Wrestling with Depression

by SGM Michael Weiss, U.S. Army, Ret.

Have you ever thought of killing yourself? I have. And even though I've been a Christian for over thirty years, I continue to wrestle with depression.

Maybe that surprises you. Maybe depression and thoughts of suicide have never crossed your mind. But it is something someone around you might be facing today.

Everyone's story is different, but the pain can be very similar. For me, even though I was adopted as an infant and raised by wonderful parents, the rejection and abandonment of my birth parents still hurts.

My thoughts are, I'm afraid that who I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to do will not be good enough. And the most important people in my life will reject me and my efforts, leaving me all alone with no hope.

Even after his great victory over the 450 false prophets of Baal, when hearing that Jezebel was after him, Elijah prayed that he might die, saying, "I have had enough, Lord.... Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors"(1 Kings 19:4).

Admiral Jeremy Boorda, Chief Naval Officer, killed himself in 1996 because of the erroneous accusation that he was wearing two medals he was unauthorized to wear. Elijah and Admiral Boorda were two great men motivated to end their lives because of shame.

We inherited shame and fear from Adam and Eve, hiding from God and each other since that painful day when Adam chose to disobey God (Genesis 3:6-10). But through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection, we are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) and the war has been won through Jesus.

But until the fullness of that victory comes, we are engaged in spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemy, the devil, is the father of lies (John 8:44) who seeks to devour (1 Peter 5:8), and kill and destroy us (John 10:10). He wants us to believe we are easy prey for his schemes-that we are alone and isolated without worth, hope, or help.

That spiritual battle is also within us, between our old and new natures. Our flesh always wants to be in charge, but as Christians with the Holy Spirit living within us, God gives us the power to overcome and win.

Wearing our country's uniform, or being a family member of one who does, can be stressful. The sacrifices, separations and situations we face can change us. I recently heard Chaplain (Major General) Douglas Carver, U.S. Army Chief of Chaplains, say that the three main reasons soldiers are killing themselves are because of personal shame, failed relationships, and being isolated from community.

Honesty is a common value of all the services. In the seasons of "everything under the sun," there is a time to drive on and a time to ask for help.

Acknowledging that your spirit, soul, or body is in pain is the right thing to do whether you're junior enlisted, NCO, officer, or family member.

A close friend of mine saw a doctor because of a sharp stabbing pain he felt in his foot while running. There was a stress fracture in his foot, which sidelined him from running for a season so it could heal. Had he ignored the pain, the fracture could have led to a broken bone or to other problems that might have become permanent.

Broken bones and broken emotions are similar. The sooner we seek help, the sooner we will recover.

Things may not be like they were before--which may mean that we need to learn how to live under a "new normal." God doesn't cause all things, but "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). There is no shame in being in pain. It's a gift from God to let us know something is broken and needs healing.

Are you in pain? Sometimes depression and suicidal thoughts are chemically based and can be effectively treated with drugs. But sometimes they are caused by traumatic events or damaging words a significant person has said to us or about us. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when faced with depression.

  • Get help. Spend time with a counselor, minister, chaplain, or medical doctor.
  • Remember God's promise that you will never be alone, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.... I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:16-18).
  • Stop focusing on what not to do, and turn your efforts towards doing the right things.
  • Let go of the "shoulds" that are self-imposed or from others.
  • Be honest about who you are and the struggles you face.
  • Ask for forgiveness and forgive others. It lightens your load!           

When I think I am worthless, helpless, and hopeless, our Heavenly Father reminds me that I was worth the death of His Son on the cross. God loves me more than I can imagine--and He will never reject me or leave me alone.

Jesus came to give us abundant life-lived one day at a time. L.I.F.E. = Living In Faith Every day.

 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11).

Michael Weiss served thirty years as a U.S. Army Chaplain Assistant, retiring in 2007. He served as the enlisted advisor to the Executive Council of Officers Christian Fellowship. His vision for ministry is to train, equip, and encourage chaplains and chaplain assistants globally. 

If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, seek the help of a qualified professional counselor. Talk to your commander or chaplain who can get you the help you need.

Published in COMMAND magazine August 2010.