We have responsibility before God to work: it’s part of our created nature, and God has purposed for us to work diligently. We are not to be lazy, wasting away our time idly; we are to be busy rather than busybodies, and burden-sharing rather than burdensome.
But what does this mean for the person who suffers from depression or anxiety? For one of the peculiar things about depression and anxiety is the way that they can outwardly resemble the characteristics of laziness. This is especially true of avoidance behaviours and inactivity. If there are two images in Scripture that so resemble depression and anxiety, then Proverbs 26:13-14 are it:
The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!”
As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.
But outward appearances can mask very different root causes. A sluggard and a person suffering depression or anxiety are two very different people at heart. One chooses (often habitually) not to work, and finds excuses to be idle; the other has inability to work to the extent they’d wish.
Depression and anxiety have been described as the diseases of the modern age. While this may be true, they are not new maladies. They crop up in literature – especially poetry – throughout the ages. The Bible also recognises a distinction between melancholy and idleness. While Proverbs has much to say about ‘the sluggard’, the Psalms instead have much that resonates with the experiences of the melancholic.
The temptation for those of us who are depressed is to see ourselves as lazy because we share characteristics with the lazy person. This is only compounded since the temptation of those of us who haven’t experienced depression is to likewise attribute a depressed person’s inactivity to laziness as well.
Instead, God calls each of us to work diligently as we are able and within the constraints of the situation we find ourselves within. Is one person only able to gather little at this point in their lives? Then we who have been given much supply their lack, so he who gathered little did not have too little, and he who gathered much did not have too much.