Depression: Walking on Water

For those who don’t know, I am blessed to be a part of the Tyndale Blog Network. I say blessed because it provides me with reading material that doesn’t cost money. It’s been a hit with my wife (in saving money) other than the fact that it does add to my already too-large book collection. So, I might be termed a book lover/hoarder aka bibliophile.

Because of this opportunity with Tyndale, I am able to branch out and read books that are outside of my comfort zone. These are books that I acknowledge are potential good reads, I might peruse them in a book store, but I just don’t have the unlimited coffers to purchase them with.

I opted for a book titled Walking on Water: When You Feel Like You’re Drowning by Tommy Nelson and Steve Leavitt. (Just to be clear, Tyndale provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.)

I really desired to read a devotional-style book that Tyndale offered at the same time, but I honestly felt the need to read this book. I even talked myself out of another political book which also looked interesting (but that’s another blog post for another time).

Depression and anxiety affect more people than I think we realize. Depression and anxiety can be found all throughout the Bible. If you ever read the Psalms, for example, you’ll see it firsthand. Not to mention Job, Elijah, and many others. The modern projections for people who are affected by depression are staggering and I know many people who struggle with undiagnosed anxiety or depression. The estimates for depression are as high as 1 in 10 people according to the CDC.

Count me in as one of those struggling with anxiety. Back in my high school days, I went through a very strange time where my throat would all-to-literally close off and leave me unable to breathe. These panic attacks lasted for a month or so, and I had them while watching TV and laying down as well as during a morning run in the school gym. The doctors were at wits-end and unable to explain or diagnose my condition – the breathing problems had been observed by many others and with the first attack I was unable to breath for well over a minute. I’ll never forget the sound and the feeling of honest horror. Truth be told, I was preparing myself to die during that first attack because I could not figure it out. I remember feeling helpless and bewildered. My parents thought I was choking and I felt the urge to cough – which I later found out basically made the attack worse.

I was never diagnosed officially with anything but rhinitis with an unofficial panic attack complication. I still swallow the fear of those memories from time to time; they haunt me and I fight the memories late at night all too often. A few years ago, during a stressful time, I again had symptoms of some semblance of a panic attack. This time, it left me with pain in my chest and my heart would speed up. My then girlfriend raced me to the hospital one night when we were out to see a movie – which we didn’t even get to finish.

I’d always been known as the cool-as-a-cucumber guy. Tests did not scare me. I wasn’t all that nervous in my first major sports games, and I had even kicked a game-winning PAT in my first year as a Kicker for my JV team the same year. I was not feeling particularly overwhelmed or anything, but looking back, they were stressful times.

Depression has its own set of stigmata. I had always considered depression to be somewhat of a sign of weakness. Having been a Kicker, you always hear the term “head case” tossed about. Your job is supposed to be easy. It’s pretty much a penalty when we got hit, and you may only be on the field for a few game-time seconds. You have fewer snaps to screw up on than other positions. If there was a miss; it was on you.

That’s kinda how life works when it comes to mental issues. If something is “wrong” – then it’s something you need to get over without medication and without making too much of a fuss. That’s just the American way. Deal with it.

The book does a decent job of building into the subject to begin. Tommy Nelson presents the prototypical story of depression. There was simply too much on his plate. It’s my view that in this information-overload society of ours, this is where most of the anxiety and depression comes from. Then, Steve jumps into the story and you get a bombshell.

Steve has experienced one of those events that makes you want to simply ask: “Why, God? Why does this have to happen.” My heart goes out to him and his family. I don’t want to reveal what happened here – but it’s not a typical story.

And yet, here is a guy writing about something like that to help guys like me who just maybe had too much on their plate…

I lack the necessary qualifications to talk about medical issues; my degree is in English. I know how to spell or use some medical terms, but that’s about it. I know some reasons as to why Major Depression differs from Generalized Anxiety Disorder or PTSD. I will stay away from judging too much on this part – go talk to a qualified professional on that end.

However, I can comment on the balance of Scripture in this book. While not always agreeing with the end result interpretation of the authors, I must appreciate the use of Scripture in this book. The authors show that we must treat both the physical and spiritual to deal with depression and anxiety. There are numerous references to Biblical characters struggling with depression as well as references to where the Bible does talk about how to cope.

One of the best thoughts came on page 41:

Yes, Scripture does say that Satan seeks to destroy us, but most Bible passages on trials do not mention this at all. They speak of God allowing trials for His own purposes. Let’s not give Satan more airtime than we should.

This point is an excellent one. II Corinthians 1:3-4 tells us that we suffer because we can then turn and comfort others who suffer. We also suffer because that’s the nature of lifeĀ  and not because there is a demon or Satan himself behind every turn. Just as in ministry – sometimes the best ministers are the ones who have suffered the same fate as the ones whom they now minister to – we endure hardships because we are to take the lessons and perspective from the hardship and go on to something better. We tend to oversimplify it as “God’s plan” sometimes – but the Bible narrates that suffering is ultimately overcome by the good. Just look at our Savior.

However, this great strength of the book here runs aground on one of the most misinterpreted passages in the Bible. I do not fault the author for making this statement, but I sometimes cringe on this passage knowing that I once made the very same mistake with it.

The passage in question is I Corinthians 10:13. The passage says that God will not let us suffer beyond what we can bear. The truth of the matter is that God will let you overload yourself until you cannot handle it. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, and I now preach it. I’m not alone in this sentiment, either. To use an old country phrase I heard from an old Pastor, God will let you overload your donkey. This verse is only talking about temptation – in the passage just before this verse, Paul says that he was to the point of death. We can be crushed with the weight of life – and sometimes we have to get to that point of absolute brokenness to realize we cannot do it ourselves. That’s okay because a man named Jesus knew that and came through for us.

I never felt far from the message of the gospel with Walking on Water. Like humans in general, the book is not perfect. Yet, it provides a very balanced approach to the issues of depression and anxiety. It does not lean too far to the right in being stuck in the paradigm that all emotional issues should be overcome with some good Bible reading. It does not swerve to the left in saying that all conditions should be treated with only medication supplemented with secular counseling. Instead, Nelson and Leavitt walk you through the symptoms, science, and salvation from anxiety and depression.

I recommend this book both to anyone dealing with depression and/or anxiety as well as those who minister to them – be it a spouse, pastor, or friend. It serves as a solid Biblical application of coping with issues that affect a growing number of people from all walks of life. It is real, but so is the God who can see us through it.

 

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