Dang. My husband does have a unique knack for cutting to the heart of me without even batting an eye. I really like that about him.
Hi, my name is Serenity, and I live a blessed life. I also live with depression. The two do not cancel each other out. One is not a "cure" for the other. And the other does not disqualify anyone from spiritual leadership, no matter what the bumper-sticker theologians might try to tell you during the next "wounded people" branding session of the church gossip committee.
How do I know depression and Christianity are not a disqualifying mix for spiritual leadership? Well, for one thing, the Bible tells me so. See, I can name five major examples of biblical depression at the drop of a hat—Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, Jonah, and David, to begin with—and even your average non-believer will recognize at least one of those guys as a major player in the history of the faith. Four big-time prophets and one greatest king; God's appointed mouthpieces and a man after His own heart. God did not deem any one of those spiritual leaders unfit for service—not even Jonah, who did everything in his power to get out of doing God's work. Not once do we ever see one of these "wounded people" scolded in Scripture for wishing they were dead, cursing the day they were born, or feeling utterly and completely forsaken.
Even Jonah, bitterly set in self and spite even after his radical reorientation experience, receives only tender questioning from the Lord in the middle of his wretched funk at the end. Instead of condemnation for these depressive souls, Scripture shows us the raw and honest confession of their emotional devastation bringing them into vital relationship with the Lord, where we see reaffirming acknowledgement of God's power and sovereignty in their lives.
Jeremiah, Isaiah, David... we quote these depressive biblical characters all the time to comfort each other in our "normal" hardships. So why is depression automatically equated with spiritual sickness? Was Elijah unfit for service when he prayed that he might die? No... an angel came and brought him food and told him to get up because he still had work to do. God met him right in the middle of his weakness and strengthened him for the road ahead. How often do I hear the Lord urging me in my times of weakness, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you”? (I Kings 19:7) Why are we so phobic about probing into the places that hurt within the Church? And how dare we deem only those who look "healthy" as fit for service?
Even Jesus, carrying the weight of the world, admitted to His closest disciples, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38). Was Jesus "spiritually sick" at that point? When He went to the Father in earnest prayer, falling on His face in the dirt to cry out His despair over His purpose in life, we see no one in the Bible recoiling in disapproval or rebuking, "If you had more faith, God would deliver you from this." Instead, we see Jesus praying His heart out. Then we see Him getting back up with resolve to face His cross with the words, "May your will be done" (Matthew 26:42).
Here's the thing... when Jesus was at rock bottom, He didn't keep it to Himself. He shared with His three most trusted friends, "Look, guys, I'm so depressed right now, I could die."
But it's funny how the d-word will change a conversation in the church community. I can tell my story of abuse and addiction and recovery, and that's all inspiring and cool because believers get to say, "God delivered you from that!" at the end. But when I share that I've struggled with depression since I was 11—and that I still deal with it, in one way or another, at some level, on a daily basis—then the conversation gets strained and quiet and weird. Because God has not delivered me from that.
It would be neat if I could say, "And now that's all better, too!" But it's not. It's a current reality and a real struggle in my faith life. And most Christians don't know what to do with that part of my story. That's nobody's fault. It's just part of the reality. And part of the struggle.
October is also the month when seasonal depression kicks in. I always smile and say, "Yup, I can tell, it's hibernation time," but by then, I'm already in trouble. My body starts winding down and bracing for the long Upper Midwest winter to come, and before you know it, we're not just talking a little case of the "fall blues" here. My chemical balance does not respond well to changing seasons. A slight shift can turn into a major plummet. I start noticing the old patterns of despair and longing and hair-trigger tears. I start feeling irritable and inconsolable. Mornings become bleak and terrible. I'm praying, "Lord, please help me" just to get out of bed and get through the shower. My dishes sit in the sink unwashed. My laundry piles up along with my visions of changing the world and making a difference. My fragile attempts at human bonding seem unanimously met with rejection and insensitivity, while the rest of the world spins on obliviously.
In the midst of depression, life becomes a process of setting small goals and celebrating simple victories. I got up on time? Thank God. I washed my face? Thank God. I brushed my teeth? Thank God. I clothed and fed myself? Thank God. I can face the day now? Okay. Thank God. This is called "managing depression," Serenity style.
This season in particular, I also became acutely aware that October is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Not because I was planning to commit suicide, but because every-flippin'-where I looked, I was seeing articles and blog posts and email newsletters about learning how to talk about depression as a community. And... I have been led by the Spirit long enough now that when I notice the same message is being spoken loud and clear everywhere I go, I realize it's because I'm supposed to stop and pay attention.
Now, I've probably heard about Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in some form or fashion in years past, but this year, it really grabbed my heart in a vital way. That's because for the last year or so, I've been doing some deep work with the Lord on the subject of opening up about depression as a reality in my own life. I started talking about it in recovery meetings. I started talking about it with my husband. I started talking about it with a couple of friends. I started noticing how much I really didn't feel open to talk about it with my church.
And that is really alarming to me. Because let's face it... my relationship with Christ empowers me and enables me, yet my relationship with His people can sometimes trigger the deepest feelings of doubt, loneliness, and insignificance of all. And that's not the way it's supposed to be. We're supposed to take refuge in the church... right? We're supposed to be safe here... right? If we don't feel that way, it's our fault... right? So we don't want to tell anybody that sometimes we can stand right in the middle of a crowd of God's people and feel like we're completely alone in the world, but the truth is people feel that feeling all the time, and we lose a hell of a lot of them because of it.
So for me, throughout this particular October, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month seemed to come as the Spirit's capstone on the topic. In Christian media and Christian blogs, I started sensing a frankness and a vulnerability about some individuals' approaches to depression in our faith communities that, although still stumbling and uncertain, heartened my spirit with a determination to try. I read things like "Find Your Way Out of the Dark," "4 Myths Christians Need to Stop Believing About Depression," "God Uses Broken People," and "God in My Loneliness," and I rejoiced. It did my heart so much good to see these folks breaking the seal on this ugly bottle of darkness we've kept stored up for so much of our lives, and more—to see people cracking it open in light of our salvation and discussing it in that context.
I read "I Am a Love Warrior and So I Kept Living," and I cried. Then I used that blog post to share with a close and dear friend, a friend who is working through a different set of wounds and weaknesses altogether, what it's like for me to never be able to "un-see" the exit door now that I've seen it. And we now understand each other in a way we didn't before.
I read "I Don't Need to 'Pray About It,' I Need to Go to Therapy," and I giggled at the headline. And then I finally worked up the resolve to schedule another counseling session to face the inconvenient pride-smashing of giving this stupid thing the time of day again. And I used that headline to express to my husband why I need to seek a professional outlet outside of our church in order to speak frankly on this topic without upsetting any apple carts.
When we start talking about this thing, we develop a vocabulary to confront it together. So let's do that.
I haven't always accepted Jesus in my life, so believe me, I can see the difference. The difference is I still think about destroying myself sometimes, but I am not destroying myself anymore. That's a big difference.
You know what else? I went to see my shrink yesterday, and there is nothing embarrassing or disqualifying about that statement.
My counselor and I talked about leading from vulnerability. We talked about the way God makes strengths out of weaknesses. We talked about the relational church that is so badly, badly needed in the hurting lives of people who are struggling with faith or struggling with their relationship with their church.
We also talked about self-care and productivity and vision-mapping this idea of mine... this idea about blogging and writing devotionals. Then I went home and talked to my husband about it, and now here I am writing to tell you about it. And there are no deep or profound answers here, folks. I have no neatly structured application points or pre-planned reflection questions for you today. I didn't even find any particularly relevant Bible verses in my morning reading to tie cleverly into this first blog post, aside from the same main examples that everybody always points to when we start talking about biblical depression.
I'm just over here reaching at the Word for myself, preaching to my own demons, finding my daily reprieve in the reminders that Christ always asks me to step right into the middle of my weaknesses and to look at Him instead. Sometimes, you just get up and eat and then go on for another 40 days. Sometimes, the healing hurts worse than the wounding. Sometimes, "feeling better" has absolutely nothing to do with healthy spirituality... with the rich, deep, excruciating joy of devoting myself to what is good when I'd rather just destroy myself... with the reaffirmation I experience every time I can't see anything but Jesus to show me any different. Jesus shows me "May your will be done" is always the answer to the rest of it, and I've still got work to do.
How do we start talking about hard things, Church? Well, somebody has to go first. So where do I start? Why don't I start where I'm at?
Next >>> Putting Ourselves Out There: The Ministry of Vulnerability