Is Depression a Form of Grief?

The last sermon or message my pastor gave was based on II Corinthians 12:7-11, Paul’s statement that he had a thorn in his side. My pastor delved into an informative an interesting lesson on the “thorn in one’s side” and the pain associated with the thorn.

Most of us, if not all of us, have, at one time or another in our life had a thorn in our side or some degree of pain. If you don’t know what a thorn in one’s side is, it is something that challenges, stresses or causes some degree of pain for a person. No one knows what the thorn in Paul’s side was though there have been many speculations.

What exactly was Paul’s thorn is not important here, just know that something bothered him and the Lord told Paul that His grace was enough; don’t worry about it. It’s ok with God.

Let’s deal with this question: What is the thorn in your side? Notice I asked WHAT is your thorn and not “Do you have a thorn in your side?” What bothers you and eludes your ability to manage it? What bugs you no matter how hard you try to eliminate or just deal with it? Could it be the habit of smoking cigarettes? Is it gambling? Are you plagued with the inability to forgive someone? Are you grieving about an incident, (not a death), that happened years ago? Maybe you just can’t seem to erase the thought or memory from your mind. These are examples of a thorn in your side…and thorns cause pain.

Grief of any kind is a thorn in one’s side. Grief that stretches on, year after year after year can be oppressive and if left unchecked becomes painful, debilitating and sometimes dangerous. Professionals claim that ‘critical life events can both affect the brain neurotransmitters and contribute to psychological and somatic symptoms of depression’.   Emotional events may cause long lasting changes in the brain. 1   1″Clinical and Biological Aspects of Bereavement and Loss-Induced Depression: A Reappraisal”

I am not a psychologist or a therapist, just a minister. I’ve observed the prolonged grieving process in many, including myself. Some professionals refer to this grieving or prolonged grieving as depression. Psychologists are so technical. According to them, if the grieving is more than two years after a death, they deem the grief as depression. However I am referring to a grief associated with incidents and situations and not the death of a person

Some griefs are sneaky and the griever does not even recognize they are in the grieving process. Homesickness and loneliness are two emotions that can thrust a person into grieving. The kid who goes away to college and the newly divorced/widowed both experiences a change in their life; both grieve from homesickness or loneliness but both have different challenges. The student has the option to stay and adjust to the new environment or return home. The widow or divorced can’t return to their previous lifestyle. Their grief relief comes with a challenge: make new friends (create a new social circle) and/or get busy doing something new and refreshing. However, both experience homesickness or loneliness and their grief are real.

Change in itself can evoke grief.

When a job stays the same and coworker’s change, when a neighborhood evolves and amenities and/or neighbors change, when the groups in which you are a member shift their priorities or their values’ change, these all encourage one to reminiscence of the “old days”. Reminiscing can turn into grief.

Today, many people, many baby boomers are dealing with the estrangement of adult children and siblings. Lives change, lifestyles change. Holiday meals with family do not carry the traditional gathering or level of importance as it did years ago.  Now that we are stretched across America and the globe, returning home for the holiday meal may be impractical for some and a financial challenge for others. Holidays without the accustomed family gathering can be a source of pain. This is where the sneaky grieving begins: thinking about what used to be, the “old times” and wishing for today to be like “Then”. “Then” was warm, happy and comfortable. “Then” was familiar. Today is the reality, yet today may not be comfortable.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that some people are grieving over change, evolution and a shift in priorities. Some people are grieving over conditions or situations that have no identifiable solution. It is sad to witness and painful to experience. Sadder is the fact that this type of grieving is not restricted to holidays or random days of reminiscing, it is a prolonged state for the griever. Grieving becomes their normal, everyday state of being. Sometimes, the grieving continues for years.  I am beginning to wonder if those labeled “depressed’ are actually grieving. Could the thorn in their side be an enormous grief?

Grief or depression, my solution (or Secret) is to take your sadness to the Lord. The Lord told Paul not to worry about that thorn in his side, that His grace is sufficient. The Lord will empower you to a better, more comfortable state of being if you just ask. God’s love will deliver you from the oppressive state of depression and his grace will comfort you.

With God, anyone can grieve and still have an inner peace and joy. When the situations don’t change you may continue to grieve, as I grieve over the violence in my community and the children and young adults that have been buried.  I grieve heavily.

I recommend to myself and to anyone grieving over a situation they hate: Be honest in your grief. Call it what is. Vocalize it, “I am grieving over the empty, foreclosed homes in my neighborhood.” I am grieving over the teachers’ decision to walk out to retain their benefits.” “I am grieving because…”  As ugly as the situation may be that brings us grief, refusing to grieve or not being honest in the fact that we are grieving is not helpful to anyone.Manage that grief and don’t allow it turn into depression. Depression is a killer, not a helper. When you know what it is you are grieving you can ask God for the strength to continue living. Ask Him for joy. Ask Him how you can be a blessing to someone in the mist of their grief and their situation. When you receive your answer, go and be a blessing to someone. Paul lived with a thorn in his side and I am happy to tell you, you can too.


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