Depression 101 for Pastors

I visited a church this morning on my home church quest at the recommendation of a trusted relative.

And it took a lot of internal strength not to get up and leave in the middle of the sermon.

The pastor had the audacity to say that if you have depression you’re putting your emotions ahead of the Holy Spirit.  That if you wanted to really follow Christ, you needed to work to put the Spirit ahead of your emotions.

 

This, of course, is complete and total crap for someone who has clinical depression.

After an initial wave of anger, I fell into a state of feelings sad for the people this pastor is going to hurt with his uninformed position.

Now, before I get deeper, I am well aware there are people who may have seasons of depression, or feel down, who try to milk it for the sympathy of others.  I don’t live in a vacuum and know folks will try to gain sympathy and claiming heavy depression is a way to get it.  I’m not talking about people who don’t really struggle with clinical depression and use “down times” for attention.

I’m talking about those of us who have clinically diagnosed depression.

We aren’t faking it for attention.

We aren’t sitting around placing it as an idol before God.

We’re suffering from something that is similar to diabetes, cancer or a broken leg.

Something in our body isn’t 100% the way the manufacturer intended because we’re in a fallen world.

 

This pastor today was similar to many other pastors I’ve heard over the years.  Feeling down?  Just pray.  Struggling with depressive feelings?  Crack open that Bible!   If you’re not healed, you’re not praying enough!

I’ve struggled with clinical depression by entire life.  I spent MANY years avoiding treatment for it because I was told to just pick myself up, or cheer up or after coming to Christ, “pray more.”  I spent well over a decade after coming to Christ allowing depression to steer much of my life even when I was praying hard begging God to take the depression away.  To take away the pain.  To drive away thoughts of self-harm.  To drive away the idea that the world would be better off without me.

All of those prayers went unanswered.

So, Mr. Pastor, was I praying to my depression then?

No.  And it’s foolish of you to claim I was putting depression ahead of God in those moments.

 

Pastor, I’m just one of MANY people in your congregations struggling with depression for whom God has not delivered us.  I’m seeing a counselor and on medication now for it and while I’m better, I still have my episodes where it’s a struggle to just get through the day.  It’s like I’m going through the day wrapped in a heavy, wet blanket and the floor is made of Mississippi mud.

Just recently I had a night where I was really not in a good place.  I was on my meds, so it’s not like I wasn’t going through with my treatment plan.  Yet I felt like I was at the end of the rope.

And I was praying.  Hard.  I was seeking God for hours asking for His help.  His peace.  Called out to the Spirit for comfort.

I barely made it through the night.

And I can say without any doubt, I was not deciding to let my emotions run my life.  I wasn’t letting my depression rule me.

I was fighting.

I was fighting the way a Christian is supposed to do it;  pray, seek God, find His peace.  Know that He’s there, that He’s somehow working for my good and even this long dark night will somehow bring a benefit in the end.

 

I know there is much debate about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” that he mentions in 2 Corinthians 12.  I’m not looking to rehash the whole “what was it” debate; I want to focus on the fact that Paul said it drew him closer to God, made him realize that He needs God in his life daily and that without God he could not do anything.

So considering that, Pastor, could you accept the possibility that depression could be a thorn in the flesh to a Christian who is continually seeking God?

I know that my moments of weakness from depression make me turn to God.  I, like Paul, in those moments know that God is the only One who can come through and help me.

So you want to tell me that in those moments, when I feel the world is falling around me and I’m crying out to my Father in heaven, that I’m not putting the Spirit first?

 

Please, Pastor, if you have never really struggled with clinical depression, consider that it might not be as simple as a “suck it up and get over it” situation.

Trust me.  If that worked, we would do it.

And it doesn’t.

So please, don’t stand in the pulpit and make sweeping declarations that those with depression are somehow weak in their faith and choosing their flesh over God.

You just don’t know that’s speaking truth.

Jason

Author: Jason

Share This Post On
  • I hear ya Jason. Even though I don’t suffer from clinical depression, I know those who have. Even though I have never struggled with depression up to this juncture in my life, I have to be careful never to “never.” I pray I am never this calloused to say something so asinine as this pastor said. I would hurt way too many people in my fellowship if I did. And from that there really is no recovery.

    • That’s because you’re a good man, Bill. 🙂