Unless you live under a rock, you likely know somebody who battles depression. Actually if you live under a rock, you might be battling depression yourself. So often folks who don’t understand these periods of darkness feel like their hands are tied when trying to help a friend. It feels like nothing you say really gets through or helps.
Back in the seventeenth century a minister in London, Timothy Rogers, had suffered with a serious bout of depression. When God rescued him out of that pit he jotted down his thoughts into a little book. In the 1800s, Archibald Alexander picked up that book and used it in his work Thoughts On Religious Experience.
Here is what I’m giving you today. My paraphrase of Alexander’s paraphrase of Rogers. These are 13 suggestions for helping friends who are distressed:
- Look upon your distressed friends as under one of the worst distempers…it is vain to attempt to resist it by reasoning and rational motives as to oppose a fever, or the gout, or pleurisy…it is impossible to understand the nature of it in any other way than by experience.
- Treat those who are under the disease with tender compassion.
- Never use harsh language to your friends under the disease of melancholy.
- Take seriously the way they relate their feelings and distresses. It does no good to tell them, ‘this is all imaginary’.
- Don’t put upon them weights which are beyond their power to accomplish.
- Don’t attribute their affliction to the devil.
- Don’t be shocked by anything they say or do. Don’t respond to their sharp words with sharp words of your own.
- Do not tell them of the sad stories or disasters which have overtaken others.
- Encourage them to hope for a speedy deliverance.
10. Tell them of others who have been in a similar state and found deliverance.
11. Pray for them.
12. Engage other believers to pray for them.
13. Put your poor afflicted friends in mind continually of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ.
I’m don’t fully agree with all of these, but it is interesting to see how pastors of old dealt with mental illness and things like depression. Most people think those who lived before Freud had little to nothing to say about mental illness. This is simply not true. The Puritans and many of those who came from that stream were masters at soul care. They spoke of things in their day which are being confirmed in ours.
The gist of what Rogers/Alexander are saying is that we must take depressive persons seriously. And we ought to speak to them truthfully but graciously. What they really need is prayer and to see the Lord. They likely won’t be rescued by harsh language nor will Bob Newhart’s STOP IT! do much good.
There is, however, a bit of hopelessness to the language that Rogers/Alexander are using. As if all we really can do as friends is hang on with them and wait until morning. I agree with this in part but I’m also convinced that we are called to at times sing to the deaf. It’s a tricky balance so if nothing else I pray that you see dealing with depressed friends isn’t going to be solved by quick magical words.
What do you think of this 200 year old advice?