Hi JS Park. Do you still struggle with moments of depression that cause you to just not want to do anything? And moments where you are burdened more for yourself than other people, esp as a pastor? If so, how have you approached this specifically w/ prayer and reading and other practical tactics?
I ask because it’s hard for me to wake up in the morning and want to do stuff, despite the fact that I have an awesome job that puts me on the front lines of serving people overlooked and failed by society. Thanks :)
(Edited for length, and I made you anonymous just in case.)
The short answer is: Absolutely positively unequivocally definitely yes.
While I know some ministry workers who never struggle with depression, this has been a lifelong battle for me. Even great men of God like Luther, Spurgeon, and D.L. Moody have suffered from chronic depression. Most people don’t take it seriously unless they’ve actually struggled with it. It’s not something you can talk yourself out of, nor are most ever “fully cured” from it. It’s really a day-by-day thing to prioritize truth over our feelings.
But the bigger question you’re asking is: How do we deal with ourselves before we deal with the people we serve?
I’ll say upfront that there is totally nothing wrong with being burdened for yourself. Most ministry leaders actually give-serve-give while neglecting their own health and family, right before burning out and crashing. It’s like an airplane flight when they ask you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first; you really do need to tend to your own walk to be an effective guide.
When Jesus said “deny yourself,” he did NOT mean you have zero concern for your own well-being. We have to balance those statements with Jesus being our rest for the weary and burdened; that he is the bread of life; that he is the living water. Jesus is literally our Sabbath.
Before or after huge works of ministry, Jesus himself would go into solitude and pray. We saw little glimpses of how he would pray in intense times, but I’d imagine the main point was to draw strength from His Heavenly Father and keep His Purpose in mind. There was a subjective and objective element in Jesus’ prayers: subjectively drawing strength for his own condition and objectively keeping the truth of His Father’s Will in the front and center. We’re called to do the same.
I would suggest that most pastoral scandals start with a Super-Busy-Ministry that stole this kind of solitude. This isn’t to absolve the responsibility of cheating pastors, but the moment they turned from God as their source of strength and truth, it was the first step towards certain destruction.
I once tried a Very Dangerous Experiment (which I do not recommend!) where I stopped praying for as long as possible, just to see what would happen. By the end of Week One, I was getting snappy and bitter and resentful. By Week Two, I was an angry broken wreck. I knew I would crash if I didn’t pause to pray. Unfortunately, this isn’t just an experiment for most people: this is their entire lives. Even secular psychologists will tell you that not pausing to meditate will kill you.
For you and I, who both struggle with depression among other acute emotional states, we have a certain advantage because we know what to focus on in our prayers. We know that the devil will most try to aggravate our sense of exhaustion, numbness, and apathy. It’ll be a constant war that is often way over our heads. But you’ll know how Satan is playing you and how your flesh is tricking you. You can actually rip the lie into the light. The devil’s schemes become laughable. Counter-attack lies with truth. I am not my feelings or my lack of feelings. I am who God says I am: loved, cherished, treasured, and useful.
The best thing you can do in the morning for even five minutes is to replenish and re-align. Even when you don’t feel like it. If we only did things when we felt like it, we would never do anything (or backfist people in the head). I slowly start to find that actions lead towards feelings. I find that acting like God works regardless of myself is how my faith matches His truth. You know Lamentations 3 — His mercies really are new every morning. Jeremiah wrote this in the midst of wailing like a baby. As you’ve heard: It’s okay that it’s not okay, but it’s not okay to stay there.
When I come to God in total weakness, He has never failed once to flex His power through me, even if it was just for one more step. God does want to show off. He’ll use weak, broken, crazy people like us to do it. The Bible is full of people like that; so is church history. And when I move that one more step, somehow I gain confidence for the next one because I know God has empowered the last one. Maybe this sounds trite, but it’s almost as if we become our own evidence of God’s power working. I know He works.
It’s also very good to seek counseling, regularly seek people who are older or more experienced with the same issues, and to journal/blog/or small-group to release the pressure valve. Actively seek Him everywhere. Will be praying for you.