We begin by listing some symptoms: a feeling of hopelessness, meaninglessness, loneliness, sadness, failure, gnawing guilt, anxiety, apathy, being overwhelmed, unable to cope or relate to others, feeling bereaved, betrayed, abandoned, humiliated.
A common cause of all of these is that we long to be and do something, but we cannot do it. "I would like to be a joyful, loving person, but I can't. I wish I could pick myself up and get going again. I would love to forgive and forget, but I can't clear the bitterness from my heart."
Two thousand years ago a preacher described it this way: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" And the cause he gave for the depression was "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it" (Paul's Letter to the Romans 7:18, 24).
But he and many of the early Christians found a simple way to turn that depression into joy. Unfortunately churches have buried the ancient cure under years of religiosity, legalism, and denominational bickering.
Obviously depression can be caused by physical factors such as an infection, hormone imbalance, cancer, dietary deficiency, and other traumas. And it is foolish to neglect the ability of qualified physicians to diagnose and treat these.
But together with modern medicine, many are discovering a long lost cure which begins deep in our heart. It involves a model shift, a radical change in how we look at our problem. It is a shift from legalism to faith.
Legalism requires us to work up the will power to be and do certain things to overcome our depression. Faith looks to God to do in us from the very heart of our being what we can never do ourselves. Paul put it this way in another letter. "It is God who energizes you to give both the will and the energy that is needed" (Letter to the Philippians 2:13).
This spiritual cure is very simple, it costs nothing, and it can be tried by the most depressed person in the world. Why not try it for a month and see what happens? One doesn't need to know very much about God. It only needs enough faith to talk to God and admit exactly what you cannot do.
A good prayer might be, "I am depressed, and there is nothing I can do to make myself a joyful person. Right now I am depressed because I would love to be and do such and such, but I can't change myself. I am not going to feel guilty about it, but I believe you love me and care about me, and I am going to leave you to work deep in my heart for the change I so badly need."
The cure will not work if we talk to God, and then go back to thinking we have to improve and change ourselves. "Let go and let God" is the prescription for the cure. We let go all that we thought that we had to do, and we let God work in us in whatever way he chooses to change us.
Some people throw the problem and the responsibility boldly back at God. "I am shy and unloving. What are you going to do about it? I am angry and resentful. How are you going to sweeten me? I don't even feel like getting up and going to work. Where is your mighty power?" The prayer the writer of this article began with was "OK God, if you can do anything with me, get on with it." Strangely, God seems to like that kind of a challenge.
Many Christians find it helpful to picture God as a loving family into which they are adopted. When they feel miserable and frightened, like a little child they run to God as Parent, the most loving Father or Mother they can imagine. When they have failed and need a friend and mentor, they talk to God the Son. And when they need wisdom, inspiration, empowering they talk to God the Holy Spirit.
That seems to make the prescription more specific. But we shouldn't worry if we haven't got the three ingredients clear. Obviously if God loves us, he isn't going to say "Get lost, you have dialed the wrong number." But if God loves us and cares, he might just be waiting for us to hand our depression and its cure over to him to worry about. In any case he invites us to try.