There is something in ministry that some are beginning to talk about, but yet is still rarely spoken—it’s depression.
I’m not just talking about any depression, I’m talking about the depression that invades the heart, soul, mind and body of those who help the depressed, the pastor.
I know all to well the havoc that depression can play on pastors, because I am one who struggles with depression.
I must state this here up front. I am not a psychiatrist, professional counselor or clinical psychologist. I’ve taken six counseling courses and other seminars, and have 18 years of practice counseling youth, parents, and adults. What I do have that qualifies me to write about this is I struggle with depression and I’m in ministry.
The hidden life is a lonely place to be.
Although it shouldn’t be this way. Most of us, who struggle with depression, know all the right answers both from a biblical and secular viewpoint. We’ve counseled many people through darkness and depression, but find it hard to put into practice for ourselves the tools, wisdom, and advice we recommend to those we counsel – at least I do anyway.
I know this isn’t something I should be writing about openly, especially when it’s about me…I am a person who struggles with depression. I was one of those people who said it could never happen to me, but what I’m finding out is that it has happened to me several times, but I didn’t know I was suffering from it.
I can be what you call a high functioning depressed person.
Most people who know me well and there are very few who do (Some people think they know me, like coworkers, friends, and family), would say that I’m usually an upbeat person and pretty positive most times, except when it is the first thing in the morning.
There are times that I struggle with worthlessness and a dim future because hope escapes me…
When I realized that my struggles were related to depression, I hid it from everyone—my wife, my kids, my supervisor, coworkers, students, and just about everyone else around me.
I felt I was not suppose to struggle with this.
I felt since I am a follower of the Jesus and a pastor I shouldn’t be carrying this burden. The Holy Spirit lives in me and should prevent this from happening; I am a member of the clergy and should be immune, because I serve God—right… (A blog post about my thoughts on clergy will come someday).
I knew these rationales weren’t true and I became embarrassed. Then it hit me I should know better, none are immune to sin, brokenness, Satan, burnout, and to the things of this decaying and fallen world.
In his book “Leading on Empty” Wayne Cordeiro says,
“Depression is no respecter of persons. The silent “terrorist” attacks those outside the church as well as those within.”
In scripture there are many examples of God’s people who suffer from depression, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, Job, Jesus, and others… None of them were rendered useless by God, but used their brokenness to further His kingdom, the gospel, and to His glory.
When I was able to get away and find a safe place and a safe person to confide in, I was able to breakthrough all the embarrassment and the weight of condemnation and guilt. I was able to confess I’m a person who struggles with depression.
For me it was at a Christ In Youth retreat for youth ministers called Wilderness and also with the help from my mentor that week, a guy named Mike (Mike is a 40+ year veteran of youth ministry). I’ve learned to identify some of the symptoms that tend to happen to me when I’m fighting bouts of depression. I learned to recognize symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, the inability to make decisions, irritability, feeling alone just to name a few.
I am also learning to be more open about it. I’m learning to talk with my wife and be more open about my struggle with depression.
I pray more earnestly during these times, and trust that there is always hope even in the dark times.
Some people will want to downplay my depression and say it’s not real, because followers of Jesus don’t get depressed. Others will say since I struggle with it, I’m not fit to do ministry. And still some will tell me they understand, but treat me like a leper. To them I say “I will trust God and seek His approval over yours and not care what you think.”
But to those who love me, encourage me, and surround me with grace—I say thank you.