He Told Me to Quit Reading the Scriptures: Untangling Depression and Faith


Depression seemed to break the rules about most everything I had understood to be true about life. 

The concept of a Heavenly Father who created this world and loved me and all the people in it made sense to me early on, and I cherished the understanding. As I went to church and seminary, I learned about His dealings with people in ordinary and extraordinary circumstances in the scriptures and clung to the fact that there was nothing life could throw at me that God and I couldn't handle together.  

When the gloom and despair of depression began to set in during my severe depressive episode, I amped up every way I knew how to demonstrate my faithfulness. I would read the scriptures for longer, I would worship in church as sincerely as I could. I would serve people. I would express gratitude for my blessings. I would attend the temple. I would do it all as long as it took.

Depression is a very scary scenario for people who have learned to rely on faith.

There is something you must understand about depression.  It clogs the channels that allow God to communicate with us--our hearts and our minds. Feelings of love, reassurance, peace, and comfort have a very hard time getting through. It is a condition of the body and mind however, and not an indication of the worth of a soul.

As I demonstrated my faith in those many ways I listed, I hoped to be blessed with love, reassurance, peace, and comfort. I felt nothing.

My spirit began to panic. I knew the drill for times of struggle, I had put it into action, and I wasn't receiving the peace I hoped for.

In the meantime my mind was becoming a madhouse. I was wrestling with the kinds of thoughts I was too afraid to mention out loud. They were dark and disturbing. I was formulating plans for killing myself. What during normal periods of my life would have been an entirely ludicrous thought now made more sense than any other option I had in front of me.

Surely the desire to live again can't be restored. I had reached the point of no return.

I had tried to be true until my heart had given out. It was still beating, but entirely defeated. My faith hadn't failed me. Somewhere I had failed my faith.

And the self-destruction continued.


 *****

With the monstrosities going on inside my head, it was hard to surprise me. But this blessed encounter did.

I had been given the opportunity to chat with a trusted friend of the family who was also a doctor and a bishop. Even in my depressed state, I found all these credentials comforting, but then he really got my attention. He said that as a young father in medical school during a serious bout of depression, he had laid out a suicide plan that ensured that his wife and baby would be taken care of, and better off, when he was gone.

No one had ever dared admit to me that they had been suicidal. I had thought highly of this man and his family for years. Light shined on my soul for a moment as I considered that a life, even an incredibly fulfilling life could be lived after suicidal thoughts. I was certain that this man's desire to live had been fully restored.

And then he gave me a peculiar piece of advice. "While you are going through this particular bout of depression," he began, and I smiled. Everyone thinks I have depression, I thought to myself. But I really respected this man and wanted to hear him out, so I played along. "Stop reading the scriptures."

What?

"If you're anything like me, when I was in there, every time I was depressed, you don't relate to the Nephis or the Josephs of Egypt. You relate to the damned, those in the lakes of fire and brimstone that are weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth."

It had been months since I had connected with another human so deeply.

It makes even more sense today. The channels that allowed God to communicate with me were jammed because of my depression. And so, reading the scriptures in my weakened state of mind was fueling my depression, my hopelessness, my despair, my deprecating thoughts.

*****

You'll hear depressed people of faith say things like, "I just have to show that I have enough faith."

And it causes me to shudder, because the path I followed with a mindset like that was a very, very scary one. Their faith and their depression are entirely tangled up in each other. Many of these people are completely emptied of hope, confused, and afraid, and this is what I want say to them.

Depression seems to break the rules about most everything you know to be true about life. But they are not really broken. It seems like it, because the channels you are used to using to communicate with and receive peace and comfort from God are jammed.

As downright adamant you are that it is not, this truly is a condition of your mind and body, and not a reflection of your soul. As Elder Holland has said, broken minds can be healed just as broken bones are healed. In those prayers you are saying that you feel aren't being heard, pray for help to know how to best find healing and health again for your mind.

I am not saying that every depressed individual should quit reading their scriptures, but make some kind of mental break between depression and your faith. They are not one in the same. Depression is a serious illness, not an indication of your standing before God.  

If you are suicidal, know you are not the first to walk this path and that your fate is not sealed. "Do not," as Elder Holland pleads, "vote against the preciousness of life by ending it. Trust in God and hold on in His love."

In the midst of my despair one day, my dad felt impressed to tell me that my Heavenly Father was near. That it was as if I could reach out and touch Him. I clung to that. As things got worse, I resented it. Because if He was, He was not making me aware of it. At least not in ways that I could see.

But I now know that as Elder Holland calls it, He was at work making repairs. 

As a result of this period of your life, you will know deep despair, pain, and darkness. But you will know compassion to a more satisfying and sweeter degree. It will have sunk in a little more deeply why your Father in Heaven sent His Son to Earth, and you will rejoice in that fact more deeply than you ever had before. 

Read my full depression story here

Every reference made to Elder Holland in this post is from his talk, Like a Broken Vessel.





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