Having a down day is one thing. Being so depressed you don’t want to live is another.
There is a story in the Bible that gives some very practical advice in coping with such a gamut of melancholy. It is the story in 1 Kings 19:1-8, of the prophet Elijah’s battle in dealing with the deepest low of his life. Most people, at one time or other in life can identify with Elijah. For myself, having been a person who has had some skirmishes with depression, I know that the things God used in Elijah’s life to pull him through work.
As is want to happen, sometimes down days come when we least expect them, and our lowest lows in life often follow our highest highs. That was what happened to Elijah. He had an amazing victory on Mt Carmel where he called down fire out of heaven in a showdown with the prophets of Baal; and then prayed with such persistence that a mighty rainstorm came out of a clear blue sky and broke a three-year drought.
But in reaction, Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, put out an ABP that Elijah was to be killed on sight. This reversal of fortune in going from champ to chump, triggered such fear and despondency in Elijah that he despaired of life itself.
And so, here are five things God used in Elijah’s life to help him cope with and overcome his depression. They have been a huge help to me. Not surprisingly, all five of these have been confirmed by medical research as necessary ingredients in managing depression.
1. Get some exercise. – Elijah certainly did – we’re talking ultra-marathoning here, Elijah must have been in shape because he ran well over 100 miles and in the process left his servant in the dust. (vs. 3-4) Personally, I’ve found that, like Elijah, there is nothing like a run to help provide a change of scenery, clear the air, get alone with God and gain a fresh perspective. Exercise is a necessary retreat for the mind as well as the body.
2. Talk to God about it. – Finding himself in the desert, Elijah finally took a breather and sat down under a broom tree. There he poured his heart out to God in prayer. (vs. 4) “I have had enough Lord . . . take my life.” Now if that isn’t sweeping all the junk right out into the light where it can be dealt with, I don’t know what is. There is no substitute for casting all our cares upon the Lord in prayer. (1 Peter 5:7) Being gut-level honest with Him opens the door for His grace to flow to our humble estate.
3. Get some sleep. – Then Elijah “lay down under the tree and fell asleep.” (vs. 5) Sleep can do wonders for a dark and gloomy outlook. Depression often causes sleep deprivation, so that is why sleep is so important to mental health. I’ve found that just taking a nap can cause the dark clouds to part a bit and things invariably look better when I awake.
4. Have something to eat & drink. – It took an angel of the Lord to force Elijah to get up and eat something. (vs. 5-6) In fact he did it twice. That can restore depleted physical energy and there is also the psychological effect – nothing like comfort food to give you an improved sense of well-being and satisfaction.
5. Spend some time with an angel. – Besides a real angel, like the one who appeared to Elijah, God uses people as angels in our lives as well. Everybody needs a least one angel, someone is looking out for you. They are someone who cares for you and understands the struggles you are going through. They are good listeners and encouragers; and they are people you can count on to pray for you. Can you think of someone in your life who is an angel? My angel is my wife Susan. She has stood with me and encouraged me through all my ups and downs, and made a God-sized difference.
The rest of Elijah’s story in this chapter reveals even further wisdom for pulling out of a depression, but that will have wait for a later time. What have you learned about getting through down days that can help me and others?