Befriending the Depressed
About the Guest
Scott Sauls, author of "Befriend," opens up about his season of anxiety and depression. Afraid to go to bed at night because he couldn't sleep, Sauls reveals what a strain it was to face another day. Find out what you can do to come alongside a struggling friend mired in depression.
Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to Nashville, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City after planting two churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis. Scott has authored several books, including Jesus Outside the Lines and his most recent work, A Gentle...more
Scott Sauls, author of “Befriend,” opens up about his season of anxiety and depression. Find out what you can do to come alongside a struggling friend mired in depression.
Befriending the Depressed
Bob: When you’re facing a trial or a season of suffering, that’s when you really need good friends. If you have friends who are in seasons like that, you need to learn how to be the best friend you can be. Here’s pastor Scott Sauls.
Scott: The eternal perspective on things really becomes incredibly important and significant in those moments of tragedy or sorrow—to know that we’re living in the middle chapters, right now, of a story. The only everlasting chapter of the story that we’re in right now is the last one. We’re not there yet, even though it has already been written.
I think that for Christians—going through really, really difficult times / Christians in particular—that’s an important thing to lay hold of—that were not meant to experience heaven on earth right now. We’re in a broken in-between time, right now, where the fall still affects us.
This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 31st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
The Bible says there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. We’ll talk today about what that kind of friendship looks like and how to be that kind of friend. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Can you think of someone in your life—who was an unlikely or unusual friendship—some relationship that you developed with someone, where you might not have thought there was chemistry there or anything to relate around?
Dennis: Multiple times.
Dennis: Yes; you bet. I mean, what person—who has lived more than six decades—hasn’t run across people, who you end up in relationship with, where you go, “You know, this is really an interesting friendship here”? Friendships, I think, owe their value in this culture due to their scarcity. If you’re scarce of a few friendships or need some, we have a guest, Scott Sauls, who’s going to exhort you to move out of your comfort zone, past perhaps a militarized zone, and into the friendship zone.
Scott—welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Scott: Thank you for having me again.
Dennis: Scott is the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church. He and his wife Patti have been married since 1995. They have two daughters. He has written a book called Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear. It’s really talking about how we all go through periods of life when we need people to reach out to us, but you’re exhorting others to reach out to those that they wouldn’t naturally perhaps be attracted to or wanting to be a part of.
You actually went through something in your life, where you needed people to reach out to you.
Scott: Yes; I think you’re probably referring to the chapter where I talk about my season with anxiety and depression. That’s probably one of the most transparent self-disclosing things I’ve ever put in print, but it was a pretty devastating season.
It was probably the season of my life where I felt more helpless than ever before, because I had just emotionally collapsed and was afraid of going to bed at night because I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. Even sleeping medication didn’t help put me to sleep. I was afraid to get up in the morning. I was afraid when the sun came up; because I would have to face another day of just this foreboding feeling of restlessness, anxiety, and fear.
Bob: What was going on?
Scott: I think a lot of fear about the future and just meditating on worst-case scenarios. What was critical for me was really just two people in my life—my brother and my wife. They both had the common experience of also having had a season of true anxiety and depression, sort of on the clinical level, so they were able to assure me / reassure me that:
“One thing is for sure—you never have to be alone in this. Call me 24/7,”—or my wife / obviously, we live together—so she would wake up with me in the middle of the night and just sort of scratch my back, and have conversation with me, and talk me down off the cliff of my fears.
Community was so important because, when you are experiencing anxiety or depression, you just want to crawl into a hole and isolate yourself. You believe / you truly believe that nobody wants to help you, because you are just going to be a burden. I think part of that is a part of our culture, where we are pretty consumer-istic about the way we think about relationships. We just assume that nobody is going to want to be in relationship with us when we’re down in the dumps and really struggling.
A lot of our relationships, without realizing it—we approach them in a transactional way—we’re kind of subconsciously asking the question: “What’s in this for me? Is this relationship going to be more costly for me or more beneficial for me?” and “If it’s more costly, then I’m out.
“If it’s more beneficial, then I’m in. I just need to figure out a way to fool the person that they’re getting the greater benefit.” It goes on and on and on.
I think, really, this is a call back to the kind of community that Jesus calls us into. Look at the way that Paul speaks to Corinth—what a high-maintenance group of people; right? They’ve got so many different problems—the famous love chapter that we read in our wedding ceremonies. We didn’t realize—at least, Patti and I didn’t—that
1 Corinthians 13 / the love chapter is actually one of the strongest rebukes in the whole Bible; because it was everything that the Corinthians were not.
And yet, Paul just moves toward them and has hope for them—and to quote my mentor, Tim Keller—he was able / Paul was—to look at the caterpillar and envision the butterfly—kind of love the person, not only for who they are in front of you as a person who bears the image of God, but as somebody, who in Christ, is destined for something magnificent and whole.
Bob: Scott, I heard, last night, about an acquaintance of mine, who is in the kind of situation you were in at that point in your life, going through a season of discouragement/depression. It’s really gripping / it’s paralyzing for this friend. I think to myself, “I don’t know what to do!” I mean, as we discussed it among friends last night, we said, “We need to pray for this person.” Certainly, that is appropriate; but as I think about moving toward that person, I get a little anxious myself, thinking, “I don’t know what to say to someone who is in that situation.”
Scott: Yes; I think the book of Job is really helpful. The best thing that his friends did was show up. The worst thing that they did was start talking. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enter in and start talking—it’s really what you say. What Job’s friends tried to do was diagnose his situation.
That’s the worst thing you can do—if you’re not a professional in these things—is to try to diagnose it and to try to talk the person out of their depression or their anxiety. The most important message for me during that season was: “I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. I’m with you. I don’t understand what you’re going through,” or “I do understand, because I’ve been there.” Don’t say you do understand if you haven’t been there; but if you have been there, it’s immensely helpful that you do understand.
But the main message that that person needs to hear is that: “You’re not alone and you’re not going to be alone.” For me, that was incredibly powerful—it was a picture of Christ / the gospel—you know, He says He will never leave us / He will never forsake us. He doesn’t place conditions on us. He doesn’t say, “If you become a burden / if you become high maintenance, I’m out.” He says the opposite.
Dennis: You mention one of the two people God used in your life was your wife.
Dennis: You’d been married how long to Patti at that point?
Scott: Oh, boy—maybe 16 years at that point.
Dennis: Wow! Did she admit, after you went through this, ever being frightened or wondering if she was going to lose her husband in the midst of this?
Scott: No; because she had been there before, herself, where she—her words, when the anxiety first hit her were, “I think I need to be checked into a mental institution.” Then she went to a counselor—the counselor said: “No; this is classic. This is anxiety. You’re having anxiety attacks.” Being able to have walked through, and been prayed through, and supported through that season, herself, she had a lot more confidence than I did that I would emerge from this. Really, her confidence—you know how it talks about people held Moses’ arms up when he was too tired to pray himself—her confidence that God works through these processes really helped to carry me through.
And my brother was the same way, because he’d had the same experience. Really, in truth—say the anxiety and depression never lifted—
—even if that were the case—still, as a Christian, my long-term very worst-case scenario is resurrection and everlasting life, where all of this will be taken away. The eternal perspective on things really becomes incredibly important and significant in those moments of tragedy or sorrow—to know that we’re living in the middle chapters, right now, of the story. The only everlasting chapter of the story that we’re in right now is the last one. We’re not there yet, even though it has already been written.
I think for Christians—going through really, really difficult times / Christians in particular—that’s an important thing to lay hold of—that were not meant to experience heaven on earth right now. We’re in a broken in-between time, right now, where the fall still affects us; but the last chapter—“…the happily ever after,”—is there, and the “…happily ever after,” is true. It’s the very worst it will be for us in a 100 years—
—for every one of us, the worst it can be for us is complete, absolute, irrevocable bliss—that’s something to hold onto.
Dennis: And you’re speaking, at the point, of the person, who has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and knows him as their Savior and Master.
Scott: For a person, who does not have Christ, there’s really no hope. I mean, the worst thing that could happen to us in this life seems like paradise relative to what it will be in eternity without Christ—I can’t imagine!
Bob: Did your anxiety and depression lift suddenly or gradually? Did you wake up one day and go, “Hey, I’m feeling better than I used to”?
Scott: It was more gradual. But it in a lot of what gave me growing strength was the relationship. It wasn’t just my wife and my brother, but they were the key sort of anchor / everyday anchors. There were some—I mean, I realize, too, that I had a great community around me. I had people who loved me, who were saying: “Look, you guys. We’ll do anything for you.”
We don’t realize how much the people around us really love us until we’re in crisis, which is another life lesson that maybe we should tell each other more. Maybe we need not to wait until a crisis or until somebody is on the brink of death to actually tell people how much they mean to us. But there’s something about suffering that brings those conversations out more, which was really powerful for me.
Bob: And do you ever sense today that the dark cloud is coming back?
Scott: I don’t think a whole lot about it these days; but at the same time, I don’t discount the possibility that it could.
Bob: It sounds like your way out of darkness was a lot of reminding yourself of what’s really true about this life and about the next life—
Bob: —and meditating on that. I’m not trying to simplify the complexity of what anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, or depression can be in someone’s life; but that sounded like it was pretty central to how you got better.
Scott: Yes; a key Scripture that my wife used and went back to, over and over again, when she went through a season like this was where Paul talks about demolishing strongholds by taking captive every thought and making it obedient to Christ [2 Corinthians 10:5]. You know, Paul talks, in Romans 12, about how we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds. The transformation of everything about us begins with our thought life being formed by the truth—and things that aren’t true being confronted with the truth.
A friend of mine—he used to be my professor, and he’s been a mentor ever since—Jerram Barrs / he’s a professor at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. I went through a very difficult, personal season of life when I was a seminary student. On my worst days, he would say: “Scott, you need to talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself. You need to continue to teach to yourself what’s true.” There is something to be said for that, but we also need people around us encouraging us with what is true as well.
Bob: And I’m reminded, myself—on more than one occasion—that whatever I’m facing today—
—these are light and momentary afflictions that are producing in me an eternal weight of glory. That doesn’t do away with the fact that it’s a real affliction, but it does give it a perspective.
Scott: Yes—“…light and momentary…”—important to add the words that Paul uses—“in comparison to…” If I don’t have Christ—back to your question—I’ve got nothing to compare these afflictions to except whatever my best-case scenario is before I die. Whereas, Paul is saying we fix our eyes “not on what we see, but on things we don’t see; what we see is temporary; what we can’t see is eternal.” And so he is taking beatings, and persecutions, and jailing, and all these things that he is facing—he is saying all these things are light and momentary compared to the weight of glory.
Dennis: In case somebody is wondering where that is found, that is 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4, and also the beginning part of Chapter 5.
Your book, Befriend, actually presses us into friendships with people who we may have some dysfunctional relationships with. It may press us into relationship with people who believe differently than we do / who behave in a different way—a 180 degrees different than how we think. I want to take one of those and I just want you to kind of walk us through kind of what you are up to here and challenging us to walk across the aisle and engage someone, who really isn’t like me in all ways. They are made in the image of God—they are a person of value and great worth—but we find it difficult to move across the aisle.
I want to take one that’s a hot topic in our culture. That’s someone who would believe that same-sex marriage or homosexuality is okay according to the Bible.
How would you coach somebody to befriend a person, who clearly believes differently than you, Scott?
Scott: I think it depends on why they believe differently. Context is everything with how we approach a friendship. I would say the first thing we need to do is look at our own hearts and ask ourselves—to whatever degree we’re worked up about this issue—“Why are we so worked up about it?” To whatever degree that we’re scared, to ask ourselves: “Why are we so scared? Why are we so afraid?” / to whatever degree we maybe disdain the person, ask ourselves, “What justification do we have for disdaining somebody else who bears the image of God?”
And then we need to ask the question, “How did Jesus enter into those relationships?” If we take a look in all of the Gospels, we see Jesus encountering those who might have been identified as sexual minorities, in sort of ancient Jewish culture—
—people who were not expressing their sexuality according to the historic Old and New Testament teaching. In no instance do we see Jesus scolding somebody, putting them in their place, shaming them. Instead we see him gently and compassionately engaging them.
You take the woman caught in adultery in John, Chapter 8, for instance. He says to her: “I do not condemn you. Now, go leave your life of sin.” The order of that sentence is really important—because in saying, “I do not condemn you,” first—He establishes the environment and the context for the relationship. He is saying: “My looking at you—as a person with dignity, and worth, and value—is not conditional on whether or not you get onboard with My ethics. And yet, you need to get onboard with My ethics; because My ethics are for your health and for your flourishing.” And so it is both/and—the Gospels talk about how Jesus comes, full of grace and full of truth.
We need to think about the way that we come into these relationships, across the lines of even very deep theological differences. You know, the baseline is to love the person in front of you. We see this in the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, when he walks into sort of the Greek Areopagus—all the secular thinkers of his day. He sees the idolatry all around him, and he starts with a compliment: “I see that you’re very religious. Yes; I see that you’re seeking truth, and meaning, and beauty.” So: “Let’s start there—that’s a good thing.”
And then he moves toward the questions and conversations about: “What’s true? Who is this unknown God that you’re talking about? Let’s talk about the God who can be known,”—but he starts with quoting their own poets from memory and their own philosophers from memory—even complimenting them they’re religious, even though their religion is deeply misguided. Bridge-building / trust-building is really the only thing that will gain a hearing in any kind of disagreement context.
Dennis: And I want to go back to the woman in John 8. I just have written down five aspects of how Jesus loved her that really would work as a person is moving into a friendship with someone he or she didn’t necessarily click with or didn’t agree with. The first thing Jesus did was—He protected her. And interestingly, He protected her from the religious community.
Scott: Yes; he did.
Dennis: Interesting. Secondly, He connected with her by asking a question—He asked her:” Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” He let her know He knew where she was and that she was in danger. Next, He forgave her, as you pointed out. Then He instructed her at what she should do; and then, finally—it’s not found in this passage but later on in the book of John—He died for her sins. You have to wonder where she was when Jesus was hanging on a cross, saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
You just have to believe this woman had those words of Christ echoing in her mind.
That’s our assignment as we befriend people who don’t agree with us / who may not be like us. You’re exhorting them to follow Christ and to love them as Christ loved broken people as well.
Bob: And I’m stopping to think about how evangelism gets done in our day among adults. It’s less about rational argumentation and it’s more about hospitality and friendship. You make that clear in the book you’ve written, which is called Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear. It’s a book I hope our listeners will get a copy of and read—maybe go through together with your small group.
Again, the title of the book is Befriend by Scott Sauls.
You can order a copy from us, online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you call to order at 1-800-FL- TODAY. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or reach us by phone at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” What you’re suggesting is that we respond to others—even others who aren’t like us or are outside of our comfort zone—the way Jesus responded to those who weren’t’ like Him.
Scott: When Jesus got invited to a tax collector party, he went. When he got invited to a Pharisee party, he went. He was never turning anybody down. He kept association with so many different kinds of people—but by virtue of His association and by virtue of His willingness to offend the faithful—in order to move toward those who did not know Him.
It’s very instructive to us.
Scott: We need to move in that direction and sort of get away from the “us against them” stuff.
Dennis: —and standing with the Pharisees, throwing stones at them.
Dennis: Good exhortation, Scott. Thanks for being with us.
Bob: And we’ve got copies of your book, Befriend, available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Folks can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the book.
You know, what you’re describing—us reaching out, and connecting, and befriending others—for that to happen effectively, we have to make sure that our marriages and our families are strong and stable / that friendship is happening in the home before we are reaching out to others and befriending there. Our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to provide regular, practical biblical help and hope for couples who are facing challenges in their marriage relationship or who are wondering about how to raise their kids.
Our goal is to effectively develop godly marriages and families, because we believe that godly marriages and families really can change the world, one home at a time.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk with a pastor from England who shares with us about his experience of recognizing that he was attracted to members of the same sex and having to figure out what he was going to do with God’s call on his life and that same-sex attraction. You’ll meet Sam Allberry tomorrow. And I hope you can join us for our conversation with him.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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