Leslie was trying to make it work with her husband. They had been struggling for years. Counseling didn’t seem to help, because neither of them was really willing to change the things that needed to change for their marriage to be better. They had talked with their pastor, but none of his suggestions seemed to offer much hope either. Leslie has resigned herself to living in a loveless marriage for the long haul, because she didn’t want to have her toddlers raised in a divorced environment. It brought too much baggage with it.
Then her husband had her served with divorce papers at work. He didn’t even bring them to her himself. For goodness’s sake, he could have given them to her at the dinner table that evening. But no, he had the divorce papers served to her at work. After thirteen years, this was how it was going to end—in front of all her co-workers with a courier. She couldn’t believe it.
She just felt so helpless. She had tried everything she knew to make the marriage last, but it just never changed. Leslie sat at her desk and cried her eyes out, thankful she at least had an office to provide her with some privacy while she worked through the initial feelings of failure and loss.
Once she composed herself a little, she called you on the interoffice phone and asked you to come into her office, if you didn’t mind. She needed someone to confide in, to help her process things a bit more. You didn’t mind. She was your friend, after all.
Leslie started talking about how unhappy she and her husband had been for years. This was nothing new for you—you’d been to their house and felt the tension. She continued, talking about how hard it was going to be to split time with the kids. All the aggravation of having to do drop-offs, explaining why Daddy doesn’t live with us anymore, and everything else. Then she says something that really throws you for a loop: “I wish God would just kill me.”
Moses Once Felt the Same
Once again, the Bible comes to our rescue with an example eerily similar to Leslie’s. You can find it in Numbers 11. When we pick up the story, Moses is feeling overwhelmed with the poor attitudes of the Israelites. They were tired of eating only manna and were longing for the days in Egypt when they had a variety of foods to choose from. It got to the point where they were crying at the doors to their tents, and Moses had had enough. Depending on the translation, it says that Moses was displeased or aggravated or frustrated or disappointed. Bottom line: he wasn’t going to take it anymore, and he let God have it. Here’s what it says in verses 11-15:
And Moses said to the Lord, “Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby? How can I carry them to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!”
Like Leslie, Moses was overwhelmed, disappointed after a long haul, and just wanted all the pain and frustration to end. In his exhaustion and disappointment, he asked God to kill him. And God . . . doesn’t do as Moses asked. Instead, he spreads the burden of leadership among seventy other people and agrees to send meat weekly to the Israelites.
God Sees Beyond the Disappointment
It’s important to see that God never takes our pleas to end the suffering at face value. No, he always looks underneath the surface as he did with Moses. More than anything else, Moses needed the help and support of other people to assist him in walking through this season of his life. God met him in his place of need. He ignored the desperate, disappointed plea for death and instead provided relief. The very next day, God split the leadership that rested solely on Moses among seventy other people.
God also saw that the request for something other than manna, though frustrating and anger-inducing, wasn’t completely unreasonable either. God changed his plans for the Israelites because of their complaint. It was no small feat to feed a group of millions in a desert, but God did it. The Scriptures say that quail was flying three feet above the ground for miles and miles, so that the people of Israel could catch them. In the same way, God will answer the disappointed pleas of his children today. Leslie wanted to know how she was going to navigate life as a newly divorced woman, and God will answer that prayer. It won’t be with quail, but it will be a practical answer to a reasonable plea.
How Disappointment Differs from Depression
Disappointment can look a lot like depression, but these are two separate things. The easiest way to describe the distinction is to give you a quick glance at what depression looks like, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The symptoms of depression include:
- Continued feelings of sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, emptiness
- Fatigue, lack of energy
- Insomnia or other sleep issues, such as waking up very early or sleeping too much
- Anxiety, irritability, restlessness
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Lack of interest or joy in hobbies and activities
- Changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or weight gain
- Moving, talking, or thinking more slowly or feeling extra fidgety
- Trouble concentrating, thinking clearly, or making decisions
- Thoughts of not wanting to live, death or suicide, suicide attempts, or self-harm behaviors
In our story, Leslie was feeling some of these things, but not most of them. Also, according to SAMHSA, symptoms must last for a minimum of two weeks to qualify clinically as depression. Of course, Leslie was feeling sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, irritability, and guilt! Her marriage was ending. But for her to slide into depression, many of these symptoms would have to last for over two weeks. While this won’t change the way we can support friends like Leslie, it is important nevertheless to know the difference between temporary disappointment and depression.
We Are God’s Hands
So put yourself back in that office with Leslie. After she says she wishes God would just kill her, what do you do? What can you even say to something like that? There are a lot of good answers to this question, but they all start with the same heart God had with Moses. You must see beyond the disappointment and into the hurt. Here are some suggestions for ways to respond that could be helpful, depending on how close you are to Leslie:
- Can I give you a hug? You look like you could use one right now.
- I can’t even imagine how disappointed and embarrassed you must be right now.
- Were you guys talking about divorce at all, or did this come as a surprise to you?
- How can I help you right now?
- Would it make sense to go grab a cup of coffee to get away from the office for a bit, just to give you some space to make sense of all this?
- (Don’t lead with this one, but it’s still valid) Whenever you’re ready, I can help you brainstorm how to make all the things work you need to make work now. I’m here for you.
Once you start the conversation in earnest, just remember to stay practical, stay loving, stay grounded in the example God gave with Moses, and stay open to something unexpected. You never know when God might ask you to be quail for a person who’s deeply disappointed and questioning things.
If you’re still curious about what the Bible says about depression, check out my article: 17 Psalms for Depression: the Complete Guide.