How to Find Bread and Water in the Dungeon of Depression

“He who has been in the dark dungeon knows the way to the bread and the water.” –Charles Spurgeon

I’ve been in the dark dungeon. I’ve battled depression and anxiety for years. A few years ago I finally acknowledged this and began the road to recovery. I haven’t arrived by any means but I think I’ve at least found the bread and the water Spurgeon is referring to.

Here is the path that I’ve found to get the bread and water of mental health.

In the Dungeon

When I become aware of my anxiety/depression (or dearly loved ones point out my melancholy) my first step is to assess the situation. Or perhaps it would be better to say my first step after crying out desperately for rescue is to assess the situation.

First, I attempt to figure out how I got in this dungeon. What is making me feel anxious or down? Do I have unconfessed sin? Or am I dealing with the consequence of confessed sin? Is there a circumstance that is bothering me? Are there no known causes—is it possible it is simply biological? Is my melancholy a right response to real pain?

Second, I attempt to figure out how dark it really is. I use a scale from 1-10. 10 is a full meltdown. 1 is when everything feels fine. Trying to determine how dark it is helps me to know what steps I need to take to get out of the darkness.

Last winter I decided to take the step of going to the doctor to get medicine for anxiety. I did not desire—nor feel it necessary—for me to get something that I take on a daily basis. What I knew I needed was something to help whenever I get to about a 7 on the scale. I had found that when I get to a 7 I’m not going to get back down unless I get to a 10. And getting to a 10 isn’t helpful for me or my family.

So now if I find myself getting to a 7 I’ll take medicine to get my brain chemistry back under control so I can begin to fight. The past few months have been pretty stressful for our family but I’ve only taken medicine twice since I was prescribed them. God is doing a mighty work in renewing my mind. I may never have to take medicine again…but I’m prepared if I get to a 6 or 7.

I’ve found if I’m going to live in mental health it is vital for me to accurately assess where I am. Many times I can’t do this alone. I need my wife and friends to tell me when I seem to be stumbling into the darkness. Once I’ve assessed the darkness I know its time to get out.

The Gate of Permission

The door out of the dungeon is the gate of permission. Or maybe it would be better phrased the gate of non-permission.

I’ve found that when the lights go out I have a tendency to feel sorry for myself. I feel as if my suffering is unique. And I assume that I’ve gone lower than anyone else has ever gone. Nobody understands. Nobody feels how I do. Nobody can help.

So I’ve had to do two things.

First, I tell myself that I do not have permission to stay here. There is nothing holy about being miserable. In fact the Christian life should be one marked with joy—even in the midst of suffering. I’m not beating myself up. I’m not pouring guilt on my head. I’m just being honest with the fact that Jesus didn’t die for me to be stuck in a dungeon. This isn’t my home. I need to get out.

Secondly, I tell myself that I’m not unique and that nobody—not even me—as went deeper into the darkness than the Lord Jesus. I cannot give Self or my fallen emotions the keys to rule me. They don’t have permission. I’m ruled by the Lord Jesus. He holds the keys of comfort and I’ll never get to a place darker than He has been.

Once I step through the gate of permission I’m on my way to finding bread and water. But first I must walk through the Hall of Gospel Encouragement

The Hall of Gospel Encouragement

Your first step into the hall of gospel encouragement is usually sickening. It’s painful. It’s wounding. It doesn’t feel fair. It typically makes you want to crawl back into the dungeon and forget the bread and water all together.

Community is the last thing I want in a time like this. For some really silly reason I don’t want to hear about joy, or gospel truths, or fixes. I just want to hurt. And so I can run from community or find some terrible excuse for community in the form of complainers.

This is not what I need. What I need is to believe the truth of the gospel more than my own darkened version of “truth”. And that only comes by walking down the hall of gospel encouragement. The first step is usually repulsive but I’ve found a way to get my fearful self down that hall. Here is how I do it.

First, I listen to dead or distant encouragers. I crack open my the works of my Puritan friends. I spend a day with my buddy John Newton. Or I listen to a sermon by someone I don’t know and someone who doesn’t even know me—someone like Matt Chandler or John Piper. Someone who will preach the gospel and tell me truth. I need to keep listening and reading until I believe gospel truth over my own lies.

Second, I listen to living and in my life encouragers. At this point I’m ready to hear gospel encouragement from friends. I’m able to hear truth—even in the form of rebukes. I’m able to trust an uncomfortable gospel more than my own comfortable darkness.

Sometimes my walk down the hall is brief. At other times it is a long and painful walk marked by aggressive bolts back towards the dungeon of despair. Community is often painful to the depressed—even well meaning gospel encouraging community. But if you want the bread and water it’s the only way. You’ve got to get into the Room of Truth if you’re going to live in mental health.

The Room of Truth

It is here where bread and water are found….sort of. In reality bread and truth is with you every step of the way. Because ultimately Christ is our bread and Christ is our water. He alone sustains us. It is His Spirit which pulls us out of the dungeon and woos us along the hall of encouragement. And ultimately where He opens our eyes in the Room of Truth.

Yet there is a way in which we aren’t able to eat of this bread and water unless we are in the Room of Truth.

It is here where change in our thinking happens. In the room of truth our thinking is renewed and our brains are rewired to think and rejoice in that which is true instead of false.

It is here also where change in our actions come. We learn to rest. We learn to relax. We learn to eat better, to exercise, to put healthy disciplines in our life. We learn to actually walk in the truth.

Conclusion:

This is where I’ve found bread and water—or perhaps better to say found the ability to see and enjoy and savor bread and water.

This has been my path. What helps have you found? If you’ve been in the dungeon where did you find bread and water?

photo credit: here

5 Comments

  1. Found your article by link from Dr. David Murray. It is good and encouraging. However, for some Christians dealing with depression and anxiety there are no easy answers without medication, even if they want to try to get better without it. I’m grateful to Dr. Murrary for his book _Christians get Depressed, too_ and he acknowledges medication is often needed. I do like many of your ideas, i.e. Christians shouldn’t be stuck in a pity party and we should preach the Gospel to ourselves (my paraphrase), but often, the biological issues causing it – we just don’t feel like doing those things. I disagree that Christians should be rebuked by brothers and sisters during this time. Only if there is a besetting sing should this happen, if at all, in a rebuking way with lots of love. That can makes things worse for those with biological chemical issues if they are told that “Christians should be joyful, etc.” I plan to re-read your article again a lot closer. Thanks for sharing and your transparency. You are ministering in this area.

    • Robin, thanks for the comment. I don’t think there are easy answers even with medication. I had hoped I was clear in the beginning concerning medication. For me that is a huge part of the assessment process. If I assess the darkness and I’m at about a 6 or 7 then I know that I need to take something to get me back in frame where I am even able to do much battle. In counseling we’ve got to deal with people where they are and not where we’d like them to be.

      I’m a firm believer though that we aren’t slaves to our brain chemistry. I think the key is in what we do when the lights are on and when we have mental health. Working hard to rewire the brain in those moments is critical to the times whenever something is askew.

      Lastly, notice what stage I am saying that we are able to even listen to soft rebukes. I’m not saying that believers ought to rebuke others for biological or chemical issues or even tell them “Christians should be joyful”. I’m well on the path to healing before I can even hear something like that.

      Truth be told if you are reading this from the perspective of someone walking alongside a struggler…it’s probably best to just hold their hand, pray for them, and encourage them into the room of truth.

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