THE ABIDING LIFE
Walking with a Friend through the Valley of Depression
By Gwen Sellers
Be willing to listen. The story of Job is used to discuss a variety of topics in the Christian life. One is depression. Job's friends did well for the first seven days. They entered into Job's despair. Then they started trying to figure out why Job's life had become so difficult, and made many less-than-helpful suggestions. We probably tend to be a little hard on Job's friends. Finding explanations and fixing problems are our natural instincts. But listening is really a gift.
When Jesus interacted with people, He spoke truth in love, but He also listened. James has a lot to say about controlling the tongue. He says to be "quick to hear, slow to speak" (James 1:19). Proverbs 18:13 says, "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." The verse immediately after (Proverbs 18:14) is: "A man's spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?" Sometimes our words can crush another's spirit, especially if we have not first accurately listened.
So listen to your friend, even if she is not making sense or telling you what seems to be the same complaint over and over. Hear her. Take time to understand her. Let her know that you recognize and acknowledge what she is going through. Sometimes that's really all we need, isn't it? Just for someone to hear us and say, "Yes, it hurts."
Talk about your life too. It's okay to tell your friend about what is going on in your life. It's even okay to tell her about happy things. Depression can feel like an immovable cloud. To the depressed person, it can seem that they are alone under this cloud, and if they could just solve the problem and get out the funk, they could be "normal" like everyone else.
If you withhold yourself and your life, you leave your friend under the cloud by herself. But when you share about your life, it communicates that you still value the person enough to include her. You still want her to know you. Sometimes your happiness may even make her smile. Proverbs 17:22 says, "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Your joyful heart may not always be received as good medicine, but it could help her crushed spirit.
Now, I want to put forth a caution with this tip. Please be aware that it is unlikely you will be able to have deep relationship with your friend while she is depressed. She's trying to survive and doesn't have much to give back to you. So your sharing may need to be somewhat abbreviated, and you may not get the feedback you normally would from this friend. Test it out. Depending on the day and the topic, some things may go over better than others. Be open to share but with the intention of extending love and care to your friend, not for personal benefit. If she is unreceptive, be willing to simply listen.
Keep inviting your friend to things. Don't pester her or try to coerce her into doing things, but don't exclude her simply because she isn't fun to be around. She might say no often. And you might need to do some social things without inviting her. But she is still your friend and a semblance of social normalcy can be helpful.
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Walking with a Friend through the Valley
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