By Dr. Michelle Bengston
Yes, it is that time of year that is festive and bright. But not everyone experiences “holiday cheer” during this time of year. For some, it is a very lonely and sad time. The holidays are not always merry and bright, and depression is a very real experience for many. I’m often asked how does one effectively walk along side one who is depressed? Especially during the holidays?
Jesus said, “'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).
At Christmas, or any other day, when we seek to honor Him, we need only to reach out to those who are lost, broken or hurting, and it pleases Him. But practically, what does that look like when someone is depressed? Because the holidays are hard and often prompt or exacerbate depression for many, when you know that is a factor, engage with them but avoid holiday themed events. Spend time together outside of holiday parties or venues that are heavily decorated. Eliminate the stress of a gift exchange because that adds stress, expectation, and guilt if they aren’t able to reciprocate.
Keep your expectations minimal. For someone battling depression, normal every day activities can seem overwhelming. Honor this and keep your expectations to a minimum. Meet them where it is convenient, and offer to help where you can.
While you may not be able to relate to depression if you haven’t gone through it yourself, respect and honor their feelings. Understand that depression is a medical condition just like diabetes or heart disease. Know that no one chooses to feel this way.
Be sensitive to the topics that are painful to them and focus your conversation elsewhere. For example, sometimes the holidays exacerbate depression because of grief or loss of family members. Some individuals will feel a sense of comfort talking about their lost family, while others will feel heightened sadness by this. In the latter, engage them in conversation about less painful topics such as their hobbies or work.
Depression fuels loneliness. Be a wingman for them. To support a friend or loved one who is struggling with depression doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything special—just be there. Sit with them. Be available. Include them in your gatherings, but understand if they decline. Show respect. Love with compassion.
Before spending time with one who is struggling with depression, pray. Pray for them, and pray to have mercy and grace toward them and their situation. All any of us wants is to be loved, accepted, and considered worthy. Yet depression has a way of coloring one’s perspective and lying to them. Pray for an ability to show truth through your words and deeds.
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, NLT).
While we cannot be responsible for someone else’s emotional well-being, we can be the hands and feet of Jesus, showing the same love and compassion He would show. While not wrapped in paper or topped with a perfect bow, that just may be the best gift you offer to anyone this Christmas.
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