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Last week my boyfriend shared a list on Facebook called “10 Clichés Christians should stop saying.” The list, originally titled “10 Things You Can’t Say While Following Jesus,” was written by a Presbyterian minister named Mark Sandlin; you can find the original post of the list on The God Article. The list included such clichés as “Everything happens for a reason” and “God never gives us more than we can handle.” At the beginning of the article, Mark sums up so well the problem with these sayings:
”I think people who say these things are mostly trying to be kind, grateful and even humble when they say some of them. But if we really do want to be kind, grateful and humble we need to think about these sayings a little more – and then stop saying them.”
As someone who has depression, the saying “God never gives us more than we can handle,” is something that I have a personal dislike for. Again, Mark’s explanation for the problem is spot on:
”Ever tried saying this to a person contemplating suicide? No? Well, of course not.
Why? Because it is just wrong.
It's wrong for the reason that #10 is wrong and it's wrong because factual circumstances of living prove that sometimes this life does bring with it more than we can handle.”
The day after my boyfriend shared Mark’s article, a close friend of mine posted on her Facebook page that she was “very depressed” and “not sure what to do about it.” As my friend, and a lot of her family, identifies as Catholic, she received several replies referencing God and prayer. As Mark explained in his list, I am sure that those people were trying to be kind, however, they should have given more thought to their words and not said them. The various replies she received bothered me for different reasons, so, I will address the comments separately:
“We will keep you in our prayers!”
Perhaps I would feel differently about people offering to pray for others if I saw prayer in the same way most religious people do: That God works like the television show “American Idol,” and that the more prayers you get, the better your chances of “winning.” Offering to pray for someone implies that he/she is more likely to get his/her prayers answered if additional people pray for him/her. So, God won’t answer prayers if that person doesn’t have enough people who care about them to pray for them? Offering to pray for someone is putting in minimal effort without actually helping him/her at all. If you want to help someone that is depressed, do something to brighten their day.
“god never gives more than what u can deal with”
This comment bothered me for the same reason Mark said: If this was true, than there would be no such thing as suicide.
This one word was the extent of one of the comments. This one bothers me because it implies that my friend can pray away the depression. When I mentioned this to my boyfriend, he said “Well, at least she didn’t say you could pray away cancer.” Frankly, his comment infuriated me. Basically what he was subconsciously saying was that depression isn’t a “real” illness and that it is something one can conquer with willpower. The main reason I have kept my depression from the majority of the people in my life until last week is because that is how most people without depression see it; it is difficult for someone without depression to understand that just because the symptoms of depression are thought related, does not mean that the person can control the symptoms if they are just committed enough to feeling better. I do not mean to imply that a person with depression is completely helpless as to how they are feeling; of course there are steps those with depression can take to lessen their symptoms, however, there is a huge difference between lessen symptoms and no longer being depressed.
If someone tells you that they are depressed, and you want to help, please avoid the clichéd sayings. If you are religious, it is possible to mention God in a way that is helpful; instead of suggesting that prayer is a magic cure-all, perhaps you can try convincing the depressed individual that God provides the means (therapy and medication) to get better, and that it is important for them to make the step towards getting themselves help. A simple offer to help them locate affordable treatment will mean more to them than you can ever imagine; for someone that is chronically depressed, taking that first step towards getting treatment is harder than you could ever imagine.
You can read all my “Depression and…” posts by clicking here.