying. When the Psalmist needed a new perspective, and was overwhelmed with life, he went to a quiet place and was honest with God…and his perspective radically changed. He kept talking with God even when he was angry with life, other people and even with God! In the quietness, the psalmist discovered that he is a child of God…that was his attitude alteration hour.  I only wish my friend Bill had realized that truth himself…that he is a child of God…it might have saved his life!

Reflection Questions

  • Do you know someone who is currently battling depression?
  • Or, is there someone you know right now who is overwhelmed by life? What can you do to help them?
  • When have you felt overwhelmed by life?
  • What helped you to get through that challenging period in your life?
  • Is it possible that you learned something in that time that could help someone else today?