Your pastor might have depression.

adult art conceptual dark

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

So yesterday I presented a paper on depression in the ministry. I shared my story as part of the paper. All of it: My struggles with worth, with shame, with cutting, with laziness, all of it. I talked about the need for Gospel, the need to admit needing help, the need to have someone to talk to. I talked about needing Jesus, not “just” for salvation but for our infirmities and our sorrows, too.

And afterward, pastor after pastor approached me with thanks and asked for more.

What did your counselor do with you?”

How do you find someone to confide in?”

What kind of music helps you?”

More approached with their own stories. I won’t share them here for respect for their privacy, except to say that depression in the ministry is not unique to me. These stories shattered me. So many of my brothers thought they were alone and broken and had to hide.

This is a call to you. If you are not a minister or you serve on a ministry team, help your ministers. There are two huge ways you can do that: (more…)

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Review: I Trust When Dark My Road

I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression
by Todd A. Peperkorn

Pastor Peperkorn was a pastor. That meant he should have everything together. That meant he shouldn’t struggle with things like depression. And then his life fell apart. On Good Friday, he considered suicide even as he considered Jesus’s death for him. How could something like this happen to a pastor? In I Trust When Dark My Road Pastor Peperkorn writes his true story of struggling with depression while in the ministry while addressing the topic from a confessional Lutheran standpoint. Each chapter ends with a prayer and discussion questions.

This week I’ve read four books dealing with depression from different angles (see the last reviews I’ve posted this past month). This book by far shows me Jesus best. While it didn’t touch my emotions as much as Courage, Dear Heart, it encouraged me the most. While a large chunk of that is the determined focus on Jesus, a large part of it is that my journey mirrored Peperkorn’s, at least in part. I understood exactly where he was coming from, though my depression was not nearly as debilitating. My depression could have been that bad so, so easily, though. (more…)

Review: When God Becomes My Enemy

When God Becomes My Enemy: The Theology of the Complaint Psalms
by Ingvar Floysvik

And then there are the times that God attacks. There are the times when God has disappeared when he’s needed. There are the times when he is silent. And there are the times when he leads the onslaught on your life. What then? In When God Becomes My Enemy, Ingvar Floysvik (The o’s supposed to have a line through it but I can’t figure out how to do that) walks through psalms that wrestle with this seeming discrepancy between how God speaks about himself and how he acts. How did the ancient Hebrews deal with it? What can we learn?

First off, this is a professional book. Large chunks of the book are text studies of the original Hebrew. It includes quotes in Greek, German, and French, as well as English. The Hebrew and the Greek I could follow, but I had to skip the German and French quotations and I do feel like I missed out because of that.

Floysvik does a fantastic job analyzing the psalms in question. He doesn’t go in depth with every psalm that wrestles with God’s enmity, but he picks Psalms 6, 44, 74, 88, and 90. (I was a little disappointed he didn’t tackle Psalm 13, a personal favorite of mine, but he does address it as one of the complaint psalms.) He shows a dangerous truth: God will at least seemingly turn even on those who listen to him and obey him. This seems complete at odds with who God is. Isn’t he supposed to protect those who trust him? (more…)

This is the Time for Justice

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Esther puts her hand against the wood paneling of the door to the throne room. She whispers to herself, “If I perish… I perish.” She pushes the door open.

The king’s guards turn and draw their blades. The king has summoned no one. The only reason anyone would have to come in here without being summoned is to assassinate the king. The law is clear: Kill any uninvited guest.

Esther holds her hands out, showing she is unarmed. Her only chance is the mercy of the king. The guards tense to strike.

And Xerxes extends the golden scepter. The only thing that would keep any uninvited guest safe. “What do you want, my queen? Ask it, and it’s yours.” Xerxes smiles. His queen. The one he chose. His queen.

Esther tries not to faint. She heaves a deep breath before answering, “Come to a banquet I have prepared for you today. You. And Haman.” She gestures to the man sitting at her husband’s right hand. She gestures to the man who wants her murdered. “Come to my banquet. That’s all I want.”

Haman. The man who had masterminded a new law: On a certain day in the twelfth month, it will be legal to kill any Jew and take their possessions. He doesn’t know the queen is Jewish.

But neither does the king. (more…)

Review: Courage, Dear Heart

Courage, Dear Heart: Letters to a Weary World
by Rebecca K. Reynolds

The world is broken. I am broken. In so many ways, I recognize what is wrong with me, in me, and around me. Into this setting Rebecca Reynolds pens nine letters of encouragement, of understanding, of heaving deep sighs with you and for you. She brings comfort that is not surface as she points to true Comfort.

This little book sighs with comfort. The first letter had me in tears.

Before M [the author’s adopted son], I didn’t understand what fierce love God holds for those he has adopted into his family. I didn’t realize that when he pursues us,he knows all our damage and our defects – and he knows exactly where we rank on every system humans use to determine our value. He stars straight into all of the world’s opinions of us and yet proclaims that we are the wanted ones. No matter how anybody has let us down, hurt us, forgotten us, we are still longed for and beloved children. (39, emphasis in original)

Reynolds excels at using story to illuminate and make new truths that I have known for many years. The opening letter about rejection begins with a retelling of Jacob and his wives from Leah’s perspective. I hurt for her as I never had before. We hear about the history of Reynold’s adopted son. We hear about friends struggling with cancer. And throughout, Reynolds brings comfort. (more…)

I will fight for you.

Determined

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Nemo’s dad is a coward. He has been scarred by life; he lost his wife and all his children but Nemo, one little fish with a bad fin. And when Nemo is kidnapped by a human and put in a fish tank, all hope is lost. Nemo gives up. No one will come to rescue him.

Until he hears that his father is fighting for him.

Tonight we watched Finding Nemo with my family. The boys were jumping up and down with excitement. My oldest daughter watched, enraptured. My newest daughter lay on my chest sleeping.

The animators captured Nemo’s expression perfectly. The second he realizes how far his dad is going, he is awed. My dad? He’s going that far for me? And there is a sense of hope, of amazement, of love.

And as I look at my children, their gazes locked on the screen, I want to tell them: “I will fight for you.”

I want to be Marlin. I want to be the dad that has crossed the ocean to save his child. (more…)

This is the Time to Stand

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

My queen!” one of the eunuchs rushes to Esther. “My queen! Your friend. The one out in the gate. Mordecai? He’s going to be punished!”

Esther sits up. “What? What’s happened?”

He’s wearing sackcloth, your majesty. Anyone who’s mourning isn’t allowed in the king’s gate. I tried warning him, but he’s still just sitting there in the gate crying out!”

What could be wrong? Why would Mordecai do this? Esther looks at the eunuch. “Go to the market. Purchase him some appropriate clothes. Bring them to him. He won’t refuse a gift.”

Yes, your majesty.” He rushes out. Esther paces the harem. What’s wrong with Uncle Mordecai? What’s happened that he’s mourning, and so loudly, and in a place that will kill him? (more…)

This is the Time to Honor

Esther pic - final - fade out edges

His adopted daughter is queen. Mordecai still misses her. He waits by the gate for word from Esther. One day a trumpet blasts. Every noble passing in and and out of the gate, all the guards, everyone drops to the ground on their faces. And as they do, a man in regal robes and a massive black curly beard passes through.

Mordecai looks at all the people groveling on the ground. Clearly this noble passing through is some big-shot, someone very full of themselves. Now Mordecai has no problem showing respect, but he’s got a big problem worshiping anyone but Creator God. And these people aren’t just showing respect. At least, that’s not what it looks like. So Mordecai stays on his feet.

A man with a perfect oiled beard and orange-colored robes stands up next to him after the noble has passed. “What’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you bow down to Haman?” (more…)

Review: When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend

When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend: Reflections on life and ministry with depression
by Mark Meynell

Depression defies description. When in the midst of darkness, finding words to grasp doesn’t work well. Mark Meynell attempts to chart a course through depression, talking about its causes, what the experience is like, and how he has so far survived it. He also talks about how is depression changed his ministry forever.

This is an emotional book. Meynell walked me into his cave, and I saw so many reflections of my own depression. His takes a different form, but there were enough similarities I was shaken more than once. He takes more than half of the book describing what depression is like, describing shame, guilt, wanting to be invisible, longing for intimacy and fearing it all at once. While this part of the book wasn’t particularly useful for me, I think it could be very useful for someone trying to grasp either their own depression or that of a friend.

I appreciated that throughout this section of the book, Meynell repeatedly turns to God’s promises for comfort. He’s blunt in saying that repeating these promises rarely help in the season of darkness. He also talked about all the ways so many people try to help that actually hurt during those seasons. Meynell also outlines how to actually help someone who is going through a season of darkness.

In that same section, he also points to numerous psalms. I cheered more than once at his choices as psalms that have also comforted me and gave me a voice. He points out that by simply including the psalms, God legitimizes the wrestling. After all, if God didn’t want us talking about the darkness we experience, he wouldn’t have included it in his Word! (One minor point: his treatment of Psalm 22 may indicate that he does not believe it to be Messianic prophecy, but that may simply be picky reading on my part.)

The last few chapters focus on how depression affects the ministry. The book before this was good but not anything that made me say, “This book is amazing.” The last chapter, though, hit home in all the right ways. He talks about why depression can even help ministry:

He is unashamed of his weakness. Why? It is because his strength, as well as his identity and purpose, all derive from the security he has discovered in Christ. Christ brings the forgiveness for his guilt, the acceptance that heals his shame, the strength that assuages his insecurities. Paul does not derive his sense of worth, nor understand his identity, from either his role in ministry, or from afflictions and weakness. In short, the thorn keeps him humble, while God’s grace frees him from pretense. … If I can put it starkly, we should learn to do weakness and failure well. (180)

I have found that for as much of the weight of the curse I feel when depression strikes, it has forced me to rely on Christ and not myself. I find that my ability to love those around me increases, as I am not holding them to a higher standard of what should be, but can be broken with them. Meynell addresses all these concerns, and it’s good to know I am not alone.

He also wrestles with whether or not ministers should be open with their depression, and he urges ministers to be cautiously open. Don’t air all your dirty laundry, but at least your leadership should know where you struggle. That transparency often brings people closer together, and shows that you rely on Jesus as much as you urge everyone else to. I am thankful for his arguments here.

The appendices of the book may be worth the price of the book by themselves. Meynell sums up the need for self care and some ways to do it, also listing resources that are easily found online. Then he lists books, albums, and poetry that have all aided him. This list comes with great notes. I plan on ordering a number of the books he talked about. He lists two pages of classical songs that express his darkness and hope. He even includes some of his own poetry here.

While this book wasn’t groundbreaking for me, it was well, well worth my time. If you want to understand depression, either your own or someone else’s, better, look this book up. It will give you a vocabulary to wrestle with reality while also pointing you to the hope you have in Christ.

Turn Back

Cliffside Large

Photo by Lane Smith on Unsplash

I’ve never met you. We’ve exchanged emails back and forth for months. I’m supposed to be your shepherd, the one called by God to feed you the Gospel, but you keep saying you’re “too busy.”

You have too busied yourself to hell.

Jesus claimed you for his own. In your baptism, so many years ago, you were washed and made new. Later you spent years investigating God’s promises, and you stood before a congregation. You claimed that you would face anything, even death, rather than turn from Jesus. You rejected the devil and all his lies.

And now the lies, long taken root, have borne bitter, bitter fruit. (more…)