Being sad is a natural and normal emotion, one that we experience many times throughout our lives for a variety of different reasons. Usually when sad, we can be cheered up with a funny video or movie, sharing a few laughs with a friend, or having a bowl of ice cream. Depression, however, is a bit different. When someone is depressed, watching funny videos and eating ice cream won’t do the trick. People often make the mistake of thinking that depression and sadness are the same thing but they are not. Sadness is simply just being unhappy. Depression is deeper. Both can emerge from grief and major losses, like a death in the family.
In depression one may experience a fairly constant decreased mood, a loss of interest in their normal activities, trouble with maintaining a sleep cycle, exhaustion, and so forth. It is normal to feel like this during the grieving process, and it’s important to acknowledge this feeling and engage it. When I say “engage” it, I am not saying that you should be jumping for joy screaming, “Yay! I’m so excited to be depressed today!” By accepting your feelings, you are just allowing the feeling to come as it will, allowing yourself to feel that feeling, and letting it move through and back away from you. We sometimes have a hard time doing that with ugly feelings such as depression because they are dark and uncomfortable feelings, but to produce growth it’s a necessary step. We can’t heal from things we refuse to acknowledge.
Sometimes depression can start with a triggering event but become rooted in our perceptions of all of the events in our lives. Clinical depression alters our perceptions of life and can leave us feeling stuck in our emotions. The assistance of medical care such as treatment with psychological therapy and medication management are helpful resources for rediscovering joy and hope. These tools can be valuable resources that God uses for helping us experience healing. If you feel stuck in your emotions, don't hesitate to seek out help.
One thing that we must remember is that we are never alone in our grief, and we can talk to God about every uncomfortable, weird, dark, ugly emotion that we experience and He will understand every bit of it. He is waiting for us to cast all of our cares unto Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). You already know that experiencing grief will make you feel feelings that you have never felt before, and it’s extremely uncomfortable. Depression is no different. I think that it is very important to not hold back any emotions that may come about. One of the most dangerous things we can do is ignore our feelings, and push them aside. This is only a temporary “solution” that can cause a more significant problem down the road. I wish that I could tell you that you could schedule the times that bouts of depression will come, but I would be lying.
Emotions are very strong and powerful and when they hit, they can hit hard. Imagine that you’re at the mall and having the best time shopping, then all of a sudden you hear a song or see something that reminds you of your lost loved one. The next thing you know, you are ugly crying right there in the middle of the food court, snot bubbles and all. As odd as this may sound, it’s perfectly normal. Yes, you may look silly or emotionally unstable to a random bystander, but who cares? This is what needs to be done. It’s ugly and uncomfortable in the moment, but it does wonders in the long run. If you were to push down those emotions every time they came about, there would come a time when you wouldn’t have anymore room inside of you to hold anything else in, and you would explode in destructive behavior. Allowing yourself to feel the feelings that come and bawl your eyes out for 10 minutes, is far better than exploding and causing damage later. It’s okay to tell God that you’re feeling lost and hopeless. He is the one who blessed us with emotions and we can talk to God about all of our feelings, no matter how bad we think they are, God can take it.
A good reminder to keep in your thoughts is that weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). It’s important to know that if you are experiencing a pretty recent loss, all of these feelings are very fresh and raw for you so it may feel like they will never go away, as thought they will always be as intense as they are right now. They will eventually lose their intensity over time, but unfortunately, they will be around for quite some time. Just like any other traumatic wound, the pain may feel like it is beyond healing like you won’t be able to make it through, but God will make a way through.
When people are grieving and feeling depressed, bad advice may be thrown their way. “Be strong for your sister,” “Put on a strong face for your mother,” “The Lord won’t put no more on you than you can bear.” These are all things that I hear people say when we experience loss. The intentions are good, but that advice tends to apply more pressure than comfort. Think about it, if I have just lost someone near and dear to me, for example, should I have to pretend to be okay and put on a good face, just to make sure others feel ok? No, thank you. That’s basically the same thing as hiding your emotions, which is the opposite of what needs to happen for them to be processed.
Everyone’s journey through grief is their own, and everyone has to experience it for themselves. If everyone is trying to put on a strong face for everybody else, who is that really helping? When people talk about The Lord not putting more on you than you can bear, it baffles me to think that anyone can bear losing someone that they love so much. The Lord knows that we cannot bear that, and when things do become too much for us to bear, that’s when we lay it all at his feet. That’s what he told us to do, right?
Being right in the middle of a storm makes it hard to see any hope or light at the end of the tunnel. When you lose someone, you can have so many feelings of torment, confusion, hopelessness, panic, etc., but we also remember that our loving God knows our pain and walks with us through it. God promises to be with us to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). The psalms walk through all manner of painful emotions and they can help us connect with God through the dark times. Knowing we are not alone as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and experiencing God’s caring presence (Psalm 23). God understands our pain having lived in our broken world, remember how Jesus wept when Lazarus died? (John 11:35). God really does get it and He cares so much for us.
We are reminded in John 14 that he is going to prepare a place for us, and when he prepares that place for us, he’s gonna come get us. That’s the plan, right? What’s the purpose of him going to prepare this beautiful place for us if we are not going to occupy it at some point or another? It’s hard for those of us left behind to cope with the loss of our loved one, but God is there ready and waiting to comfort us. God knows how much pain we go through when we lose someone, and he doesn’t take those feelings lightly. It’s not as if he’s just allowing things to happen with no understanding of our feelings. We can rest in knowing that we will be okay because he heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Travis Jamieson