Monday, June 22, 2015

Depression and Abuse

My next few posts are going to tackle seven books from a new series that Shepherd Press is publishing.  These are small books that you'd find at a side table at your church.  They're great, because you can sit down in less than an hour and read what they have to say.  The books I've read so far have given me a lot to think about and process.

The first booklet is about Depression.  

Carol Trahan has written a small and easy to read book. It tackles the type of depression that are part of the normal ups and downs of life. This is not a book for anyone who deals with ongoing, prolonged depression. She says from the get go that she is a biblical counselor, not a medical doctor. Even so, I wish she had included a few questions about how to discern which type of depression you are experiencing and how to get ongoing help.

But, as to the material in this book, I liked it. Quite a lot actually. I thought that she made some great points about depression and sadness in the Bible which I hadn't considered before. She also talks about how depression is a choice--and it is for people like me. I can tell when my thoughts are focusing in on sadness and I make the choice to turn away from it or towards it. Ms. Trahan addresses the hope that God gives us in this situation and also that He desires for us to have joy in Him. All of this was great. For anyone who crashes once in a while or is dealing with one particular event that has provoked a lot of sadness, I'd recommend this book.

For folks like the people I love who live with depression, I wouldn't recommend this book. I've had several Christians over the years, who've said to me that the source of mild depression is really just sin and that if the person struggling would confront those issues, they wouldn't need medication. Those words have hurt because of the people I love who I know that live with depression and one of whom committed suicide. One of those close to me once said that the medication allowed him to get to the point of making a choice of going down the road to sadness or not. Before the medication, he felt like there was no choice--it was like being belted into a rollercoaster that you couldn't get off of. One of the most harmful things that Christians, especially Christian parents, can do to someone living with chronic depression is badmouth medicine and tell them that they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Mental Illness comes on for many people between the ages of 16 and 30 years old. If depression runs in your family, be aware--if you see signs of chronic depression, encourage your family members to get help from a counselor and doctor. There's nothing wrong or shameful about either one--don't push your family history under the carpet and pretend that no one in your immediate family will experience it. Books like this that are aimed at the short term depression. They can mislead people who have biochemical imbalances and make them feel that they must be trapped in sin and that how they feel is their fault. This is also the kind of book that makes it harder for people to get counseling and medical attention, because it conveys the idea that something is wrong with them if they need medicine--that they aren't spiritual enough be able to handle it the way that Ms. Trahan talks about. I did share the book with someone I love who lives with depression and he was offended and saddened by it.

In the end, handle this book with care. As with all books, filter in what's helpful to you and filter out what isn't.

The second booklet...

All of my adult life I have searched for resources that address abuse. In high school, a girl sat in front of me in one of my classes who was being abused by her boyfriend. I got her in touch with a counselor who helped her leave the situation. I'll never forget her. Over the years, I have been continually confronted with how to love people who have been abused and I have wanted to have wisdom and biblical counsel to share with them. I have searched and searched.

So, when this booklet came along, I was very excited to read it. Excited, not in a happy sense, but in the sense that I hoped it would be helpful to me. And it was. It defined abuse, used good examples, and gave steps on how to help the victim cope. It put this in the context of the church's responsibilities and role as well--which was very helpful. I would highly recommend this booklet to church leaders. I also appreciated that it doesn't encourage parents to stay in physically and emotionally abusive relationships that affect their children because God uses all things for the good of those who love him. The booklet encourages parents to protect their children. This is personally important to me because a friend's parent once justified the abuse of their children to me with that scripture from Romans.

This booklet also does not take the stance that one woman I knew took years ago, advised by the book The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace. A woman I know believed that she should stay in that abusive relationship because a) so that her husband might be won over to the faith and b) if her husband had been confronted once with his sin, then she should go on being submissive to him. This book does not advise people to stay in abusive relationships so that their spouse or significant other might be won over to Christ. I'd like to point out that God is in control of salvation (predestination) and it is not us who saves but God. It is God's efforts that save, not ours. "We are saved by grace, through faith..."

I do have two concerns worthy of mentioning, though. The first is smaller and it is that a lot of emphasis is given to the victim taking a hard look at themselves and their own sins. Yes, we do need to see our failings and understand how we have fallen into traps, but the responsibility for abuse is not a 50/50 deal when it comes to the responsibility of being abused and being the abuser.

The second concern is a much larger and important one. On one page of the booklet, the authors state that the one who has been abused does not have to forgive unless the abuser repents. They are to be ready to forgive, but do not have to forgive unless the abuser repents. This is huge to me and I don't agree with it at all. I looked up the biblical underpinnings of why someone would say that. It is in the old testament, but not the new. In the new, we are called to forgive just as we have been forgiven (Lord's Prayer). How many times are called to forgive? We are called to forgive 70 times 7. We are called to forgive even if someone doesn't recognize what they've done wrong or ask for forgiveness. This is extremely, extremely hard to do at times. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or excusing. It doesn't even mean that you have to have an ongoing relationship with that person. That is often not a safe thing to do, which I understand personally.

I did correspond with the publisher about this concern and it was clarified that the words used are that relational forgiveness can't be fully granted without repentance.  I think the author intended to say that we are to forgive, but that forgiveness is more complete in some way when the abuser repents.  Given the different wording is strange, I would just keep in mind that page 38 isn't saying that we shouldn't forgive when someone sins against us.  

This is a very helpful book, but please note the two caveats I've mentioned and be aware of them.

Please note that I received complimentary copies of these booklets for review from Shepherd Press.

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