(March 19, 2021) Charles Schwab shares very openly, very personally from his heart and life 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 in the news fairly regularly. In 2013 Matthew Warren, the youngest son of high-profile mega-church pastors Rick and Kay Warren (Saddleback Community Church, California), took his own life after a long struggle with unrelenting depressive illness. Reports are that he had received the best medical, counselling and pastoral support available. And there have been others before and after that.
Later, Matthew’s grieving father tweeted caring supporters, ‘Grieving is hard. Grieving as public figures, harder. Grieving while haters celebrate your pain, hardest. Your notes sustained us.’
Failing to understand
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. Unemployable in any field!
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 illustrative of the truth as it is medically understood. My psychiatrist is exceptionally 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.
Encouragement, love and faith
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 23 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 we share with them in mutual conversation as they face their own 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 imbibed some traditional church misconceptions thinking that the matter is always settled by the sufferer getting set free by one or all of the above.
Truth: We just don’t have all the answers!
It is true that sometimes deliverance, or prayer 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.
- God doesn’t always bring total freedom.
- The heart and lungs are a couple of the organs of our bodies. And… our brain is a physical organ too.
We just don’t have all the answers on this and other mental health issues. In searching many articles on my condition I found this helpful article in Patheos by Dr Adrian Warnock, UK psychiatrist and part of Jubilee Church, London’s leadership team for more than seventeen years – here. See also this brilliant recent video clip interview with a pastor’s wife, entitled Living with Depression, Bipolar Disorder as a Christian – click here.
Today I unashamedly admit that I take prescribed medication. That 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.
But 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.
Some years 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!
God still gives ministry opportunities
Over the last 23 years I have seen the Lord open opportunities for me to minister on a voluntary basis both in Australia and a couple of other countries.
I sometimes cannot read as easily as I used to – I forget a lot of what I have just read, and that is distressing. 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 again and again that God is faithful to his call on my life, that the Holy Spirit can empower me to do his will, and that Jesus receives the glorification.
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.
Incidentally, I’m open to readers contacting me about this article (send emails c/- OnlinerConnect@gmail.com). May I encourage first viewing theYouTube video of my situation with depression: ‘Charles Schwab Report – God With us in a Dark Time of Challenge. Proverbs 3:5-6’ here. (General YouTube channel here – and Facebook page called ‘Bible and Life’ here).
Charles and Mavis Schwab live in Geelong, Victoria. Having served as a staff associate pastor for lengthy periods in two churches in Adelaide and Geelong, Charles’ vision these days is to encourage churches and leaders wherever the Lord ‘opens the doors.’ Links: Mental-Illness-Realites / The-Too-Hard-Basket / That-Black-Dog / Dark-Nights-of-the-Soul
Thank you, Charles, for sharing your experience.
Thanks, Fred, for being an encourager now and over the decades.
Thanks for sharing your testimony, Charles. I know other men in pastoral roles who also struggled with various types of depression, to a greater or lesser degree. Thank God ‘Jesus knows all about our struggles’… he did not forsake me in my experience many years ago. And we are told to bear one another’s burdens.
The following comment was received from Pastor John Macknamara via Facebook…
A wonderful transparent article by Charles on depression and mental illness! I sure hope that all of us who might classify ourselves as being part of the ‘Faith Movements’ are listening much more discerningly re this important area. I am thankful to God for having been able to refer many of our good people to reliable Christian psychologists for excellent help over the years of our ministry! Pastors are like good GPs… when in doubt refer! (So glad I learned that in the Wesleyan Methodist Theological College 57 years ago! It has saved a lot of ministry mistakes!).