[Series] Caring for depressed friends

ANPG D31173; Timothy Rogers by Robert Williams, after  Robert Byng little over a week ago I wrote a post called “I am Robin Williams.” It’s a very brief refection on my own experience with depression in light of Robin Williams’ recent death. Read it here. Many of us are aware–at least on some level–that our greatest hurts and our biggest struggles are often connected mysteriously to our unique contribution to the life of the world. 

The response to my post helped me to realize once again caring for loved ones, colleagues, and friends who experience depression isn’t always easy, simple, or intuitive. Many of us struggle to know what to say to a friend who is experiencing depression. Some of us doubt it even exists as a medical reality. The effects of depression or melancholy have been observed among us for centuries. The word “depression” may be of recent invention, but the reality to which it points is as old as the Fall of humanity in Genesis.

In this series, I offer thirteen things to do or not do as you care for a friend with depression. I’m basing the series on the work of Timothy Rogers (1658-1728) who was a minister and astute observer of depression both in himself and in those under his pastoral care. He wrote a treatise entitled A discourse concerning trouble of mind, and the disease of melancholy (1691). It is incredibly insightful, especially when you consider that it was penned prior to the beginning of what we might call, “modern medicine.”

I’ll post each Tuesday. If you’re interested in receiving posts directly to your inbox make sure and subscribe by following the link to the right. We’ll begin tomorrow with by discussing the difference between spiritual and physical depression.



[List] Critical resources for understanding faith and mental illness

depression_1-ad78d208bfd0907a122c249a74cd8f6ff184705e-s6-c30Yesterday’s post, “I am Robin Williams” [Link] has really taken off, and it seems that many of us are struggling to understand how faith and depression are related.

Some of us have struggled with depression ourselves and question our own faith or the faith of the church.

Others are married to spouses who struggle and find themselves languishing in a life shared with someone deeply struggling–an experience every bit as painful as being depressed.

Generally, the Christian community struggles to care for those who are deeply suffering. This is, to put it mildly, deeply ironic given how Christians have understood the church over the centuries. Richard Sibbes captured the sentiment when he wrote: “The church of Christ is a common hospital wherein all are in some measure sick of some spiritual disease or another, so all have some occasion to exercise the spirit of wisdom and meekness” (The Bruised Reed, p. 34).

The church is, by definition, a community of broken people (in every sense of the word) gathered around a broken savior–a savior whose lifeblood was poured out to undo the effects of sin in the world. We very quickly lose sight of this most elemental of beliefs.

I offer these resources as a starting point for those who’d like to dig deeper–both in understanding the disease of depression–its lighter form, melancholgy–as well as the spiritual experience of both. I should note that these books reflect my own theological tastes (generally reformed) and inclinations (some of them are academic–not a big fan of pop psychology).

There are plenty more titles out there so get reading:

  1. The Bruised Reed (1630)
  2. A Place for Weakness (2006)
  3. The Roots of Sorrow: Reflections on Depression and Hope (1986, 2000)
  4. The Theology of Illness (2002) [Academic]
  5. When Life Goes Dark: Finding Hope in Depression (2012)
  6. Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (2013)
  7. The Roots of Sorrow: A Pastoral Theology of Suffering (2012) [Academic]
  8. Darkness is My Only Companion (2006)
  9. Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures (1965)
  10. When the Darkness will not Lift (2006)
  11. A Lifting Up for the Downcast (1649)

[NOTE: As I have time between appointments, I’ll be adding more links as well as giving a brief blurb about each book]

I am Robin Williams

There’s been no shortage of opinion about the suicide death of Robin Williams at the tender age of 63. Many have pointed out Williams’ immense talent both in comedic acting and also in more serious ventures (like his amazing performances in “Dead Poets’ Society” and “Good Will Hunting”).

Many have pointed to his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. Some have remarked–with a surprise that continues, frankly, to both surprise and perplex me–that they cannot believe someone so successful could be so downcast. 

I found news of 11-04Williams’ suicide hard to take. Perhaps you’re wondering why. It’s not because I’m a super-devoted member of his fan club.

It’s not because Google’s number three search term for Williams is–sickeningly–“Robin Williams net worth.”

It’s simply because I am Robin Williams. 

I first experienced depression in seminary. I thought I was losing my mind. In a sense, I was.

My brain was, it seems, doing strange things chemically and despite my best efforts I couldn’t bring it under my control.

That was sixteen years ago and I haven’t had another depressive episode as severe again. That’s possibly because I’ve also taken antidepressant medication since then.

I suppose depending on your view of the clergy, of the Christian life, or of the ways in which God works in the world, I am either a normal human being or someone whose faith and strength is somehow faulty.

In reality, to be a normal person is to be someone whose faith and strength is faulty. There’s little point in the Good News–the Gospel–if this isn’ t the case.

So much of our modern American self-image assumes the sovereignty of the will–if you can will it, you can do it. You can pick up on this notion in Matt Walsh’s somewhat frustrating blog post. He posits that Williams simply chose to kill himself. On one level, he did. So did the people who threw themselves from the World Trade Center.They chose to kill themselves but we typically don’t excoriate them for selfishness. Collectively we tend to pity those poor souls. We’re less forgiving with those who make a similar choice in different situations.

I’m not suggesting that suicide is an acceptable option for those struggling with mental health issues–may it never be! What I am suggesting is that those who have never traversed the long, dark valley of depression should be careful to avoid suggesting that the will is something over which any of us has total control. The will and the brain are mysteriously connected–messing with the chemistry of the latter affects the former. As a result the choices we all make on a daily basis–getting out of the bed, washing–often become labored for those with depression.

So as we reflect on the loss of Robin Williams, let’s ask God to soften our hearts toward those who suffer.

Five great books on discipleship

Discipleship means being apprenticed to or being understudy of Jesus. There are tons of great books on discipleship. It is, after all, the essence of life in Christ. 

I’ve made a list of five books on discipleship that were written (except for Lloyd-Jones) in my lifetime and that I continue to come back to as I consider how to be a fully devoted follower (disciple) of Jesus.

In the future, I’ll also post another list of my favorite books on discipleship written earlier in the history of the church.

1. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cures.0802813879

This is a masterpiece of pastoral theology in the Puritan tradition. Lloyd-Jones carefully uses the Scriptures to explore the variety of factors that can cause us to experience spiritual depression. He is realistic in his appraisal and balanced in his application of Scripture to the Christian. Every Christian should read this book.




2. Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel.ragamuffin.gospel.manning

Manning’s purpose in writing is to expose us to the extravagant love of God. This love can only be deeply experienced when we admit our brokenness and inability to patch ourselves together. Is God’s grace sufficient to hold onto us even in the context of frailty and sin? Yes! This is the good news that Manning shares and in so doing helps us to move beyond false guilt and into true guilt that leads to authentic conversion.



3. Bill Hull, Choose the Life: Embracing a Faith that Embraces Discipleship.9780801064708

Hull wants to close the evangelical gap between “salvation” and “discipleship,” an un-Biblical separation that is the fruit of revivalism. If the Christian life is a marathon, he argues, then we need to train. As much as you may want to run the race, you won’t reach mile 26 unless you train. Spiritual formation, Hull prefers the word discipleship, is practicing the Christian disciplines to open ourselves to the presence of God and to allow him to make us more like Jesus. 


4. Pete Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.emotionally-healthy-spirituality-book


Ever wonder why people who are super religious can also be as mean as a snake? Scazzero claims that recent discipleship has not done a good job of integrating emotional health with growth in Christ. Many Christians are spiritually mature and emotionally immature. Scazzero, who has a doctorate in marriage and family therapy, connects discipleship and emotional health and offers a game plan for those who want their whole life to be under the Lordship of Jesus.


5. Wayne Cordeiro, Leading on Empty.9780764207594_p0_v1_s260x420


Burnout is an experience common to many. Cordeiro experienced a burnout accompanied by depression, which caused him to take a sabbatical from ministry duties in order to tend his own soul. This book offers practical advice on how to lead while recovering from burnout as well as how to build your life in a way that will help you minimize the chances of burning out.