THEM: They say pastors struggle with depression. Do you?
ME: I stopped struggling with depression many years ago. Now I embrace it.
Pessimism is in my DNA. Depression symptoms sound like results from my personality test.
At the same time, I believe in hope. Love hopes all things. I love people, but not in a gushy, sentimental way. I love by trying to do be helpful. You would think people would enjoy having a pastor like that.
You would be incorrect. I once shared some statistics with the church board: the more hours I spend with someone, the more likely they are to leave the church. I had a chart. People I “help” get mad and leave.
The church has increased my depression a hundredfold. I maintain hope, but my hope is not in people; my hope is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe any given Sunday could wake people up to see the truth and change their lives.
Instead, every Sunday I pour my heart and soul into my message and wait expectantly for something to happen. So far, every Sunday has been followed by either criticism, empty compliments, or total silence. Even if someone does exuberantly respond to the message on Sunday, by Thursday the exuberance will be gone.
Well, OK, maybe not “nothing.” Lots of people have gotten mad and left. They leave without saying anything. They just disappear and make me track them down and hound them for a reason why they left. Then they tell me how happy they are since they’ve left.
It’s depressing. Week in and week out, to have the only feedback be nothing, punctuated occasionally by people getting mad and leaving. Fun times.
I used to think ministerial depression was some sort of problem; now I’ve come to realize it probably means I’m doing my job.
Most of the well-known ministers in the Bible wanted to die. Moses did in Numbers 11:15. Elijah did in 1 Kings 19:4. Jeremiah was fed up in Jeremiah 20:14-18. Job did in Job 7:15. Jonah did in Jonah 4:3. It sure seems like it’s what Paul says in Philippians 1:23.
All of these faithful servants of God felt like dying and getting it over with. Ministry is tough. Love is tough. It sucks the life out of you.
I used to wonder why the prophets called their message “the burden of the Lord.” I do not wonder anymore. “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart,” says Paul due to his love for his people.
I know there are legitimate dangers with depression, and suicide is not the answer (all of these guys continued living after sharing their lament with God and it should also be noted that they were asking God to kill them!). But modern Christianity is too happy.
Happiness is the result of not being in tune with reality. This is one messed up world, and if you take upon yourself the task of helping hurting people, you will be depressed. This isn’t all bad. We follow the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to have the same humble mind as His.
Remember how Isaiah describes the Messiah? He is “a man of sorrow acquainted with grief.” If you follow Him, don’t be surprised if you feel sorrow and grief. To be honest, if you are not feeling sorrow and grief over others, that’s an indicator that you don’t love them. If that’s the case, get out of the ministry.
Don’t be afraid of feeling bad. Yes, you can go overboard on negative feelings, so don’t wallow in self-pity and self-destructive whining. But don’t run from pain and sadness. Embrace it, take it to the Lord like the Psalmist does, and learn from it.
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.