For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with bouts of depression. These times of depression never get bad enough for medication and I almost always know why I am depressed and eventually get around to doing what I need to do to deal with the depression. I am not depressed all the time or even for the majority of the time but tend to get depressed in reaction to disappointment or fatigue or overwork But it is depression and during those times, I am depressed and can be somewhat miserable to be around especially for those closest to me.
I have never kept this reality a secret, not even in the churches I have pastored. But one time in my ministry, I decided that it was time to deal with the reality of my life. I was preaching a series of sermons dealing with integrating faith into life and decided that it was time that my struggles with depression became public property, instead of something that some knew and others perhaps suspected. So, in the sermon, I talked about my struggles and asked for the members of the congregation to keep me in their prayers.
I would like to say that from that day on, my depression disappeared and the congregation was also liberated from the bonds of my depression–but neither statement would be true. In fact, in many ways, things pretty much went along the same as before the sermon. But there were some differences, differences that did help both me and the congregation.
While I had never made a secret of the fact that sometimes I got down, I did feel freer telling people that I was having a bad period. I could be more open about it–I wasn’t looking for sympathy and people in the church didn’t take it that way–it seemed to me that my telling people I was having a bad day was received in much the same way as they received the news that someone’s arthritis was bad that day. People heard, they expressed real concern and then we go on with whatever we were focused on at that point in time.
I did notice that people, at least some of them, felt freer to talk about their struggles with things like depression, anxiety and so on. A few came to see me for some pastoral counselling and others expressed gratitude and relief because of my sermon–they realized they weren’t alone and that in itself was a help.
There were a few comments dealing with the surprise that I would talk about the depression from the pulpit but no one suggested I had done wrong and most said they appreciated it. My overall ministry didn’t get worse–members of the congregation didn’t begin looking for a pastor without problems; droves of people didn’t leave the church; I didn’t start getting left-over anti-depressants in the mail.
People did mention they were praying for me; occasionally someone would ask how I was doing; now and then someone would ask if they could tell a friend struggling with depression to come and see me.
There were outward and visible signs of the effects of the sermon–they weren’t strong signs that changed the course of our church and ministry but they there present and they did have a positive effect on ministry.
Probably the strongest and most valuable effect was on me. I was free to be me–I didn’t have to be the pastor who had the answers and was above things like depression. I was the pastor but I am also human, something we all knew but now could see in a different light. I could be the pastor whether I was depressed or not–and the congregation could pray for me very specifically, just as they wanted me to pray for them.
The sermon also strengthened our ability as a church to be the church, a place where all of us were working together to help each other grow and develop in the faith. I might know more about how to interpret some passage of the Bible but some of them knew better how to deal with depression and we both helped each other by offering ourselves honestly and openly to God and each other.
May the peace of God be with you.