Hope Beyond Depression

Recovery from depression is like a gradual resurrection from the dead.

Note to the reader: If you are experiencing thoughts of hurting yourself—please seek immediate help! Don’t isolate. Don’t try to manage it alone. Reach out and tell someone you trust who will help keep you from acting out on such thoughts and open your eyes to what you have a hard time seeing yourself—a way forward.


Depression is as complicated as it is common. Its source may be physical disease, past trauma, unsuccessful personal choices, or chemical depletion. Perhaps our depression is rooted in our deep-seated beliefs about who we are, or our inability to find meaning in life, or even demonic oppression.

Multiple causes suggest the need for multiple treatments. While either medication or counseling may be appropriate, a combination of both can often yield better results than if one or the other is used exclusively. In such instances, it’s apparent that more is going on than just a medical problem.

Depression Defined

Landing on a definition for depression is difficult because it can mimic other difficult but healthy experiences. Grief and depression share similarities, but they are not the same. Depression is a departure from the normal grieving process. When we grieve, we feel the sorrow of loss. But with depression, the sorrow of loss is numbed. As Jesus taught us, the blessing of comfort and hope awaits the troubled soul who mourns (see Matthew 5:4). Depression is different in that it reinforces a level of hopelessness that locks our souls in a dungeon of gloom.

Multiple causes suggest the need for multiple treatments. While either medication or counseling may be appropriate, a combination of both can often yield better results than if one or the other is used exclusively.

Depression is also hard to define because the term is used rather loosely. A friend told me he was feeling “depressed” because he had to cancel a family vacation. There’s no question he felt a sense of sadness. His experience, however, is not the same as depression.

So what is depression? We can understand depression as a troubled state or mood that consists of disturbances in energy levels, sleep, appetite, and the ability to concentrate. The more these disturbances interfere with a person’s ability to rest, eat, work, think, and engage normal activities, the greater the severity of depression.

Depression can come as a subtle loss of energy and enthusiasm, like a persistent low-grade fever. We’re still able to function, but we are detached and simply going through the motions. Or it can have a more obvious presentation, like a raging fever that makes it impossible to carry out normal routines or responsibilities.

In severe cases, we lose the ability to reason and reflect as physical and emotional disturbances take over. It becomes nearly impossible to think through root issues. At this point, emotional and physical stability can only be reestablished through the wise and caring involvement of others, healthy diet, and/or medication.

The Signs

People who wrestle with depression usually display several unsettling and sometimes disabling symptoms. We can be alerted to a problem with depression by considering the following statements:

  • I feel sad or numb nearly every day.
  • I feel little to no motivation.
  • I have lost interest in activities I used to find enjoyable.
  • I’m having difficulty sleeping.
  • I’m sleeping too much.
  • I’ve lost my appetite.
  • I’m eating too much nearly every day.
  • I isolate and withdraw from people for days at a time.
  • I can’t stop crying.
  • I feel tired most of the time.
  • I find it hard to concentrate or stay focused.
  • My interest in marital intimacy has lessened.
  • I often feel overwhelmed by the burdens of life.
  • I’m involved in an unhealthy behavior that I can’t stop.
  • I think about death or killing myself.

If you identify with five or more of these statements and at least one of the first three statements, you should seek professional help. You may be struggling with a severe depression.

Those who identify with two to four of the statements should, at the very least, consider seeing a physician for a complete medical checkup. Sometimes these are symptoms of a medical condition such as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, or Cushing’s disease.


A Prayer for Wondering if God is There

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Seeing Light in the Darkness

Recovery from depression is like a gradual resurrection from the dead. The good news is that the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the grave is actively in the business of bringing what is dead back to life.

But the Maker of heaven and earth doesn’t work in our lives from a distance. He is not peering over the edge of heaven, working to revive and renew those who have lost heart from a galaxy far, far away. The Bible tells the story of a loving God who longs to dwell with those who turn to Him through the Spirit of His Son—Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:6). It reveals a “God of hope” who longs to “fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Sprit” (Romans 15:13).

[T]he same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the grave is actively in the business of bringing what is dead back to life.

The One who is with us and longs to works in us is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16–17). So it’s in the realm of truth that He brings renewal and hope to our hearts. This process of recovery is built on the foundations of relationship and facing what is true, no matter how much it hurts. Pain is not the enemy; it’s a sign that life and feelings are returning to our deadened hearts. Only as we begin to engage the truth in relationship with God and others will we be able to recover hope amid despair, recover faith amid doubt, and recover joy through remembering participating in God’s story.

Recover Hope by Facing Despair

At first it may seem cruel to invite struggling people to lean into their despair. But what we often overlook are the paradoxes present in matters of the soul. As in childbirth, what can feel like the throes of death actually produces life. Facing our despair will loosen depression’s grip.

When we face our despair, we are not indulging in self-pity. We are not pouring salt into an open wound. Rather, we are permitting ourselves an honest, heartfelt cry of the soul that recognizes our agony and acknowledges the weight of our situation.

Consider the agony Jesus felt the night before He was crucified: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me’” (Matthew 26:38). Then He fell with his face to ground and cried out in prayer, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus didn’t minimize His situation, nor did He face His despair alone. He shared the anguish of His heart with a few close friends and with His Father in heaven. Although we will carry part of the burden of despair alone, it is always best when we share as much as we can with those who care.

Acknowledge Loss

Loss is often at the heart of depression, especially when the loss is irretrievable. Facing our loss starts the process of grieving so that God and others can begin to draw near and comfort us with their concern and presence. When we permit ourselves to feel the pain of loss instead of deadening it, we promote healing and disrupt the temptation to numb the ache by blaming ourselves or others.

Even when we open up to God and to others, engaging the suffering of despair can turn our world upside down. For a time, the cure seems worse than the disease. It is not. If we stay with it and do the hard work of naming and grieving loss, we take our first important steps on the path out of depression. Through perseverance, we not only find that we can engage our loss without it completely overwhelming us, but we slowly discover the truth of Paul’s words to the Roman followers of Jesus: “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5).

When we permit ourselves to feel the pain of loss instead of deadening it, we promote healing and disrupt the temptation to numb the ache by blaming ourselves or others.

Admit the Failure of Misplaced Hopes

In the context of despair, it is possible to see that we’ve been placing our hopes in what cannot satisfy. Hope in what does satisfy can deepen as we let ourselves admit that we can’t live for what we have lived for any longer.

For example, the woman who typically gets depressed after being abandoned by yet another man can begin to take a long look at what she is truly living for. She can acknowledge that her attempts to win the love of a man by fixing his problems isn’t working. When the man doesn’t change, she’s left angry, confused, and what she feared the most—alone. As she begins to feel the desperation of being let down by her false hopes (“I must have a man to be okay”), the stage is set for her to begin exploring her future in a new way—one that may or may not include a potential husband. Instead of giving up and falling into another season of depression, she could start to envision a new life and make relationship choices based in freedom and hope.


Don’t Forget to Breathe – Genesis 2:7

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Some Practical Steps

  • As mentioned earlier, exercising on a regular basis is something that most who struggle with depression can do. It’s important to begin slowly, keep it fun, and gradually work your way into whatever form you choose. Decades of research indicates that regular exercise reduces the symptoms of depression. Regular exercise raises and maintains energy levels and increases our capacity to concentrate.
  • Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is just as important as exercise. Sleep patterns and energy levels stabilize when we eat sensibly. Researchers are just beginning to understand how much diet affects how we think and feel. Those who struggle with depression should consult an expert on nutrition and read up on the subject to find out what kind of diet is best for them.
  • Journaling is a powerful way to augment the process of recovery. It helps us to remember even the smallest moments of hope. This may prevent us from falling into the trap of premature closure in issues where significant insights could easily be forgotten.

The process of recovering hope through despair should be taken as a frame of reference and not a rigidly followed blueprint. The deep matters of life are not that straightforward or easy. The process is actually an unfolding way of life that we gradually learn with the help of the Spirit of God. It doesn’t eliminate pain or fear, nor does it guarantee our circumstances will improve. Only the new heaven and earth, the time when God’s Kingdom fully arrives, offers us those options Revelation 21:1–5). It does, however, provide the opportunity to devote our lives to advancing meaningful tastes of God’s healing presence and rule in the world around us. It’s often a peculiar process that will get worse before it gets better. But the promise is that those who learn to put their hope in God “will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).



This article is excerpted from When Hope is Lost: Dealing with Depression, a Discovery Series resource from Our Daily Bread Ministries. Click the link or the Banner below to download the full resource or to order multiple free copies of the booklet.