Gratitude, Depression & The Christian

Three years ago I ran city2surf for the first time in support of Scripture Union. The co-ordinator of the team was none other than the spectacular Rebecca Jee. I’ve had the privilege of calling her a friend since then and in the past six months she’s taken bold and beautiful steps that require trust in herself and trust in God in measures that it’s hard for me to comprehend. I’ll tell you more soon, but here are some words she wrote for me, to explain part of the ‘why’ of one of her ventures. 

I got starting practising gratitude as a way of alleviating the symptoms of my depression and anxiety, and trying to strengthen my mental health. I found that taking the time to think about the things and people I’m grateful for and (more to the point) expressing that gratitude took the sting out of my blackest days and turned my face towards the light.

To be honest, I’m not always that great at remembering to do it. I guess that’s why we talk about ‘practising gratitude’ rather than just ‘being grateful’; our default setting is not one of thankfulness. In our Western culture particularly, we are brought up to believe that whatever we have in life is due to our own hard work and we don’t like to think we owe anyone. We also think we deserve (or at least we desire) much more than we have.

Yet for just about everyone reading this, if you spend even a minute thinking about the material abundance we have—housing, clothing, food, technology—it’s quite staggering how rich we are. That’s quite apart from the emotional and relational riches we gain through the people we know and come into contact with (but I won’t be too specific here because of course everyone’s situation is different in terms of the people in their lives).

As a Christian, though, the whole gratitude thing just shoots up to another level.

Now, you certainly don’t need to be a religious person to practise gratitude, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that as a Christian it really is the only attitude to adopt. God has given us so much, all those material and relational blessings I mentioned above, because he is generous and loves to give. But when I think the gift he gave in Jesus—that the son of God would die on a cross to save me, that I have been made one of God’s children through Christ, that I will enjoy the new creation with all of God’s people when Jesus comes again—how can my heart do anything but overflow with thanksgiving?

When I was in my darkest times of depression, just clinging to my identity in Christ and whispering “thank you” was enough to pull me back from the brink of despair, even if I couldn’t articulate a thought beyond that. That’s why Philippians 4:6-8 is one of my favourite Bible passages. I think it bears out this connection between gratitude, better mental health and God’s role in it all:

Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.

Philippians 4:6-8 (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Bec is crowd funding for a gratitude diary, and I’m excited about it. You can check out more here. I’ve pledged, because gratitude is something I need to practice a whole lot more, and I’m willing to bet that you need to as well – the Everyday Gratitude Diary is a practical tool to help us all out. Get on it (preferably in the next 33 days, yeah?).

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