Arming Yourself Against Depression: Down Time

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While a healthy body isn’t absolutely essential for a healthy mind, it certainly helps. Many people have been cured of minor depression by taking brisk walks, getting more sleep, and switching to a healthier diet. Remember that when Elijah was down in the dumps and devaluing everything he had accomplished, the first things God gave him were food and a nap.

Naps, and vacations, and days off that are truly days of rest, are frequently scorned in our culture. Have you seen the comic strip (there are dozens of versions) where a kid spends the first 90 percent of panels working or playing hard; then, as he finally settles down for a break, some adult happens by and mutters, “kids are so lazy today, they just lounge around doing nothing”? That’s an apt picture of our societal attitude toward down time: prejudged worthless even in small doses. And if the kids get dirty looks, adults who dare to be seen relaxing may be risking their reputations or even their jobs.

But what does God say about down time? First, He definitely does not condone laziness:

  • “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter. But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep? When will you wake up? A little extra sleep, a little more slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit; scarcity will attack you like an armed robber” (Proverbs 6:6-11).
  • Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper” (Proverbs 13:4).
  • “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the [Father] who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work” (John 9:4).
  • “Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” (Romans 12:11).
  • “If [people receive easy welfare when they could provide for themselves], they will learn to be lazy and will spend their time gossiping from house to house, meddling in other people’s business and talking about things they shouldn’t” (1 Timothy 5:13).

Yet neither does God want us to spend all our time frantically striving to accomplish more and more–even in His service. Before any of the above Scriptures were written, He gave the Sabbath commandment of Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” In Moses’s time, working on holy days was unhealthy in more ways than one: it was considered an act of serious disrespect to God, bordering on blasphemy and punishable by death (cf. Numbers 15:32-36).

Significantly, the Scriptural commands against laziness were given to people who were relatively well off and tempted to take down time for granted, while the original Sabbath commandment was given to people who had just escaped a slavery-driven society where labor-free days were virtually non-existent. Work and rest are both good things you can get too much of. We who take freedom of opportunity for granted can enslave ourselves to fear of lost opportunities, always “doing” and “doing” lest success get permanently ahead of us (and awareness of our own limitations catch up with us). In fact, incorporating down time to reduce “I can never do enough” pressure may initially make us feel more depressed–like the person who decides to quit drug addiction and can look forward to being seriously sick for several days before the worst of the dependence is out of her system and she gets on the road to feeling permanently better. Constant motion is an addiction to the “high” of accomplishing tangible things and to the pride that tells us we can be like God.

If you’re already exhausted and miserable and can’t remember the last down time you had aside from nightly sleep, try reserving your next few Sundays for true Sabbath time. Eliminate all chores and screen time. Take a long walk or a nap. Get in an extra hour of prayer. Listen to worship music. Share this commitment with as many of your family and friends who will join you, and don’t quit after the first time when you feel you’re going to freak out. After a month or two, you’ll be surprised how much closer you’re drawn to God (and others), and how much less stressful and depressing you find life overall. You will be truly blessed!

And with that, I take my own advice and put aside blogging for a month to get some extra down time. See you again on August 2!

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Arming Yourself Against Depression: Repentance

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False guilt is a common cause of depression: but then, so is legitimate guilt. As David put it in Psalm 32:3-5: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, ‘I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.’ And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.”

Whether we’ve sinned on the level of committing a crime, or on the level of indulging hot and hurtful thoughts, ignoring “repent and confess” proddings from our consciences and the Holy Spirit is the spiritual equivalent of dragging around a ball and chain. We go about business as usual, pretending the weight doesn’t exist and the chain isn’t tripping us up, blaming our chronic stressed-and-tired feelings on everything but that weight. All along, the key is hanging within easy reach–all we have to do is ask for it–but we’re afraid. Afraid of looking weak or stupid. Afraid that having the chain removed will take too long and upset our schedules. Afraid of finding a skin abscess under the shackle and requiring additional, painful treatment.

There are alternatives–but they aren’t pleasant.

  1. We can make ourselves chronically miserable with fear someone else will notice the weight. This means we don’t dare let anyone get close enough for a good look at us, so we become afraid of others,  and withdraw further and further into our shells of depression.
  2. We can succeed in convincing ourselves that the weight doesn’t exist, or isn’t so heavy after all. This is worse than the first alternative, for it usually means we turn our backs on God and on anyone else who might tweak an old nerve by implying, “Like it or not, what you did was wrong.” It also usually means that we get comfortable with doing the same thing–and worse–again and again, adding to our weight of guilt without even noticing. Eventually, the weight grows so heavy that, seemingly out of the blue, it drags us down in a spectacular fall, leaving our lives in shambles and no supporters in sight.

Does coming clean and facing the consequences seem that bad by comparison?

Of course, repentance is still an option after a major fall, or after years of chronic fear of being “found out.” But the longer we wait, the longer full recovery will take, and the greater our chances of sustaining a permanent disability. If you know you’ve made a mistake, the best time to apologize and make amends, to God and others, is today.

Then (Psalm 32:1), “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!”

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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  • About Me

    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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