Depressed and Thankful
Six Ways to Find Joy
It was only about a year into our marriage when I had my first bout with mild depression. And it didn’t make sense to me. I finally was married to the man of my dreams. I had landed my first teaching job. We had started a new life together and were making new friends. But for whatever reason, my heart was downcast. Life felt overwhelming, like I wanted to pull the covers up over my head and stay in bed for the day.
The constant sadness in my heart finally led me to go to a doctor to share how I’d been feeling. Instead of quickly writing a prescription, my physician wisely talked through the major life changes I had experienced in the last twelve months — college graduation, moving away from family, marriage, my first real job — and assured me that my roller-coaster emotions were normal in light of all I had experienced in one year.
Eventually, I came out of that gray fogginess, but over the years of my adult life there have been other times where I’ve started to slide into the pit of despair. A melancholy side to my personality makes me prone to see the glass as half empty. I realize that for many individuals medication is truly necessary. But the weapon that has made the most difference in my life in fighting depression, and something we can all benefit from, is gratitude.
Worship Grows in Gratitude
In Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s excellent book Choosing Gratitude, she makes the point that we are either whining or worshiping. Our natural, sinful state makes us prone to see what we lack, what we don’t have, and what’s gone wrong in our lives.
Complaining is often my default response. Just the other day I noticed how even though I’d had a relatively good day, as soon as my husband walked in the door after work, I talked about the kids’ after-school squabble, our little guy’s potty-training accident, and did I forget to mention the freezer isn’t working right?
Often the things that pour off our tongues to others can be complaints of things not going our way or how we’ve been mistreated by others. We’re a rights-oriented culture, and if we don’t get what we think is rightfully ours, we storm off in anger or despair. Often, we slip on the sins of entitlement and discontentment down the slope to anxiety and depression. We can become surrounded by dark thoughts and unmet expectations that weigh down our hearts and put a cloud over our minds.
On the other hand, we will never be able to lift our hearts from despair to worship without expressing thanks to God. The theme of thanksgiving runs throughout all of Scripture. In the Psalms we’re commanded to give thanks to God:
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! (Psalm 105:1)
Thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Psalm 107:8)
The book of Colossians also carries the theme of thanksgiving. In Colossians 3:14–17, Paul mentions thankfulness three different times, one of them being, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us that it is God’s will to give thanks in all circumstances.
Six Tactics to Topple Ingratitude
God calls us to be thankful people. And it’s the very attitude of thanksgiving that can transform our lives. If you find yourself wandering down the dark path of depression and despair, here are six simple ways to fight for joy through gratefulness.
1. Fill your mind with the truths of God’s word.
Meditate on verses regarding thankfulness like Colossians 3:15–17. Commit to memory God’s commands to be thankful.
2. Remember God’s goodness and faithfulness to you.
Just as the Israelites were prone to forget all God had done for them during their time in the wilderness, so we too can forget. The discipline of remembering through writing down God’s blessings or retelling them to others has a way of stirring up gratitude in our hearts.
3. Ask God to put a guard over your mouth.
Instead of venting your frustrations from each day, look for reasons to rejoice. An attitude of gratitude is just as easily spread as a complaining spirit. Seek to be known as a Spirit-filled, joyful person, instead of a whining, disgruntled one.
4. Aim to make gratefulness your knee-jerk reaction to your circumstances.
When you hear news for the first time, ask yourself, “What can I be grateful for in this circumstance?” I always remember a story of a family that found out their daughter had died suddenly. As they joined hands to pray and mourn, the father first and foremost thanked the Lord for the years they had together. What an example of gratitude, even in the midst of great loss.
5. Put your thankfulness into words.
Write down five things to be grateful for as soon as you sense yourself heading down the miry path of despair. Sometimes it’s as simple as a cup of hot tea on a cold day, or a flower blooming outside my window. Listing God’s daily blessings has been one of the most transformative things in my life. By putting gratefulness into words — whether spoken or written — an abstract idea like thankfulness becomes much more concrete.
6. Look for specific evidences of God’s grace.
Search your life and the lives of others around you for grace. My faith is strengthened when I see God answer a prayer, when I notice the fruit of patience when I don’t cry over spilled milk, or when a long-awaited prayer request for my friend’s desire to be a mom is fulfilled through adoption. Intentionally watching for God at work gives me much to be grateful for.