Misery loves company. I am not sure who coined this phrase, and I am equally unsure of its helpfulness. However, when it comes to broken people helping other broken people, Scripture has much to say. Consider the words of the apostle Paul, a man intimately acquainted with weakness, brokenness, and suffering:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:3-4, emphasis added).
Paul experienced tremendous comfort the from the Lord and wanted to use his experience to strengthen his ailing brothers and sisters in Christ. This same heart of compassion toward other suffering believers was consistently exhibited by the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
Despite his renown as the pastor of the largest church in London and the wide distribution of his writing, Spurgeon routinely battled depression and anxiety throughout his life. In addition to standing resolutely on the promises of God’s Word, Spurgeon found great comfort during times of struggle in another means of grace—the outdoors. In one of his famous lectures to the students at his Bible college, Spurgeon stated the following:
A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best. Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air, every wind that rises blows away despair. The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trout, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops—these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary. For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim. (excerpt from The Minister’s Fainting Fits)
As we approach the time of year when cool breezes stir the gold and red leaves of the trees, let us heed the advice of brother Charles, a fellow pastor and sufferer. Here is a simple prescription for battling the blues and fighting for Christ-centered joy this fall:
Go – Grab your favorite flannel shirt and get outside. God’s glory is revealed in a peculiar way in the fall, so put down your phone, lace up your boots, and go explore. Take your family with you and/or go alone. Find a new trail to explore. Sit in a favorite spot and drink in the beauty of God’s creation.
Preach – While you’re outside, use the opportunity to battle hopeless, despairing thoughts. Melancholy Christians are prone to listen to themselves rather than preach to themselves. To this end, we need to be like the psalmist who preaches directly to his own soul: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Ps. 42:5-6a).
Pray – Find a spot to rest and enjoy communion with your heavenly Father. A grove of trees, a shaded path, or a log by a creek can be turned into sanctuary when a saint bows in reverence and faith. Paul’s brief exhortation confirms that praying in such an impromptu manner is acceptable and good: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Pray at home, pray at work, and pray in the woods.
Thank – Depression and anxiety often lock arms in an effort to wipe every memory of God’s goodness and faithfulness from our minds. As you take in the beauty of God’s creation, ponder the many graces that the Lord has poured out on your life. King David said it this way: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High” (Ps. 9:1-2).
Paul, Spurgeon, and countless other believers throughout history have been comforted by the Word of God and the world of God. Preacher, if you find yourself adrift in a fog of despair, I plead with you to heed the advice of other suffering saints. Cool weather and beautiful landscapes will not save one’s soul, but they combine to be powerful medicine for the melancholy.