Faith & Insight: Depression and our response
Are you living a life worth following? As a pastor in our community, I want to be known as someone who loves God with all of my heart, as someone who serves his family well and has never sacrificed them on the alter of ministry. And, I desire to be known — not for the things I am against, but rather for the things I am for — that all may come to know Jesus Christ as their personal savior and Lord and be committed to a life of growing in Christ and in the knowledge of God’s holy word.
However, I also know that there is a great problem amongst the believing world and within the church. So then, in light of recent events (the suicide of a well known pastor this month), I want to share something with other disciples of Christ: I am a pastor who struggles with anxiety and anxiety-based depression. I need to take medicine every day. Without it I really struggle to process things correctly and this has an impact on virtually every aspect of my life. One’s anxiety or depression is not always situationally based, therefore I cannot simply be cured by praying harder or having more faith.
As a pastor in my community, I deal with people that are in the middle of addiction, affairs, anger, doubt, disbelief, gossip, and grief — along with a host of other things. The last thing that I would do is to tell them: “Just have more faith in God with your struggle.” Yet, many call into question the faith of those pastors or believers who struggle with depression or anxiety. For some of us, we have chemical imbalances or we have deep life issues that, although we are committed to working on by God’s grace, require time and the right tools along the way to help us experience healing and move forward, daily, by God’s grace.
I share this because there needs to be an awareness that this is a very real thing in ministry, in the church, and in our communities. This is something that a lot of us fight every day, and many ministry leaders battle each weekend when we step down from the pulpit and seek to live out Biblical truth each day.
So in light of recent events like that pastor’s struggle with depression and his suicide this month, and with October being called “Pastor Appreciation Month,” I ask you to be the people of God who make sure their pastor knows you are praying for them. And, be the people of God who will, with authenticity, help those struggling with issues of the heart and mental health issues as well. Don’t stay silent. Pray. Encourage. Invest in real relationships that speak louder than the gauntlet of depressing and doubt-filled thoughts.
I spend a lot of time with other pastors in my community and I can say this of most of them: they are on their knees in prayer — praying for you and this community, daily investing in kingdom-minded work that often takes years to bear fruit. At every turn along the way, there will still be elements of discouragement. There are constantly people walking away from the church, angry without cause, silently critical, yet your pastor still prays for these people with a heart that, often times, is broken and hurt and confused.
I say all of this from personal experience. Never think that a short but genuine word of encouragement, or a simple email or note is going to cause anyone to get a huge head. If anything, it might be exactly what we need at that moment, so let the Holy Spirit use you to encourage those who are broken and hurting, including your pastor.
For those struggling with anxiety, depression and other aspects of mental health — there is hope. His name is Jesus. Cling to him. Run to his holy word and rest in his promises for your life, for all of our lives. Don’t give up. We are not weak. We are not weak in faith. We are like everyone else: sinners in need of grace, mercy and encouragement from God the father and from God’s people. If you need help, reach out. Tell someone. As something Pastor Jarrid Wilson often said: “Hope gets the last word!”
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal thoughts, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
Nick Emery is pastor at Hope Crossing Community Church.