There are a lot of ministers, spiritual advisers or faith leaders who like to give the image they live their lives in a bubble — free of problems, temptations or tragedies.
I suppose that is partly why this column often seeks to model the idea that ministers aren’t perfect. I’ve written columns about my own anxieties, pride, less-than-perfect parenting and even lust.
Yet, of all the personal feelings I share with folks, I think the one that rings true with so much familiarity is depression.
Depression is very real to me. I’ve struggled with it in various stages all my life, but in 1999, I experienced a bout with depression that dimmed my lights for more than a year — at times nearly extinguishing them all together.
The depression had been triggered by the actions of a colleague who had spread some pretty ugly rumors about me. The depression became so deep, that there were times when I was unable to do the simplest tasks, such as drive or order food from a menu.
In a column I wrote a few years later, I likened my feelings to those experienced in the doomed Russian submarine Kursk. In that column, I wrote about the crew that waited in a dark room praying for rescue. They penned some desperate messages in those dark hours, and spent their last gulps of air praying a kind of doublespeak that death would not overtake them, yet that the end might be swift.
Depression can grip your soul and leave you feeling like the men in that boat — believing the whole time in rescue, yet shivering with hopelessness. The fright becomes not so much about dying, as it becomes the terrifying thought this existence is what living will be.
Even so-called mild depression can seem like a coastal fog introducing the formidable presence of the unknown. And like fog, depression swallows everything in its path, bragging that nothing exists it cannot swallow. It will lie to you and tell you the sun will be no more. Like a tulle fog sweeping across unending landscape, it attempts to transform the relevant into shapeless voids.
It would be anachronistic to apply modern psychological terms to the New Testament, but I do believe Scripture suggests Jesus experienced some pretty depressing moments. In my previous column, I noted Jesus wept about the loss of his friend, felt overwhelming disappointment with his disciples’ lack of vigilant prayer and, from the cross, his splintered cry for the future care of his mother reflected the hopeless battlefield cry of a dying soldier for his mother.
Finally, on the cross, his overwhelming burden for his people was said to have darkened the stage of Calvary for three hours.
The trip out of my fog and into the healthy air began with an admission that I was overwhelmed and needed help. It took some time, but with help of family, friends, pastoral supervisors, counseling and clinical intervention, I found my way out.
Of course, there still are days when I attempt to replay some old tapes and I find myself staring into an approaching fog bank. And on those days, when the depression returns with a cold sweat in my soul like a recurring case of malaria, I know it is time to re-enact my previous strategy.
Those are the times I use prayer to center myself and reach outside the limits of my own needs. They are the times I surround myself with those who are able to affirm my calling, hear my heart and grant me grace.