One of my wife's favorite songs from her days in the Catholic church was Eagle's Wings. It was one of the songs she remembers from her mom's funeral mass.
It was the funeral of Erin's mom that sent her into a dark depression lasting most of our junior high and part of her high school years. God reached into Erin's depression, leading her toward his love and out of the darkness. During our first year of marriage, some really hard personal stuff hit Erin's family, sending her into another (though much less intense) time of depression. I didn't understand depression at the time and thought Erin should just pray more or get healthier. But the doctor knew better, prescribing some medicine that quickly re-established a chemical and emotional balance.
That was almost ten years ago, I've learned a lot over the years about what causes depression. Just a couple weeks ago, I attended a seminar with Dr. Todd Fry of MidAmerica Nazarene in which Todd explained, among other things, how chemical inbalances caused by genetics or times of extreme pressure alter the receptors in the brain, keeping us from having normal feelings of happiness. As I said, I've learned a lot about what causes depression but until last year, I'd never personally experienced it. But that changed last summer.
Before I go on with the rest of this story, check out what I read a few weeks ago in Reggie McNeal's book Practicing Greatness. "The kinds of issues and situations that ministers deal with, combined with the overwhelming desire to help people (a psychological component of many people drawn into the helping professions, including the ministry), brew the conditions conductive to depression. This is why Archibald Hart, former dean of the School of Psychology at Fuller Seminary, often says that surviving the ministry is a matter of surviving depression.
"People suffer from two types of depression. The first is endogenous depression, which is biological in nature and requires medication (usually antidepressants) for treatment.... A second type of depression - exogenous depression - is a psychological and emotional condition that is usually a response to some loss. The loss can be anything, from the death of a loved one to a crushed expectation.... Exogenous depression will pass if active steps are taken to allow for appropriate grieving and restorative practices. This is a normal emotional reaction to life's downers."
Last spring, two major factors came together to lead me into a period of exogenous depression. 1) The birth of my son. Or to be more accurate, the responsibility of taking care of my 2 month old son while also doing the duties of pastor and some extra-curricular community activities. When Erin went back to work for the final 6 weeks of the 09 school year, I took on the responsibility of getting up with Dawson during the nights. I tried to get work done while he napped or have him lay in his bouncy seat on my desk. I also took Dawson with me on all the "sales" calls with Gardner Community Theatre. I remember how the final hellish week of that school year, when Erin left home at 7:45 and came home after 10 almost wiped me out. I had nothing left. Once Erin was home full-time, I was involved in GCT's summer performance and those late nights prevented me from catching up on rest. I was in a haze most of the rehearsal / performance season.
2) The beginning of TFC's numerical downward slide. I remember when one of our strongest families came to my house to say they needed to be involved in a church in Olathe, since their teenage daughter lived in Olathe. The dad had tears in his eyes telling me how much he would miss his church family but needed to make the best decision for his daughter. I don't think I slept at all that night, as worse-case scenarios kept running through my head. A year later, most of those worse-case scenarios have been realized, with me working a 2nd job and our church's attendance and offering numbers being cut almost in half. But my perspective has changed as I've been sharing, because God is birthing something totally new in TFC. But through last spring and summer, I was being overwhelmed with feelings of fear and loss.
I don't feel like rehashing all of the emotional events over the past year but there were some times in which things were looking up and some times in which I didn't think I could sink much lower. I'll never forget the two days spent in my parents barn, sitting in a lawn chair with my bible and journal begging God to reveal something to me (or let me just walk away from ministry) while reading the story of Isaiah going through the exact same thing. 1 Kings 19
I took our church through Emotionally Healthy Spirituality for 6 whole months, while also working through that book with a personal mentor, Dr. Roy Rotz. There were a lot of times during this past year in which I thought I was totally recovered, only to feel the pain pull me back downward. I kept doing the best I could while accepting that I wasn't 100%
Last week, I was spending time with God following the new format I've been using, outlined by Gordon McDonald in A Resilient Life and reading a passage from Isaiah, when the realization hit me, "I'm not depressed anymore." If you've been reading this blog, you can tell I've come out of the vision-less fog I've been in as a pastor. Even more than that, however I've come out of the lowness of depression all together. I had tears in my eyes as I read these words from Isaiah, who was my inspiration during that difficult time last July:
But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.
Not only have I experienced depression for the first time in my life but I've also experienced the peace and strength of coming out the other side of depression. Right now, the depression is like a bruise - the main pain is gone but the area is still tender and hurt more easily than normal. But I'm hoping it turns into a scar - a reminder of the pain but no longer tender to the touch. And I'm sure I'll go through more loss that might lead to a worse depression or maybe a more slight one. But whatever happens, I'm glad to know that the Spirit is allowing me to rise up on eagle's wings and continue to run the race.