I posted a link to an article on pastors and depression last Saturday. I received this message in response.
The person who wrote this is one of the best people I know. I’m grateful for his message, and I benefited by reading it, just as I have books like Spurgeon’s Sorrows. It’s such an important issue, and one that can’t be ignored.
Here’s his response:
Thom Rainer cannot possibly reduce all the causes of ministerial depression into five reasons and in one article list them so that all pastors who suffer with depression can find the reasons for theirs. And I was right. But we live in a day when all of life’s problems and solutions can be articulated in a list numbering anywhere from 1-7 and totaling less than three pages, because as we know, the longer the article the less likely people are to read it and one of the purposes of writing is not to offer anything substantial, helpful, edifying or instructive. It is to increase the number of hits. Sometimes there might even be 10 reasons for the world’s ills but that is rare. The title of Rainer’s article tells us that there are five reasons for pastoral depression and then also tells us that it is going to let us know why pastors do not talk about their depression with others. Then it is going to “explain the precipitating factors to depression”. The article has 509 words.
I want to point out that the reason I do not talk about my depression is not mentioned. This may not be too surprising given my proclivity to disagreeing with almost everyone, and the aforementioned length of the article. To be fair, my reason for not talking about my depression might be able to find a resting place perhaps in point number 5 of the article, loneliness. But loneliness is not so much a cause of my depression as it is the result of talking about it to other people. In other words, talking to others has, so far, just made things worse.
The reason I do not talk about my depression is that I have tried that before. It has never worked except for the one time I went to a paid professional to get her take on things. She had to listen with understanding. It’s her job.
The last time I tried to talk about my depression to someone who wasn’t being paid to listen was around ten years ago. Having breakfast with a couple of fellow pastors for our regular monthly conflab, I was asked how I was. In the millisecond it takes for words to leave the mouth of an inquirer and reach the ears of their target and then form an answer, I had to decide whether to answer the question honestly or just give the usual meaningless, and perhaps desired response. No time to formulate a well articulated response. Just a milli-second to decide what to do. These are my friends. These are men with whom I talked of ministry, prayed, made plans for future mutual evangelistic efforts. These are people who want me in their circle. These are guys who care and understand.
So, I answered with brutal honesty. “Lower than a snake’s belly. Irritable. Short tempered. Wanting to throw the ringing phone through the wall. Wanting to yell at counselees that they should just get their act together. Living for the next set of holidays to come. Crying over nothing”. I spilled my guts. These were my friends. But, it seems, you can only be part of the influential and significant and successful if you do not have such matters going on inside your disturbed mind. And if you do, please keep them to yourself.
My problem was analyzed rather quickly, almost like a blog that analyzes, concludes and solves problems in 509 words. The conclusions were that I must be hiding a sin, perhaps a biggie, I am too proud, and I was too long grieving a friend who had taken his own life. Breakfast ended, probably in less than 509 words. I had, I suspect, ruined the cordial atmosphere that made these get togethers so enjoyable. There was a pall over the whole meal and I had caused it. We went back to one of our cars and prayed. That was the last time I had breakfast with either one of them. I have never been invited back. (Yes, I have attempted to talk about this to each of them.)
Loneliness is not the cause of my depression. It is the result. Why do I not talk about my depression and inner mental struggles with others? Because people do not want to hear about them. Because I am yet to do so and be received well. I am yet to give it a try and leave the meeting feeling like I was heard and respected and sympathized with. Is this pride? Perhaps. Is it bitterness and resentment? Maybe. Is it self-centered and self-focused? Very possibly. But if that is what it is then it will do no good to put those horrible traits out on the clothes-line for all to see. Better just to hang them up to dry over the stove in the house and pray that no one comes to visit.
I believe that in my case my warped mind is what God uses for me to serve Him. It helps me be a better pastor than if I were mentally healthy. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I rejoice that He does not look for health and skill and talent when He calls people to salvation and service. We serve in weakness and pain. It is then that we are strong. There is coming a day when my mind will be perfectly healthy. Until then I will serve Him with the one I have and look forward to that time when I will see the good that He was able to accomplish through the feeble efforts of a sick psyche. And I will bow before Him in stunned amazement at the fact that the skill of the master woodsman enables Him to use even very dull axes — even when others thought otherwise.