Since the recent death of Robin Williams many are asking how could a wonderful, funny man like Mr. Williams commit suicide? He was so full of life, he believed in Jesus, he did so many wonderful things. Well it is not uncommon for those who have great love to suffer from depression. It is not strange that those who do the most good for others, see no good in themselves. If you read the book on Mother Theresa, “Come Be My Light” you will find that she suffered from a great “Darkness” that hid God from her. I what to share with you that having depression is not a sin, it is a condition that renders one incapable of finding or controlling peace.
While we tend to think of depression as a phenomenon of the modern society it is documented by scriptures. Naomi is one of these marvelous people who suffered and survived. We have to look at her nature, her circumstances and her recovery and coping. Because she can teach us much.
I am making an assumption that you know who she is. You find her in the Book of Ruth. Ruth is pivotal in the story of Naomi. When things are at the worst, Ruth is the one whose love allows recovery. Chapter one of Ruth tells of Naomi’s tragic life. How she was uprooted from Bethlehem, moved to a foreign pagan land, ripped from her core religious foundations, raises and loses her two sons and her husband and is victimized by the very things that drove her husband to leave their home in the first place. The very names of her sons indicate that she had little hope for them. Mahlon and Kilion translate to “Sickly” and “Whining”, not comforting names for strong youth. And then they marry daughters of the old enemies of Israel, pagans who do not know God Yahweh.
As we read her conversation with the two pagan daughter-in-laws, even though she loves them as true daughters, she tell them, “Go back to your mothers’ houses. And may the LORD reward you for your kindness.” Ruth 1:8. (NLT) She has lost her entire family, her country, her God. As we see in her continued argument, “Why should you want to go with me? Can I give birth to other sons who can grow up to be you husbands?” (Ruth 1:11) And also the crowning statement of depression, “Things are far more bitter for me than for you because the LORD Himself has raised His fist against me.” (Ruth 1:13b)
This is were we see her depression at its peak. She is not only bitter, she is determined to believe that God is punishing her. And this is the issue I want to address. No matter how logic defies guilt, rejection or remorse over things we have no control over, those suffering from depression are not convinced that it is not their fault. Naomi believes that God hates her. She see herself the cause of her own grief for making God angry with her. And when she returns with Ruth (who refuses to leave her alone), she rebukes those who are happy that she returned to her home land, “Don’t call me Naomi! Instead, call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” (Ruth 1:20,21 NLT)
I will come to Ruth’s role in this a bit later, but for now, let us examine how Naomi’s depression is classic in today’s time. The classic victim of depression sees himself/herself as guilty of what they deserve, they are being punished for living. They see life as a dark place, full of toil, turmoil and grief. And it is of their own making, they have earned the “right” to be placed where they are in life. I am speaking in generalities, for every case is unique, but for the variations still center on this theme. As Naomi see herself somehow wicked for what ever reason, she rejects the welcome of her old friends, she rejects their happiness. That is because she can not see any happiness for herself.
When people try to “make” a person in depression “happy” it has the opposite effect. The depression rejects happiness as a “false reality” and is repulsed by it. And being repulsed by happiness or hope, the person draws deeper into depression, a downward cycle. Naomi’s depression is so great she won’t even go and gather the remnants of grain left for the poor by the Law. She sends Ruth out by herself to get grain. But Ruth’s nature is the very thing that she needs to be drawn out. We see in the rest of the story how Ruth uses her need of Naomi to bring her Mother-in-law back to hear and respond to God. The Book of Ruth is one of the most important Books of the Old Testament because it has so many illustrations in it to show faith and faithfulness; trust and obedience; and servitude to God in every circumstance. For such a short story it is overflowing with lesson on being a Christian. You could spend a year studying it and still not know enough of it.
But here I need to show how the relationship of Ruth to Naomi is what draws Naomi back from depression. Ruth is optimistic, filled with hope and with love. When Naomi is bitter and downcast with God, ready to believe that God rejected her, Ruth says, “DON’T ASK ME TO LEAVE and turn back!” I believe she shouted it, I don’t think she whispered it softly, because her forcefulness is in the entire passage, “Where ever you go, I will go; where ever you live, I will live; Your people will be my people, your God will be my God.” While Naomi has given up, Ruth is just the opposite, Ruth’s Hope is contagious. She has so much love that she takes over Naomi’s depression and forces Naomi to go forward, even if only for a little while. The Depression returns to Naomi as soon as she enters Bethlehem. Ruth uses another tactic, now she is the submissive one, dependent on her mother-in-law’s knowledge, forcing Naomi to make choices, and later, to make God choices.
This is how we receive treatment from professionals, those of us who are crippled by Depression. We are forced to move forward, then we are given options and finally we are forced to trust in our own choices. And this is how you can help someone in depression. In my own past, those who loved me, showed me Hope. Hope that I could not accept for myself, I accepted for them and I followed along. Ruth showed great love, great Faith and Great Hope. Naomi was helpless to resist. Then Ruth showed a need for Naomi, a willingness to serve her needs and to stay close, asking permission rather than simply telling her she was going to gather food. Making Naomi respond to the request, to start rationalizing. We can do this, simple things. Making them decide what to have for dinner, what movie to watch, things like that. As the progress is made, the decision making becomes easier. Confidence is built. But the absolute tool that is needed is unconditional love. And that is a godly gift.
We need to open our minds to help those who cannot see any light in the darkness they live in. People suffering from depression see life and light in shadows. Light blinds them. It is like stepping out of a closet into a brightly lit room or from a cave into the mid-day sun. They need guidance, a helping hand from those who are accustomed to the light, they need to be shielded from the brightness until they can adjust. And it is best if the one helping has at least seen how dark the cave is that depression creates. Naomi lived in a dark place, Ruth lived with her but did not hide in the darkness but keep finding light places, a future, a dream, a hope in love. And because of that, she gave hope, and love to Naomi.
What we learn from Naomi and Ruth is depression can be conquered by Love, Faith and Hope. And that determination overcomes fear, despair and the sense of rejection. Grace, peace and confidence in God plays a mighty role in recovery. Naomi found purpose in Ruth, we need to show our friends and family who suffer from depression that they also have purpose in our lives. We have to let them see that they have meaning and a vital role in who we are. For without them, we become less that we should be. As Ruth showed Naomi that she needed her wisdom and knowledge of God to know what to do, we need to show the victim of depression, they are purposeful.
In Closing, I simply what to say, that each case is unique, each person is not treated the same way. While this is not a “cure-all” type of paper, it is advice on how to react to those who suffer from Depression. I also what to advise you that most who have depression issues, have mastered the art of concealing it from you. So you may never know, as with the friends of Robin Williams, that there is a problem, that they are suffering. There are signs that you can watch for if you suspect depression. Withdrawing from normal activities that you know the have enjoyed before. Stopping going out of the home, even to shop for food, not answering the phone or returning calls. And now there is a new one that has become noticeable recently, weird postings on Face Book or Twitter. Stopping eating regularly, or eating excessively. Increased alcohol consumption or if a light drinker, the sudden distaste for alcohol. Mood swings, or a sudden dislike of gatherings, over talkativeness or the total lack of joining in conversations.
You would think that the people who are closest would notice more, but they are the ones most unlikely to see changes because they are gradual rather than abrupt. My own wife failed to see that I was in danger until it was almost to late. Infrequent friends are more likely to see changes and take notice. With me, I had few friends partially because my depression was long term. But my co-workers noticed how I was becoming more isolated. Unfortunately, they had little or no contact with my family. Even my fellow worshipers at church, did not notice. They thought I had another problem and made false accusations against me, AFTER I was on the road to recovery and control. Needless to say, I stopped going to that church.
I share these things with you because you may be in the right place when God call to help someone you know learn to live, to be free, and to accept Love enough to fight depression and defeat it. But even if you can’t do that, I beseech you to pray, pray, PRAY! Prayer is a great tool. Prayer healed my mother from withdrawal because of a mountain of medications that only made her worse. Prayer healed her spirit and cleans her memory of things that triggered depression episodes. Prayer gives encouragement and hope from God. Prayer allowed me to never return to the defeat of depression. I still have episodes, but they are short lived, conquered by prayer and will.
God Bless you and keep you in His Eternal Grace.