By Shawn McMullen
I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible. I must die or be better it appears to me.
Abraham Lincoln wrote these words in a letter to a friend on January 23, 1841, a month after breaking off his engagement with Mary Todd. (They reconciled and married two years later.) And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Throughout his life and political career, Lincoln suffered from bouts of melancholy and depression.
Portrait artist Francis B. Carpenter lived in the White House in 1864 and made this observation: “I have said repeatedly to friends that Mr. Lincoln had the saddest face I ever attempted to paint.” One of Lincoln’s law partners, William Herndon, noted that Lincoln “was a sad-looking man; his melancholy dripped from him as he walked. . . . He was gloomy, abstracted, and joyous—rather humorous—by turns; but I do not think he knew what real joy was for many years.”
Remarkably, Abraham Lincoln rose above his dark days to lead our nation through one of the most critical periods of its history. Many historians point to the president’s sense of purpose to explain his ability to function effectively in the midst of his depression.
Lincoln’s life story is noteworthy, but it’s not uncommon—at least as far as his depression is concerned. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in a given year nearly 21 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population, struggle with mood disorders. Nearly 15 million adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, experience a major depressive disorder. And women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression in their lifetime.
Depression affects Christians and non-Christians alike. Perhaps one of the most daunting obstacles for believers suffering from depression is that they think they shouldn’t. That they must be doing something wrong or they wouldn’t feel the way they do. Sadly, that only adds guilt to their depression.
We need to think about it differently. First, let’s admit that none of us has a perfect mind. Adam’s sin in the Garden made sure of that. Since our abilities to think, reason, and respond are affected by sin, we all suffer mentally. How much we suffer is simply a matter of degree.
Next, let’s remember that God is greater than all the sadness and uncertainties we face. He can heal our minds, calm our fears, and bring peace to our troubled hearts. He may choose to work through medical professionals, family members, close friends, or a loving church family. Or he may choose to give us the strength and peace we need to endure less-than-perfect circumstances.
However he chooses to work, he’ll always be there for us. As the psalmist said, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19, English Standard Version).