“He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Matthew 26:37-38 NIV
During this devotion series called, “Out of the Gray”, I am sharing my journey of anxiety, depression, fear and the intensity of spiritual growth that has come from it. I’m still walking out my story but with a much better perspective thanks to the help of so many who have partnered with God to turn my gray world a little more colorful. These devotions go hand in hand with a sermon series I am preaching called by the same title, “Out of the Gray”. (Click here to watch) You are not alone and... you are not without hope! I pray this devotion and the sermon series is a great help to you.
“Please don’t tell anyone” I said as my wife finished her phone call. She was doing me a favor by making the call. She tends to do that a lot for me, and I am very appreciative that she does. After a few trips to the ER and my general physician, it was clear that I had to do something that I was not looking forward to. “She can see you next week.” my wife told me in a positive tone reassuring me that this was a good thing that we just put in our calendar. So, there I was in the church parking lot sitting behind the wheel but not feeling in control at all. My mind was trying to capture what it would be like to experience what was just booked. I said to myself, “Here I go, but please God, don’t let anyone know that I am having trouble.” Hopefully, the counselor who just penciled me in seconds before, would be the beginning of the help I needed with my anxiety, fear and depression.
What is it about the stigma that sometimes is attached in the church world to mental health? I have always been a supporter of the medical profession that helps others who need to talk things through or if needed, get the medication that brings balance and relief. But this was different. This was me and I was the one who needed help and for some reason me needing to talk to someone was a huge hurdle. People really do mean well when they offer their encouragement. “You are going to be ok!” they say or “Hey, it could be a lot worse!” I do not fault them. I was one of them. Not truly understanding what happens when your world gets turned upside down and loses color.
But let’s go a little deeper. My father who I wrote about in my last devotion had a part to play in this parking lot conversation with my wife. Very early in life I learned to keep things “in the family”. Being raised in a home dedicated to politics, I was a quick study on how to make the family look good even when things were not. I remember when my dad was running for a public office and our family went to a park for a campaign photo shoot. When we arrived, waiting for us were new bicycles that would be part of the image the campaign wanted to project. Each bike was picked to match the height of each kid and adult. The photo shoot was to depict that my dad was a family man who enjoyed taking bicycle rides in the park with his family. The problem however was that we never did that as a family. In fact, I am having a hard time remembering when my dad rode a bike. But to those who would see the poster, my dad was a family man who enjoyed bike rides in the park. Perception was everything in our home. And for the most part of my early childhood, it was ok. I felt safe. My parents seemed to be in love with one another and hey, this political gig is not all that bad. I got to ride a nice bike for a photo shoot.
But as I got older into my teens, this facade would soon develop the cracks needed for the enemy to set up shop in my mind. The bike riding family was not a disaster. A grenade went off, but even in the midst of a messy divorce of my parents, what do you think we all had to do? Yep, we were bleeding, but don’t let anyone see it. I had learned that perception was the golden rule. This I carried into adulthood and ministry. As I sat in my car with my wife in the church parking lot, realizing that I was beginning an adventure in my mental, spiritual, and physical health, I was perplexed by the fear of what others might think. It was like I was back at the park needing to find rented bicycles to do a photo shoot that projected that I was something else when I knew in this moment, I was wounded and in need of help.
As I have been developing these devotions and sermon series, I have discerned in the church that there is a stigma at times with the issue of mental health. It is a humiliation that we can often feel when experiencing fear, discouragement, anxiety and depression as believers. We feel that these downward spirals that mentally and physically abuse our bodies and minds should be foreign to us who serve Jesus. A believer should have stronger faith and the tools to overcome. This is what I was dealing with as a pastor of an incredible church. I felt I could not be perceived to be broken and still be looked to as a leader. I am supposed to have victory over this. The church needs me to be strong. God, I need my bicycle! Quick! Get the camera and fix this problem.
Unfortunately, we have developed some cultures within the church that facilitate this thought. If I am depressed, what is wrong with me spiritually? If I am anxious or fearful, where have I gone wrong? These thoughts can cause us to try to hide what we feel. We are asked by others, how are you? And we answer with a simple, “I am ok” knowing that we are not, but we feel that we need to keep this hidden so we go on in our pain, our hurt and fear hoping to find that formula that will work to dispel the cold gray world. We jump on our rented bikes and pretend that everything is fine. Lean into the next sentence... You cannot heal what you hide!
If you think you can handle this alone, you are trying to do what Jesus didn’t do. In our scripture, we see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane means “oil press”. It is a place of crushing, but also a place that produces the oil to heal and to help. What Jesus was about to face was going to be hard, but the result would benefit the world. The word troubled in verse 37 is the strongest Greek word used in the NT for depression. This is great distress and anguish Jesus was experiencing. His world in this moment was changing quickly to gray and would turn black with the sin of the world coming upon his shoulders separating Him from the love of His heavenly Father. Grab a hold of this. Jesus has carried what you and I are carrying. He knows our pain, confusion and the depth of despair that can come upon our lives through chemical imbalance, trauma and hurts in our past.
If the enemy has you convinced that keeping this all to yourself is what God wants, I want to share something with you that I hope will give you the nudge to open your life up to others to get the help that you need. Jesus Himself did not face depression and anxiousness alone. He in his darkest hour needed others. In fact, He asked for others to stand with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. I know that they didn’t do a great job of being there for Jesus, and sometimes that is the truth in our lives too. People will let you down, but don’t allow that to keep you from getting the help you need from family, friends, church family and the mental health community. Jesus did not face this darkness alone, and neither should you.
After meeting with my counselor for a couple of months, I knew it was time to quit posing for a photo shoot with the rented bike. It was time to let others in and I am here today to declare that I am so glad that I did. God has surrounded me with a loving church family who I am now sharing my journey with. They didn’t reject me as a leader. They embraced me. They have been praying for our family and standing by our side. The Lord showed me that as I let down my wall and invited others in, they had a lot to offer. I learned I was not alone, and this sermon series and devotions are a direct result of others sharing their journey with me. What I feared when my wife made that phone call was a lie that I believed. That lie was engrained in me when I was in the park posing for a campaign ad or pretending that everything was cool when my family blew up. Through the help of others partnered with God and His word, that lie no longer has a hold on my life and I no longer am riding a rented bike.