It has taken me a long, long time to be able to openly admit that I struggle. I struggle with depression, difficult days, sometimes difficult seasons, sometimes even difficult years. I used to be very much ashamed of the whole thing…I believed, firmly, that Christians didn’t get depressed and that it was just the case of living a ‘victorious Christian life.’ That was until that I realised that you really can’t order yourself to be better.
I’ve learned that repentance is the key to getting better. Now, before you get upset and think that I’m suggesting that mental health challenges are sinful, that’s not what I mean by repentance. The biblical concept of repentance is a renewing of the mind, metanoia. It is about taking the opportunity to explore a current way of thinking and acting and seeing to change that, challenge it and maybe even correct it. It is, literally, changing your mind. Paul uses those words elsewhere in place of the word ‘repentance.’ I do that through personal reflection, prayer, spiritual direction and through talking therapies with a counsellor.
Most of our core belief systems are formed in our childhood and our childhood experiences dictate to us our framework of how to live in the world. I had a difficult childhood with a lot of negative ways of life ingrained early on and in a context where love and acceptance was difficult for me to discern. Note that I’m not saying it wasn’t there, but for whatever reason, my soul missed love. I grew up feeling that nothing I did fitted with my environment and that who I was wasn’t acceptable. My interests weren’t shared and rejection became a large part of my life. I’m thankful for grandparents and other positive adults who made up for some of that.
But you know what? At the age of 33 I look back at it all and I realise that my long survival fight is now over. What do I mean by that? I mean that I’m at the stage now where I have nothing to prove to anyone now. I’m a ‘grown man’ inspite of it all. Having got through the hell of childhood and youth, discovered my role in the world, started my own family, I can now concentrate on the healing of my brokenness. I can embrace vulnerability fully and admit that there are more bits of me that hurt than bits that don’t. There are still things that hurt me that shouldn’t, things that rub salt in old wounds, but through the gracious process of metanoia, changing the mind, the Spirit brings his healing balm and each day is more whole than the day before.
But, my woundedness is actually my strength and treasure. It is, as Paul says, a sign to the world. A sign that I’m simply clay and that light that comes from my life is simply the glory of God shining through a cracked pot. I’m not interested in my own victory march. I’m passionate about helping people encounter Christ wherever they are. Yes, my Jesus rose from the dead, but he had holes in his hands, feet and side.
We live in a cruel world, in many ways. A world that is always telling us things about ourselves which aren’t actually true. The institutions we identify with can be cruel too…not realising the damage they cause when they too reject, belittle and rub salt in those same wounds. But Jesus knew this all to well too.
In writing this in this public forum, I’m opening myself to risk. There are people in the world who easily discount people as suitable ‘ministers’ if they have suffered from depression. Ironically, I find myself in good company alongside William Booth, Charles Spurgeon, Elijah, Jeremiah, CS Lewis, and many others who knew what it was to see life in Christ through the fog of depression. Here’s the thing though: it is no good to me nor anyone else to be anything less than authentic. My simple desire is to glorify God and say that in spite of it all, he has been faithful. His hand has been upon my life and he continues to inspire me for ministry against the odds at times…many miracles I could point you to where God has just taken over when I’d got to the end of myself.
I say all that to get to this point: if you are struggling in silence with low mood, feelings of hopelessness, lack of motivation and enjoyment of things you know you should love, if you feel detached, lethargic and tired, irritable and flat….please speak to someone today. Start the process of the renewing of your mind. Its a long road, but so much can be put in place to help.
And remember, with God all things are possible.