Prayer is an antidote to despair.
Notice I didn’t suggest a promise about depression I can’t guarantee? Truthfully, prayer is not much of an antidote to depression because mostly it’s just not.
Working with depression is a reminder of how chronic it can be and how tough it is to treat. But prayer can help with the lesser evil of despair.
Prayer leads us to call upon God for help and comfort. Prayer sharpens our spirits in the time of suffering. But prayer as an antidote to depression (as if it will rid you of your depression) simply doesn’t seem to be how either prayer or depression works.
I’ve been around enough to know that plenty of people suffer from their dark selves. The poets and the psalmists alike have articulated the words of their pain and from them we recognize our own darkness. Depression can deepen the well of human despair and can heighten your sense of despair.
I have the occasional vantage point of observing some in their times of depression. I’ve sat with them in their darkest moments and thus I’ve been close to my own darkness. I’ve come to recognize the signs of my own dark, shadowy winter where harsh clouds invade my everyday thoughts.
A while back, in a time of anxiety and stress, I went to my physician and listened to her advice and found medicinal help. Her first response when I told her I was ready to take her medical advice? “It’s about time you came to see what most around you already recognize!”
The late Chris Graham pastored the Church of the Savior in Roswell, Georgia. I was the recipient of his hospitality a few springs back when a gathering of ministers made a holy pilgrimage to his church where we gathered at a table with Walter Brueggemann, the noted Old Testament scholar who had become Chris’ close friend.
While there, Chris led us in a prayer that went something like this:
Now unto God who is able to keep you from stumbling
into that place where people run scared of depression,
where people will do anything to avoid facing depression,
whether it’s from working too hard or playing too hard.
But if you do stumble, there is one who is able to come to you and say,
beneath it all are the “everlasting arms” that can be trusted
with every thought and every emotion that you might ever have.
To the only God our Savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory and power, dominion and majesty,
before all time, now, and forever more.
The act of praying locates us in the ZIP code of help. The New Testament is clear to the church on this subject, “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
Note that it doesn’t claim we have the power of prayer to remove those most dire burdens from either yourself or your dear friends. But it does mean we can walk together through the dim light of depression because our companions can make a difference with us and on our behalf.
Intentional interim minister at Countryside Community Church of Omaha, Nebraska, the Christian partner in the Tri-Faith Initiative, a partnership with the American Muslim Institute and Temple Israel. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).