Go and tell Hananiah, ‘This is what the LORD says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its place you will get a yoke of iron.’
The people of Judah were in the grips of a great enemy. King Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon had conquered their land, taken away the sacred items from their temple, and carried many of the people far from home. The people needed wise political and religious leadership to know how to live in such difficult times. The prophet Jeremiah walked through Jerusalem with a wooden yoke on his back to symbolize the weight of the challenges his people faced.
Into this scene walks another prophet named Hananiah. He has a very different outlook on the future. He takes the wooden yoke off Jeremiah’s back and breaks it, proclaiming that in two years, all the harm the Babylonians have done will be undone. The people and treasure of Judah will soon be returned. His message seems to be, “Just wait. Everything will turn out fine.”
After spending time with God, Jeremiah returns to Hananiah and the leaders of his people with another message. The yoke of wood will be replaced with a yoke of iron. If the people do not face the realities of their situation and deal with them wisely, they will face greater hardship. They must live with discipline and a sense of direction, or they will face disaster.
Depression is a great enemy that occupies the sufferer’s life. This enemy takes away many precious things: the joy of living, closeness to others, physical wellness, and even faith in God. Depression, like the Babylonians, takes sufferers to a strange place that feels very far from home.
How do you live in the presence of so great an enemy? You must live with discipline. You must embrace your illness and structure your life to survive and overcome the challenge. This kind of discipline is not easy. You could describe it as wearing a yoke, putting yourself in the harness of healing to focus all your strength on the hard work of getting better.
As you make your own decision about living with discipline to overcome depression, your own Hananiah will enter the scene. His message is not one of discipline, but denial: “Just wait a little while and everything will return to normal. You don’t need medicine. You don’t need a healthier lifestyle. You don’t need to examine the ways you think and your attitudes toward life. All that work is embarrassing, expensive, and a terrible waste of energy. All you need is a little more time.” This message is very tempting because it takes the sufferer off the hook of personal responsibility, of owning a problem and doing the hard work required to solve it and grow from it. But, as Jeremiah urged his people to see, Hananiah is a liar. Mere waiting won’t work. In fact, it invites disaster.
Depression sufferers who refuse to live with the discipline of embracing the reality of the illness and living to overcome it risk deeper bondage to disease. The yoke of iron, more aggressive treatment, relationships beyond repair, even desperate thoughts that become desperate actions often await those who refuse to wear the yoke of healing discipline.
Which prophet will you believe? Will you pretend your enemy of depression will soon go away, or will you live as one who recognizes your enemy’s strength and shoulders the challenge of living to overcome it? Will you choose discipline or disease?
Father, I don’t like to choose when none of the options are easy. But help me to see the road that leads out of this valley and to walk forward on it each day. Help me reject the lie that doing nothing will set me free. My life is worth the work, so help me get going and keep going until freedom returns. Amen.
Truth to Affirm
Living with discipline is better than losing to my disease.
This post originally appeared in Seeing in the Dark: Biblical Meditations for People Dealing with Depression by Ronald D. Vaughan.