2016 marks a 10-year anniversary for me. For a period spanning from 2006 to 2007, I experienced a months-long bout with severe clinical depression. My life as I had known it broke into pieces. I didn’t know how to cope with the simplest of tasks. My physical health was adversely affected. My grades in seminary suffered. And, to be honest, the bottom fell out of my spiritual life. I remember lying in bed and thinking that I simply didn’t care if God existed, or if I existed. And this was coming from a lifelong Christian! But it’s where I was. I couldn’t change that then, and I certainly can’t jump in a time machine today and go back to change myself in those moments. The truth is…even if I could, I wouldn’t want to.
I wouldn’t go back to change those moments because that part of my journey eventually led to a process of healing and restoration in which I experienced a resurgence of hope, of faith, and, for lack of a better way of saying it, of getting my life back. Sure, the road back from that dark night of my soul was long. It certainly wasn’t easy, neither for me nor for those around me—just ask my incredibly gracious and patient wife, Amber, when you get a chance.
One thing I wish were different, though, is how difficult it was to talk about depression in the Church at the time. (Granted, a decade has passed, and I think churches in 2016 generally have a better handle on healthy conversations about depression—and mental health in general.) My life was centered around the Church, around the Body of Christ, around this place where I prayed, where I attended worship, where I told people to have hope and that everything would be ok. But my depression was keeping me from believing these things myself. And I wish I could say that the Church helped. But it really didn’t. At least, not at first.
Instead, I found the first steps on my path back to a new normal—not to mention a more organic, rich spiritual life—in the office of a seminary professor named Dr. Sprinkle and in conversations with (and interventions from…) my wife and a friend named Paul, who is doing an excellent job pastoring First Christian Church in Lubbock, TX—you should visit if you’re ever out there! Those initial conversations led me to see my doctor. Then I saw a therapist. Then I saw another doctor. And you know what? With the right mix of seeing a counselor, finding the right medication, eating right, and even exercising, I started to get better. It was slow at first. But my recovery picked up speed and momentum as time passed.
And guess what else experienced quite a revival. That’s right. My newfound sense of self worth and overall health led to a revival in my spiritual life that has been picking up steam ever since. This resurgence of my awareness of God’s grace began when Amber and I found a little United Methodist church plant called Light of the World UMC. I don’t think those people knew it at the time, but they embraced us and showed us God’s love at a very crucial time. Because of them, I began to feel like God cared for me again—not think, feel, like REALLY feel. Unbeknownst to me, those steps back into community (and communion) with God’s family were also steps back toward answering a call. Now, in 2016, I’m a pastor of a United Methodist church plant, and I get the joy and privilege of talking to people about God’s love for them in Christ. Talk about going full circle.
As a pastor who has felt the loneliness and pain of severe depression, I want you to know that if you are facing this struggle, you are not alone. It might not feel like it right now, but there is a way toward healing, toward restoration, toward finding yourself again. For me, the worst part was feeling like I wasn’t even “me” anymore. It felt like the essence of who God created me to be was buried far away from the light of day. But Christ worked through people in my life—doctors, therapists, professors, friends, my wife, a new church family—to recreate me. That hope is still alive. And my prayer is that you find it.
If you need help finding hope in a dark time, talk to someone. Talk to your family doctor. Talk to a pastor. If you need a pastor’s phone number, mine is 469-955-7784. Talk to a therapist. Just talk to someone. The first step on your new journey is simply reaching out. If you’re reading this, and you need help, my prayer is that God would grant you the grace and strength to make it through this time so that you can experience new life on the other side of this struggle.
If you’re reading this as someone who is not suffering in this way, but you know someone who is, don’t give up on that person. Reach out with love and care and support. Your family member or friend might not be in a place where s/he even knows how to receive that, but don’t give up on them. I didn't know how to receive that from people, but those mentioned above didn’t give up on me, and that saved my life. My prayer for you is that God would work through you to shine light and hope and peace into his/her life.
If you need some more info on depression, either for yourself or someone close to you, check out this page from the National Institute of Mental Health.
Now may you be aware that God is present, that God loves and cares for you, and that the greatest love the universe has ever known is already yours.