1. Identify each loss
Concrete losses are easier to recognize than abstract losses. Changing jobs and moving to a new location can precipitate a depression even though it could improve your social status and financial base. The move may mean the loss of friends, community, and church. It will take some time to build new friendships and become part of a new church family. Many losses are multifaceted. For instance, the concrete loss of a job and wages may be accompanied by the abstract losses of self-respect, sense of worth, or collegial relationships. People don’t react the same to losses because they have different values, and different levels of maturity. In order to get beyond denial and into the grieving process, you must understand what it is that you are losing or have already lost.
2. Separate concrete from abstract losses
Concrete losses are tangible while abstract losses relate more to personal goals, dreams and ideas. Abstract losses relate deeply to who we are, and why we are here. Many concrete losses, such as the loss of a job, are contaminated with abstract loses. You may find a new job next week, but remain depressed because you feel the pain of rejection and wrongly believe you are a failure. That is another reason why it is so important to understand who we are in Christ and find our acceptance, security, and significance in Him.
3. Separate real, imagined, and threatened losses
You cannot process an imagined or threatened loss in the same way you can a real one. In a real loss you can face the truth, grieve the loss, and make the necessary changes that make it possible to go on living in a meaningful way. A lawyer heard a rumor that his firm was going to be sued for services he performed. He thought, “I’m ruined. The firm is going down and it is all my fault.” Such thinking led to a major depression and anti-depressant medications. I saw him a year later and the company wasn’t sued. It was just imagined.
4. Convert imagined and threatened losses to real losses
Imagined loses are distortions of reality. They are based on suspicions or lies that we have believed, or presumptions that we have made. The mind doesn’t like vacuums and will make assumptions when we don’t know the facts. Seldom does the mind assume the best. We don’t always act upon our assumptions, but if we do we shall be counted among the fools, because through presumption comes nothing but strife (Proverbs 13:10). People ruminate various possibilities and consequences in their minds until they are depressed. The answer is to verify these assumptions and then follow Peter’s advice, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:7,8).
Threatened losses have the potential for being real losses. They include such things as the possibility of a lay off at work, or a spouse who threatens to leave you. Such threats can precipitate a depression. I find it helpful to think what the worst-case scenario may be and then ask myself the question, “Can I live with it?” The answer is always, “Yes.” Essentially you are processing the threat in your mind as a real loss. The threat no longer has any power over you, and in that way you are not letting any person or event determine who you are, or keep you from being the person God created you to be. So when someone threatens you, respond the way Peter advises (1 Pet. 3:13-17):
Who is eager to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this in gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
These are growth issues, not terminal issues if you understand life from an eternal perspective. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, said, “My depression forced me, at the age of forty-five to stop and, for the first time in my life, examine my life.”
5. Facilitate the grieving process
The natural response to any crisis is to first deny that it is really happening, then get angry that it did happen, then try to alter the situation by bargaining with God or others. When that doesn’t work you feel depressed. You cannot bypass the grieving process, but you can shorten it by allowing yourself to feel the full force of the loss. The fact that certain losses are depressing is reality. It hurts to lose something that has value to you. Your cannot fully process your loss until you feel its full force. That is probably what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
6. Face the reality of the loss
Only after you have faced its full impact are you ready to deal with the reality of the loss. This is the critical juncture. Are we going to resign from life, succumb to the depression and drop out, or are we going to accept what we cannot change and let go of the loss? We can feel sorry for ourselves for the rest of our lives, or we can decide to live with our losses and learn how to go on in a meaningful way. A prolonged depression signifies an over-attachment to people, places and things that we had no right or ability to control.
7. Develop a biblical perspective on the loss
The trials and tribulations of life are intended to produce proven character. We suffer for the sake of righteousness. We can potentially come through any crisis a better person than the one we were before. Losses are inevitable and they are not intended to destroy us, but they will reveal who we are. People have discovered or deepened the awareness of who they are in Christ as a direct result of losses. Each subsequent loss only deepens that reality, perfects our character, and prepares us for an even greater ministry. We are all going to be victimized by losses and abuses. We can drown in our own pity, blame others, claim that life isn’t fair, and stay depressed the rest of our lives. Whether we remain a victim is our choice. “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11).