Sunday, November 21, 2010

Trusting in the Dark - Review

“Start the conversation!” That’s the main objective of Matthias Media’s new Minizine “Facing Depression Together”. I couldn’t agree more! To encourage our churches to talk more openly and transparently about the issues surrounding depression and anxiety would be extremely helpful, encouraging and quite frankly - a breath of fresh air. Bring it on!

There are three articles in this “Minizine”, the first article is written by Paul Grimmond “Trusting in the Dark”- Some biblical reflections on depression and anxiety.

Paul Grimmond is the only minister I have personally heard of admitting publicly by way of this article, to have suffered from anxiety/depression. So on behalf of all Christians struggling with depression, THANK YOU Paul, from the bottom of my heart for being so brave, honest and transparent. I’m sure there are thousands more out there given one in six people will suffer from depression at some time in their life. Surely people in fulltime Christian ministry are not immune to depression? Quite the contrary.

Do we lay people expect our Christian leaders to be “above” depression? Are our expectations of ministry leaders so distorted that they have to keep silent in their suffering because of our judgment or our misconceptions of depression? That’s as futile as saying Christian ministers should be immune to cancer or any other form of suffering!

I am 39 years old - have been a Christian for 8 years and have often found the subject of depression in church quite a taboo subject – frowned upon even. People are scared to talk openly about it for fear of being judged and also the many misconceptions and lack of understanding surrounding depression and anxiety illnesses. Also the fear of well meaning but very unhelpful advice from other Christians. (I’ll talk about this more in next week’s blog).

The stigma associated with depression seems to have improved in the secular world with recent campaigns such as “Beyond Blue” “NSW’s Mental Health Awareness Month”, “The Black Dog Institute” and “Anglicare’s Personal Helpers & Mentors Program” but from my own personal experience the stigma is still prevalent in our churches.

As a brand new Christian - 8 years ago, someone in my church said to me “be careful not to air your dirty laundry in church - they will judge you” - referring to my depression and other related issues. Another Christian said to me “depression is a very selfish illness and hurts many people you should repent”! No wonder it’s a taboo subject. No wonder it’s difficult for ministers to admit it publicly. Lets help change that culture together. Let’s just “Start The Conversations”!

Paul Grimmond writes in this article:-

“If God’s word is sufficient for us to know him and live as his people in this world, then we must trust that the gospel contains the resources required by those who are wrestling to honour God in the midst of their depression and anxiety.”

I agree - turning to God’s word and message of salvation is always a good idea and extremely helpful in any situation but I have to say we need the body of Christ too – God’s people, friendship, support, mentors, acts of service, encouragement, bearing each others burdens, a safe place to be honest and transparent without fear of judgment or unhelpful advice. We also need good psychological strategies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and sometimes medication. If God is the creator of all things he has also created CBT and Prozac. I thank God every day for my antidepressant medication. If I did not take my medication I would probably be hospitalized or dead – away from my children, family and unable to contribute anything to this world. God’s word is indeed sufficient but just praying or reading my Bible alone, does not make my depression more manageable – all of these things combined help me honour God in the midst of my depression and anxiety.

I believe there is an added layer of guilt to those suffering depression who work in full time ministry. When I’m having a “season” of depression, I reduce my workload and church ministries quite considerably sometimes completely. I don’t think our fulltime ministers have the luxury to do that in our current church culture. There seems to be this expectation for them to just keep going regardless – “sheer stubbornness” as Paul Grimmond’s friend expresses how he manages to persevere in public ministry in the midst of a depressive illness. But as a consequence, they can burn out very quickly. Perhaps we laity need to take on more responsibility to relieve that pressure and have realistic expectations of our ministers – they are not super human whether they suffer from depression or not!

“Trusting in the Dark” will be particularly encouraging to people working in fulltime ministry who have suffered depression. Paul’s honesty and personal insights into his own motives and self assessments is truly inspiring.

Here’s another very thoughtful and honest quote from Paul Grimmond’s article I could really relate to this. Unfortunately I have had to learn this the very hard way:-

“God cares about whether I am being godly in all of my life; he knows whether I am chasing the pleasure of men or his good pleasure. That is why I am now very wary about immediately answering anyone who asks me to undertake a significant commitment. I know that my overwhelming desire to please the one asking and to feel the pride that goes with undertaking a visible and important task drive me to say yes. But space for prayerful evaluation allows me to reflect on whether my commitment to the task will actually be good for my godliness and the godliness of others. Delaying my response nearly always results in a better decision.”

Delaying and praying about decisions relating to various ministry requests in church has also helped me in my recovery from depression and anxiety. Learning to say “no” without guilt is a great step towards recovery. The bible talks about seasons – sometimes my seasons with depression means I can’t implement the ministry ideas I come up with or I can’t serve others how I would like to. This can be difficult for people around me who have worked and lived with me when I am in a “well” season. All of a sudden, all productivity ceases including parenting….sometimes I see and feel the depression coming and I can implement strategies to curb it, other times it hits me like a semi-trailer!

The article also refers to a recent Canadian study:-

“….it is an accepted fact that religious involvement significantly decreased the likelihood of suicide. A recent Canadian study suggests that this decrease isn’t just because of the increased social support resulting from being part of a community?

In light of this comment, I guess I’m a walking, talking example of how the Holy Spirit has worked in me to keep me alive. Occasionally I still have mild thoughts of suicide – eg “I’d be better off dead - I am such a burden to everyone, I can’t stand the pain anymore” but God’s love for me through His Holy Spirit (my helper) turns me back to His precious Word – like balm to my soul. Let it be balm to yours too.

The eternal God is your refuge and his everlasting arms are under you”. Deuteronomy 33:27

Jesus said “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28

Facing Depression Together….together let’s just Start The Conversations – today!

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