My friend Amy and I caught up on our progress over dealing with our husbands’ depressions. Smiles lit our faces as we related with one anothers’ feelings of relief–our husbands’ depressions were lifting! We praised God together. We both agreed it felt like sunshine was coming back in our lives. As I have dealt with my husband Jeff’s depression and my own subsequent depression over his depression, I realized a lot. I understand depression is a very complex issue, but here are some ways I learned to take hold of hope when my husband was in his valley of depression and I felt helpless to do anything.
1. Reach for Real Comfort-A cookie fresh from the oven can bring comfort for a moment. So can two or three. But I know from experience after munching down a few too many comforting cookies, my waistband begins to pinch on those pants which used to fit so nicely. The real comfort of God’s life-giving Word makes even the most delicious cookie crumble in comparison.
Take Hold of Hope: Find a book study with lots of Bible application questions. Or try a Bible study on a favorite book of the Bible (Philippians for example). As you study, ask questions. “What does this say?” “What can I learn?” “What can I apply to my life and circumstance right now?” Write these questions down along with the answers. Keep a prayer journal where you write out your prayers like letters to God. Just be yourself, and tell God every single thing on your heart.
2. Reach for Real Friends-For a time, when Jeff’s depression was worst and it rocked my soul to the very foundations of my faith, I and several friends took part in a book study by Stormie Omartian called “Power of a Praying Wife”. I felt their support. We grew together as we studied. It helped so much to have Christians emotionally close and in tune with my struggles. It helped to pray for one another.
Take Hold of Hope: Pick up the phone and call or message one or several real Christian friends today. Schedule that time on your calendar when you can get together. Join an area Bible study. Bible Study Fellowship International offers a great support mechanism. Find a class near you at https://www.bsfinternational.org/
3. Reach for Real Discipline-It will seem counter-intuitive to fight depression with self-discipline but, from experience, God has taught me it’s important. 2 Timothy 1:7 in the NIV says “For the Spirit God gave us… gives us… self-discipline”. The KJV uses “sound mind” in place of “self-discipline”. I’ve found there is a real connection between these two. I know depression is a complex issue, but discipline does help. It helps to take my vitamin D and B12, limit sugar, and get up at the right time. Exercise also stimulates the serotonin levels in the brain. Another area of self-discipline is upkeep. This may be as simple as doing a spa day from time to time—condition your hair and wrap it in a warm towel. Do a pedicure or better yet, have your friends over for a spa night. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You can use things like brown sugar, for a revitalizing facial scrub or mayonnaise to condition your hair. Drinking enough water is also an important discipline. About 48 ounces is my goal, although I feel good to get in my 32 ounces with my morning treadmill workout. And one of the important areas I don’t want to neglect is disciplining the thought life and the mouth. Philippians 4:8 says, “… whatever is true, whatever is worthy of reverence and is honorable and seemly, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and lovable, whatever is kind and winsome and gracious, if there is any virtue and excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on and weigh and take account of these things [fix your minds on them]” (AMP). What we think flows from our mouths. But it can also work the other way around. When we say something negative, we cement it further into our minds and magnify the negative thought in the other person’s mind. Thinking faith filled thoughts takes effort. But Matthew 9:29 seems to indicate that God rewards faith when he says “according to your faith let it be done to you”.
Take Hold of Hope: Select one area discussed in this section and take action today.
4. Reach for Your Real Potential-What are your gifts? Are you using them? No? No wonder you’re depressed! I know the feeling of un-fulfillment and dis-satisfaction. Not using our gifts stems from several issues. For one thing, many don’t know what they are. If that’s you, I urge you to find and take a spiritual gifts survey. This will help you identify your gifts and boost your faith that God has indeed gifted you. Everybody has gifts. Some are behind the scenes. Some take center stage. Once you know your gifts you can start developing them.
Take Hold of Hope: Ask your pastor to administer a spiritual gifts survey to you. Then from the results, ask him where you can use your gifts in the church and beyond.
5. Reach for Real Mentors-With giftedness comes development. You may know how to sing but need to build your stage presence. You may have a lot of talents for songwriting but you may have a lot to learn and you need a better understanding of the process and discipline involved. Someone very wise once said, “When the student is ready, the teacher shows up”. Pray for mentors, not people who you admire from afar, but people who will get into the nit-grit of your life and guide you over the rough spots where they’ve already been. In my case I felt God’s strong leading into music, songwriting, and writing for publications. I had already written a drawer-full of songs and self-published CDs. I had a decent sized clip-file of published ministry materials, yet there was still much I didn’t know. As I turned my worries into prayers and asked God specifically for mentors, mentors came into my life. Talk about bright rays of sunlight! They saw my hurt, my pain of underachievement and underdeveloped gifts. Taking my hand, they led me to needful resources and organizations. My writing mentor Arlene urged me to develop my public speaking skills through joining Toastmasters International. She also supported my leading an area writers’ support group, she helped me learn new skills, she provided emotional help along the way, as well as prayer. My music mentor Laura helped me get to my first songwriting conference and this led to meeting people in the field and learning under their wise counsel and godly leadership. I actually attended my second songwriting conference, bringing CDs to sell in order to pay back Laura for hotel bills and gas. I sold a lot of CDs at the conference. I gave many away and just offered them for a donation. A leader in the music world actually bought a copy of each of my CDs. I wept as I told him my story of trying to pursue my gifts when my husband had lost his job and was uber depressed. It was so humbling to have this great leader in the Christian music holding my songs in his hands. I can’t even describe the feeling in words.
Take Hold of Hope: Pray for God to send mentors into your life.
6. Reach for Reality-Row-row-rowing your boat through life without stepping out on faith hurts. That kind of life is not a dream. It’s closer to a nightmare. Your life-span, if you’re blessed, may be ninety years. When you get halfway to that point, mid-life may seem daunting if you haven’t started to live and really started to give of your life and talents to help others. Why is realizing the brevity of life so important? Because with this understanding comes courage. You and I aren’t guaranteed one more breath, one more heartbeat, or one more welcome-home kiss for our spouse.
Take Hold of Hope: Ask yourself what’s the scariest aspect of using your gifts? Now ask yourself, “how would I want to live if this were my last opportunity?” This always gives me courage to take the stage and sing my heart out for Jesus! It can give you courage to use your gifts too.
7. Reach for a “Life’s Really not About me” Attitude-Ouch! This hurts. I knew this in my head, but my heart didn’t understand “it” wasn’t about me until later in life. Often society teaches us to be “me” centered and to look out for number one. That’s not reality. My life is not about me. My gifts aren’t about me. My words aren’t about me. They are about others, and God. When I began to learn this, the magnifying glass shifted from my needs to others’ needs. I could be happy with the blessings God had given me.
Take Hold of Hope: Find someone in need and meet that need for them by using your God-given gifts.
8. Reach for the Real God Who Loves You with an Everlasting Love-One of my favorite verses is “…We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Depression has helped me see how fragile I can be—an “earthen vessel”. How humbling yet how beautiful to know that God’s all-surpassing power is available to me, through every moment of life, for better or for worse, God is mine and I am His!
Take Hold of Hope: I challenge you to flip to the topical index in the back of your Bible, locate several verses about God’s everlasting love. Write them out and place them on your mirror. Start memorizing them today.
9. Reach for real Hope from God, not Circumstances-Expectations are like a balloon. If you lose hold, expectations fly away, leaving you empty. Hoping in God, our Rock is solid hope. Sometimes doubts come to our faith because we expect certain things from God. We expect him to check the yes box. When he says no it can feel like he’s betrayed us. But God goes deeper than our unmet expectations. I remember praying to receive certain things that I never got. However, later down the path, I saw that when God said no, it was the best thing ever.
Take Hold of Hope: Sometimes in order to take hold of hope you need to release your expectations. Ask God for strength to let go.
10. Reach for Heaven in our Real World-The word heaven gets tossed around. I know the title promised “9 ways to take hold of hope”. Ten is a number symbolizing perfection. The world has never perfect since Eve bit the apple in the Garden of Eden. Yet fairytales seem to live in our hearts. Why? Our hearts were not made for this sin-tainted existence. We were not made for this broken world… we were made for heaven. When we feel disappointed from unmet expectations, we can choose to reach our hearts toward heaven. As we, by faith, take hold of the hope of the perfection only heaven will bring, we can let the broken pieces of our life fall into God’s hands. And the wonderful thing is, as God comforts us, he can use the most painful trials to help others find hope. This is a little bit of heaven in our real world.
Take Hold of Hope: Place scripture around the home. Hope verses are taped on my calendar, written on chalk boards in my kitchen and laundry room, even inside my bathroom cupboard. Here’s one for this one this week: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercy) and the God [Who is the Source] of every comfort (consolation and encouragement), Who comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble or distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted (consoled and encouraged) by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, AMP).
If you reach for real hope, and take hold of it, you’ll find real hope has a name. His name, Jesus.