BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the second in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog series on biblical counseling and depression. Few issues are more painful. God’s Word provides us with wisdom for addressing depression with compassion so we can care well and wisely. You can read Part One by Andy Farmer here.
How to Help the Depressed
When sitting across from someone who is depressed, what resources can you draw upon as a counselor?
How might you help Teri?*
Teri is a woman I counseled years ago for depression. She was a homeless, pregnant woman with no job prospects, whose husband recently left her for another woman. She was a new immigrant to America with no support network to turn to. She was estranged from her abusive family, did not know many friends, had no belief in God, and she was self-admittedly ready and willing to end her life.
Would it help this poor, dear woman to pretend her circumstances were better than they actually were, or to falsely promise that they were surely about to get better? The truth is that Teri’s circumstances had no hope of improving any time soon. When I met with Teri, it was clear that all the vain things of this world had left her feeling nothing but disappointed. Teri needed a hope that was not of this world.
Unfortunately, hope from God was the one thing I was not allowed to share with Teri.
Counseling in a Spiritual Vacuum
When I was in seminary I spent half my practicum hours at a transitional housing community for families in need, and this is where I met Teri. It was run by a secular organization, and the counseling was not supposed to be faith-based unless a client requested it to be. Teri was a nominal Muslim, and I was instructed not to incorporate my Christian worldview into my conversations with her. It was an unfortunate rule for Teri, who really needed Christ’s help.
Counseling someone without mentioning God is a little bit like changing a light bulb without electricity. What good are all the pieces if at the end of the day there is no light?
My hands were surely tied as I came alongside Teri. It’s not that no good was accomplished. She was certainly helped by a listening ear, human compassion, and occasional advice. There was definitely good happening in my Gospel-less counseling with Teri.
But as a Christian I knew Teri could receive more life-giving encouragement than what I was permitted to offer. She could receive God himself—whose power, love and goodness could surely change her life. He could offer her peace beyond understanding even in the midst of painful trials (Philippians 4:4-9). He could bring her hope for the future, because in Christ our final destination is one where there are no more tears…ever again (Revelation 21:4).
The sad truth is that without Christ, Teri is actually headed to a destination that is infinitely worse than even her current situation. How much trouble might I have gotten into had I actually told her about hell?
Well, I’m not sure if I did the right thing when I counseled Teri. I indeed followed the rules and did not share the Gospel with her. I prayed fervently for Teri, because I grew to love her a great deal. I also connected her with a Christian family who helped her with practical needs and had the liberty (and privilege) to share the good news of Christ with her. To my knowledge, Teri still does not know the Lord, and continues to struggle through this life as best she can. You might pray for her if you have a moment.
No Substitute for God
This week we are writing about depression on the Grace & Truth blog. I am well-acquainted with the struggle of depression—both professionally and personally. I’m thankful for much of the research that’s been conducted to better understand this struggle. But my experience with Teri really solidifies for me that there is just no substitute for God.
How could there be?
The best way to help someone who has been disappointed by this world is to reveal the immense hope that is set before us in Christ—who is not of this world. In my work as a biblical counselor I have had the joy of watching God bring surprising strength to the weak, overwhelming help to the destitute, life-giving faith to the lost, and remarkable hope to the hopeless.
Counseling gains much electricity with God’s light in the center of it.
The spiritual realities of the Bible allow the depressed to say something as radical as this:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
Learn More about God’s Hope
Are these words confusing to you? If you’d like to learn more about how to find hope in the unseen God of the universe, please take some time to listen to this sermon series called “Hope in God!” by John Piper:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Join the Conversation
How do you help people struggling with depression to find hope in God?
Note: *Teri is a pseudonym to protect the privacy of the counselee described.