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As a child, I would often see my mom cry in Church for no reason or grow depressed at the change of the seasons. Although I grew older, the array of emotions I saw in her only heightened in me. By the time I was fourteen, I began to understand why she cried at strange times or had Saturday mornings when she didn’t want to get out of bed. The culprit? Anxiety and Depression.
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (2021), the most common mental illness in the U.S. is attributed to anxiety. Affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the U.S., anxiety keeps 63.1% of victims in bondage as only 36.9% receive help or treatment.
Similar to anxiety, depression shares a biological basis. The two are different diagnoses, but can often occur idiosyncratically. When it comes to knowing what to say to those who suffer this holiday season, the love you share should remain the same. It is crucial that we let victims know they are seen, heard, supported, and loved.
1. I See You
For those struggling with mental disorders, one of the most common feelings is being misunderstood by those around them.
In the book of Genesis, Hagar introduces us to the term “El Roi,” meaning the God who sees me. When Hagar was chosen by Sarai to sleep with her husband Abram, Sarai quickly became jealous of Hagar. Mistreating her, Scripture tells us that Sarai treated Hagar so harshly, she fleed the scene.
When God found her, however, He blessed her greatly. Hagar would give birth to Ishmael, but she was also asked to return and submit to her mistress. Amid the uncertainty and pain, Hagar uttered words of hope to those of us struggling:
“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered” (Genesis 16:13-14, New International Version).
Today, we are called to remind those fighting mental illness that there is a God above who sees them from within their struggles and loves them the same. We need to remind them that God not only loves them as they are, but nothing they do or say can make Him love them more or less.
In the Greek translation, the word “see,” is rā’â, meaning to see, look at, inspect, perceive, consider, learn about, observe, watch, look upon, look out, and find out. It is also to joyfully look upon something or something, experiencing and gazing upon another. Oh, what beauty rests in knowing that God sees us where we are as we are and loves us just the same.
2. I Hear You
Once we have communicated to others that they are seen and loved by God and ourselves, we then need to show them that they are heard.
As a teacher, I talk 24/7. I can honestly say it is exhausting. But if I want my students to hear me, they also have to be quiet. The same goes for those who are hurting.
Human beings have the finite ability to listen and respond. Yet sometimes, what we need to do most is listen to hear and not reply.
In the book of Job, Job’s three acquaintances felt the need to give him advice time and time again, but they were not listening. Job was a righteous man in the eyes of God, but Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz heard little of what he said and gave advice that made it clear they did not hear him.
“And Job continued his discourse: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter, as long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked, and my tongue will not utter lies. I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live” (Job 27:1-6, New Living Translation).
Those who suffer from mental illnesses like depression tend to struggle with expressing and or acknowledging their feelings. They are the Kings and Queens of fake smiles and plastered emotionless emotions. By communicating that you are here for your loved ones regardless of how they are feeling opens space for them to be themselves.
As James 1:19 of the English Standard Version notes, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19, ESV). We can show love the most when we say the least.
3. I’m Here For You
Seeing and listening to our loved ones communicates the message that we are there for them no matter what. Just as Ruth followed Naomi after Naomi’s husband passed away, we too are called to be with those who are hurting.
“After a short while on the road, Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, “Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!” She kissed them and they cried openly. They said, “No, we’re going on with you to your people.” But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.” Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye; but Ruth embraced her and held on. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her.” But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem” (Ruth 1:8-19, The Message).
As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to be present and attentive. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 of the English Standard Version writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, ESV).
Those with depression need your encouraging words. They need you to sit with them in their isolation and despair, letting them know they aren’t alone. They need you to help them cast their anxieties and encourage them along the journey (1 Peter 5:7).
“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up” (Proverbs 12:25, NIV).
As Christians, it is our call to love and support those who are struggling with mental illnesses. Although I know what it is like to experience these diagnoses personally, it is not always easy for those who are coping to reach out for help.
By lending a listening ear, wide heart, and open eyes, perhaps the best gift we can give to those we love this holiday season is ourselves.