“My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off” (Ps. 38:11).
What sad and awful words these are to read. Ed Welch notes that it is friendship with others that softens the horror of depression. Of course, he also notes that depression can strain relationships. It is hard not to reject the counsel you receive from them. When they become frustrated, he notes, you complain that you knew this would happen from the beginning. You knew they would eventually become frustrated with you and abandon you. Thus the Psalmists complain that they have become abominations to their friends, who stand aloof from them in horror and dismay.
Indeed, Welch notes that depressed individuals oftentimes elicit hostile responses from others through inappropriate social cues and behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal. In this way, they ensure negative evaluations from those in their interpersonal circle. Ed Welch asks us to consider what and how these facts make us feel and how we might want to feel about them:
“Does it make you feel guilty? Then keep it simple. You are guilty if you have sinned against other people. If you have sinned, confess it to God and others, give thanks because of God’s delight in you as you confess, and ask for power to change. Does it make you feel hopeless or helpless? Do you feel like other people simply don’t understand depression? Consider this: nothing can keep us from loving other people—not the sins of others, not our infirmities, not our humanity. Certainly, such a task might seem impossible—and it is, if you ignore the cross of Jesus. But when we call out for the grace to love others more deeply, God always answers “Yes.””
It is therefore very important, he notes, to never let depression be an excuse for hurting other people and making them feel bad. This only worsens depression. God created humans to love others. It is our part of the basis of our blueprint as inherently social creatures, and loving our neighbor is also the penultimate duty of the Christian. Apart from loving others, all you can expect his hopelessness and despair. Subtle gestures such as affectionate thanksgiving for them, praying for them, greeting them and listening to them may be helpful. You may stumble, he notes, at which point you will have to ask them and God for forgiveness.
He notes that the passivity of the depressed person may be very discouraging. It may feel as though you are simply dragging them along. They may exhibit little or no passion or enthusiasm for anything and so all of your love may feel fruitless and pointless. Such a one-sided arrangement is likely to make the caretaker of the depressed person feel discouraged and used. The only way to continue loving an individual in this case is to know that you are loving for the glory of God first and foremost. Apart from this foundation as your motivation, you will despair in discouragement. Our purpose must ultimately be the glory of God and not feeble and changing things such as feeling good about ourselves and being self-congratulatory in our role as caretaker.
The self-pity and self-sabotage of the depressed person can be very frustrating. Here is Ed Welch’s advice:
“Don’t hesitate to interrupt the flow of despair, self-pity, and complaints that only reinforce the person’s unbiblical interpretations of God and himself. To do this too early in your relationship with depressed people (or anyone) communicates that you don’t really want to understand. It can silence people. But when your purpose is explained, it can be easily understood as an expression of love.
“I’m going to stop you for a second. Can you hear what’s happening? The more you talk, the more you despair. I can see it in you. In fact, I can feel it in myself. Here is a plan. From now on, when I see the wave of depressive and, actually, unbiblical interpretations of life crashing down on you, I am going to point it out and try to run from it with you.””
There comes a time for tough love, but the friend must always speak the truth in love. The depressed person will appreciate it in retrospect once their depression has lifted, by God’s grace.