Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.”
In the ancient world, people believed that knowing a person’s name gave them a degree of power over that person. You might use your knowledge of someone’s name to give the person a blessing or place a curse on him or her. This is why, in some biblical stories, the characters are reticent to reveal their names. A name was more than a label. Often a name was chosen to describe the essence of a person’s life. When you knew a name, you often knew something about the nature, the character, the spirit of a person. The knowledge revealed by a name gave you power.
In Mark 5, Jesus encounters a man controlled and tormented by evil. Before Jesus heals the man from the malignant power that has taken possession of his life, Jesus asks a question: “What is your name?” Jesus wanted to hear the name of the man’s struggle before he set this struggler free. Jesus learned the name of the man’s demon before he threw it out.
I have heard counselors say, “Nothing changes until it becomes what it is.” Naming our demons is part of the healing journey for those who suffer with depression. No, I do not believe that depression is literally an evil spirit that possesses a human life, but I do believe that naming the sources of our pain and problems is an essential step in finding freedom from them.
Naming is confessing. The old gospel song says, “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” In the journey of healing, we must give up our pretensions of being self-sufficient and our denial of problems, which are so obvious to others, and be honest about our needs. Naming our demons positions us to receive the help we need.
Naming is focusing. Depression says, “You are a worthless, unlovable person whose life is a total wreck.” Naming the sources of our pain and problems gives us new perspective. Focusing on a source of pain allows us to say, “You are a good person, loved infinitely by God and cared for by others, who has a problem to be addressed, a wound to be healed. Your life and the goodness of your life are bigger than your depression.” Naming our demons helps us focus on what hurts and separate it from the goodness of the rest of our lives.
Naming is sharing. Talking about our emotional wounds gets them out of dark places of hiding into the warmth and light of a caring relationship. What sometimes seems unconquerable in secret becomes a winnable war in the presence of an understanding helper.
Naming is empowering. Depression feels like a dark, mystical, larger-than-life force that the sufferer cannot clearly identify, much less defeat. Learning the true name of the struggle—lifestyle, chemical imbalance, depressive thinking, childhood trauma, codependent relationship, etc.—gives the hurt an identity and boundaries, a target at which therapy can be aimed, a specific finite challenge that can be overcome.
Naming is freeing. Keeping emotional secrets is preoccupying and exhausting. Naming our demons sets us free from that pointless, smothering task, freeing wasted energy for the work of learning, growing, and healing. Naming our struggles also frees us from the lie that if people knew our struggles, they would not love us. The people who walk away from you because you’re depressed never loved you. The people who love you won’t walk away when you name your demons.
Naming our demons, the sources of our depression, is a critical step in throwing them out.
God, nothing is hidden from you. I’ve wasted time pretending I’m not in pain. I’ve given my depression more power over me than it deserves by keeping it a secret. Give me the courage to be honest with you, knowing you are big enough and loving enough to hear any question, any pain, any complaint, even cries of despair. Guide me to the people with whom I can name my demons, the people in whose presence I can find help and hope. I claim the power of naming my pain. Use that power to heal me. Amen.
Truth to Affirm
Naming my demons will help me throw them out.
This post originally appeared in Seeing in the Dark: Biblical Meditations for People Dealing with Depression by Ronald D. Vaughan.