A secret in the church…

(This was an article I wrote sometime ago and was posted on http://morethancoping.wordpress.com/)

There is a secret in the church that nobody wants to admit or talk about. That secret is depression. The truth is that many in the church suffer from depression but are afraid to talk about it. Many in the pulpit suffer from depression but won’t talk about it. There is a stigma attached to depression. If you admit to suffering, there has got to be some secret sin in your life that you are not dealing with or you have a lack of faith. Unfortunately, Job’s comforters are alive and well in the church.

I am not a “professional.” I am not a psychologist, or a Psychiatrist, or a Psychoanalyst; I am a Christian of 38 years and a full time pastor of 10 years. And I suffer from depression.

My depression started as an adolescent and even after becoming a believer at age 20, continued. I have had times where I could “feel” my depression physically. And yet it was only discovered in the last few years that depression can indeed affect you physically. There were years where I rarely rejoiced. Not because I did not want to, but because I simply could not. As a pastor I felt great shame regarding my depression. After all, pastors don’t get depressed. They have arrived; they are above such things; God is using them! In public, I hid it very well. In private, I could not hide it.

My depression manifested itself often in withdrawal, which is a common symptom of depression. Also, agitation (which is a nice word for anger). And yes, I often took my anger out on those who love me the most, my wife and children (a fact that still causes me great shame and regret to this day). I never beat or abused them, but all of my interaction with them was colored in anger.

Now as a pastor, I believe that there are two sources of depression: 1) Spiritual, and 2), Physical. Spiritual Depression is in the realm of the spiritual and its source is demonic. There is an unseen warfare going on behind the scenes, a battle being waged between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Paul the Apostle wrote of this, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV). While the enemy of our faith cannot take us away from the Hand of God (John 10:28-29), what he tries to do is to take away the victory we have in Christ. Jesus has overcome the devil and destroyed his works (I John 3:8). We are victors because of our faith in Jesus (I John 5:4-5). Satan seeks to take away our victory, often by accusing us of things we either have not done, or by things we have already been forgiven of (false guilt). He seeks to temp us then condemns us for being tempted. And really, there is no sin in being tempted (remember, Jesus was tempted in Matthew 4, and yet is without sin, II Corinthians 5:21). The sin enters in when we act on that temptation. Often he accuses God before us because of our circumstances. How often have we heard, “If God really loved you, He wouldn’t…” (you can fill in the blank). We give in to spiritual depression when we take our eyes off of Jesus and put them on our circumstances (Remember, Peter walked on the water; he didn’t sink until he took his eyes off of Jesus, Matthew 14:28-29). The cure of spiritual depression is to put your eyes back on Jesus. When we take our eyes off of Jesus we lose perspective; when we put our eyes back upon Jesus we regain a proper prospective. Now, often that is not easy to do and I don’t mean to sound trite. For me, depression is a daily struggle. Sometimes I walk in victory, sometimes I don’t. It is a daily struggle.

Physical depression is often referred to as “Mental Illness.” Lest you think I have started from a preconceived position, let me explain that for years I refused to believe that people were “Mentally ill.” I have read several books condemning the thought that someone could be mentally ill. I could argue with the best of them. However, physical depression is very real. It has it source in a chemical imbalance in the brain that alters thinking patterns. So, this physical illness affects the way we think. In some it has led to harming themselves, even to the point of suicide. Now I recognize that there are some who use the term “mental illness” as an excuse. But isn’t that true of most things in life? There are always those who use the legitimate legitimately. But that does not discount the fact there are those who genuinely suffer from depression.

As a pastor I continued to suffer from guilt and shame about my depression until I read “Lectures to My Students,” by Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon is referred to often as, “The Prince of Preachers.” God used him mightily during the 19th century to lead thousands to faith in Christ. His influence continues to grow as newer generations of pastors read his sermons and writings. Yet, this man used of God, suffered from debilitating depression. In chapter 9 of his book we read, “Knowing by most painful experience what deep depression of spirit means, being visited therewith at seasons by no means few or far between, I thought it might be consolatory to some of my brethren if I gave my thoughts thereon, that younger men might not fancy that some strange thing had happened to them when they became for a season possessed by melancholy; and that sadder men might know that one upon whom the sun has shone right joyously did not always walk in the light.” Spurgeon continues, “Excess of joy or excitement must be paid for by subsequent depressions. While the trial lasts, the strength is equal to the emergency; but when it is over, natural weakness claims the right to show itself. Secretly sustained, Jacob can wrestle all night, but he must limp in the morning when the contest is over, lest he boast himself beyond measure. Paul may be caught up to the third heaven, and hear unspeakable things, but a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him, must be the inevitable sequel.” (I could go on, but I would suggest that you read his book). Having read this, a refreshing came over me. I realized that if one such as Charles Spurgeon could suffer from depression and be used of God as he was, then perhaps there was hope for me.

Why is that that men (pastors) do not acknowledge their depression? The simple answer is pride. We want to be seen as having arrived, when in reality we are still a work in progress. Instead of acknowledging it as Spurgeon did so that others may benefit, we hide it away. And others see this pretence and suffer in silence.

Now there are always Job’s comforters, as I said earlier. These are the “super-spiritual” who have all the answers, who are above the rest of us and are too busy trying to get the speck out of our eye to see the beam in their own. Ignorance does not stop them from offering their opinion. I once heard a man say to another, “I’m glad to see that your opinion on the subject is not prejudiced by any knowledge thereof.” They leave a trial of blood wherever they go, condemning others for not being as “spiritual” as them. Often I have had to clean up after them and it is never pretty.

Depression is very real. I have suffered for years. My daughter has been diagnosed bi-polar and I have witnessed her suffer with depression first hand. I had a book in my personal library for a long time with the title, “Why am I afraid to tell you who I really am?” The answer was, because I am afraid you will think less of me. And sadly, that is often the case. We condemn what we fear; we judge what we do not know; and so, many continue to suffer in silence.

I have hope that someday God will heal me. I have prayed and until He does, His grace is sufficient for me. And if you think less of me because I suffer from depression, that’s okay. I’m not your judge and I don’t wish to argue with you. But if you ever want to just talk, you can find me at randall.slack@gmail.com.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “A secret in the church…

  1. I have resembled that remark more than I will admit…….

  2. We are all broken in one way or another. Those that aren’t are just better liars. But in our weakness, God is strong! Those who struggle with depression are also those who feel and care deeply. Lord, help! Bless you.

  3. erunner

    One of the best articles I’ve read. Your transparency is a gift and the truths you share… many in church leadership desperately need to hear. God’s best to you, Debra, and Rachel.

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