Charles Schwab, having served as a staff associate pastor for lengthy periods in two major churches, shares from experience:
The ‘D’ word – Depression – is extremely relevant to Christians today! Depression is real, and the church needs to face that reality appropriately.
‘Mental illness and Christians’ is a subject that continues to pop up in the media both secular and Christian. Last year it was sad to learn that Matthew Warren, youngest son of Saddleback’s high profile mega-church pastors Rick and Kay Warren, had taken his own life after a long struggle with unrelenting depressive illness. Interestingly reports indicated he had received the best medical, counselling and pastoral support available.
Later, Matthew’s grieving father Tweeted caring supporters, ‘Grieving is hard. Grieving as public figures, harder. Grieving while haters celebrate your pain, hardest.’
Beyond the fact – Positive care stemming from understanding
The church and Christians have often failed to understand depression and how to deal with it. Consequently there are some shocking and demeaning views held by people who ideally should be able to show positive care, understanding and help towards the mentally afflicted. So often, for various reasons, this has not been the case.
Depressive illness has a special meaning for me, not the least reason being that in 1998, at age 53, I had to leave my pastoral role because of it. I had been diagnosed by a psychiatrist as suffering from chronic anxiety and depressive illness that rendered me unemployable. .
Some years later I asked him again for his professional view about my situation and the future. His reply was in words I could understand and I received them kindly in the spirit in which they were given. They were not offensive, but were spoken caringly and illustrative of the truth as it is medically understood. My psychiatrist is very good at his profession, someone I respect and admire who has helped me a lot. His words were, ‘You can’t unscramble an egg.’ So, medically speaking, I’m stuck with it.
The reality of losing my job on the ministry staff of a church at that early age only heightened my anxiety and stress level. I did not blame the church or its leadership. I was in fact unemployable – but, by God’s grace, hope was/is there for me and for those in similar circumstances.
Beyond helplessness – Hope in Christ
I understand what it means to pull the bed covers over one’s head and to hope that the world will go away. But I also know what it is to be able to say, as I have shared with my psychiatrist, I may often feel helpless but I never feel hopeless. Jesus has been good to me these last 16 years since the diagnosis and my ‘dismissal.’ And I will be forever grateful to my dear wife Mavis who has walked with me with encouragement, love and faith.
Several church ministers with depression and anxiety illnesses have heard about my situation and have asked that Mavis and I share with them in mutual conversation as they face their own particular struggles. It has been deeply fulfilling to be able to open our hearts and share our experiences of how we can keep on serving Jesus while living with various intensities of depression.
Depression has often been misunderstood by churches and Christians. Sometimes sufferers have been made to feel misjudged and rejected through the unwitting ignorance of some in the family of God. Some say that Christians shouldn’t be depressed because they are ‘new creations in Christ.’ Others say that deliverance from the demons is what is needed. Still others say that faith is the thing that you need.
My conclusion is that some of our fellow Christians just don’t ‘get it!’ Through no fault of their own they have accepted traditional misconceptions thinking that the matter is always settled by the sufferer getting set free by one or all of the above.
Beyond medication – Relying on the Spirit
It is true that sometimes deliverance, prayer or faith can lead to God being on the scene with the total answer. But it is also true that there can be physiological reasons behind some people’s depression and that God doesn’t always bring total freedom.
We just don’t have all the answers on this and other mental health issues. I unashamedly admit that I take prescribed medication. I also have some prescribed ‘knock-out bombs,’ as I call them, if I become super-stressed and need to get a really good sleep occasionally.
The good news is that Jesus has a plan for our lives, and as we keep on surrendering to him and seeking him in prayer, he will use us to honour him in this world regardless of how bad we might feel at times. Not so long ago, I heard what I believe to have been words from the Holy Spirit: ‘For this reason I am allowing you to feel unable, so that you will rely on me.’ I like that, I really do!
Beyond depression – Power from God
Over the last 15 years I have seen the Lord open up opportunities for me to minister on a voluntary basis both in Australia and a couple of other countries.
Charles and Mavis Schwab delight to travel to the Philippines, teaching at the DTS (Discipleship Training School) and encouraging local pastors.
Sometimes I cannot read as easily as I used to – I forget a lot of what I have just read, and that is distressing in itself. I cannot always write notes for sermons like I used to because I can’t always get that part of my mind ‘together.’
But I have seen God do miracles and give me the power to preach and minister prophetically when I have been feeling desperate. And I will gladly accept most ministry opportunities because I have found again and again that God is greater than my fears and disabilities: I’ve proved that God is faithful to his call on my life, the Holy Spirit is the enabler and when he empowers me to do God’s will, Jesus will be glorified.
‘Beyond Blue’ – A continuing journey
One of my hopes is that Christians and churches will continue to strive to better understand and to reach out to people who struggle with depression and other mental illnesses.
In one way or other we are all at least a little bit sick; none of us can boast total wholeness. Our human condition means we have inherent weaknesses. We are subject to the consequences of what theologians term ‘The Fall’; that is when the human race through Adam’s disobedience was plunged into sin and death, and are hence subject to illnesses.
We are wise to wholly rely on Jesus to save us from our sins and to empower us and lead us through life’s journey until he calls us home to heaven when our assignments on earth are completed.
Charles and Mavis Schwab live in Geelong, Victoria. These days his vision is to encourage churches and leaders wherever the Lord ‘opens the doors.’ He is also open to readers contacting him about this article: cmschwab1 AT hotmail.com
Recommended blog – Patheos by Adrian Warnock, UK psychiatrist and part of the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London for more than ten years, serving alongside Tope Koleoso … http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2013/04/what-causes-mental-illness/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AdrianWarnocksUkEvangelicalBlog+%28Adrian+Warnock+-+Patheos+Evangelical%29