Yesterday, I reflected on depression. As I mentioned yesterday, this is a topic that is wide ranging in terms of its severity. I encourage you to read through yesterday's comments (they're better than the original post!). What I described was related to a very difficult church situation about fifteen years ago.
We then moved to central Texas and began working with a different church. The situation was good but had some very difficult aspects to it. Finally, after about two years, I realized I was slipping back into the abyss once again. Another trip to my doctor (a wonderful Christian man whom I have now known for about 13 years). He gave me some mild medication for a few months. I also began seeing a counselor in Dallas. In a short time, things seemed hopeful again.
In retrospect, I think I did what John Frye notes in a great comment on yesterday's post:
Some people, and I was (am) one of them, can be over-responsible, that is, we assume responsibility for that which we have no control over whatsoever. As the visible "face" for the church where I was teaching pastor, I internally absorbed negative comments about things in the church and thought, "I've got to 'fix' this." The budget is not being met...it's my fault. I'll fix it by preaching on stewardship. That kind of thing. It drove me into depression.
(Note John's blog, Jesus the Radical Pastor)
That is exactly what I did! The more people would talk about the gaps in the church; the more I felt responsibe for fixing these gaps. Yet, far too often I was assuming responsibility for things I had no control over. People would come to Charlotte and talk about this or that frustration in the life of the church. The underlying assumption was often, "Why doesn't Jim do something with this?" Yet, so often I had no control over these situations. But--I felt as if I should be able to do something. In fact, I began to feel responsible for fixing these things.
Remember I am only posting about my own experience. My experience was directly connected to my ministry/work situations and the way I was handling them. As Jerry and Lynn Jones suggest in their comment to the previous post, depression does impact marriages and families. I can see this better as I look back at these situations in my life. At the time, however, I probably did not have much awareness.
So here are few things I've learned:
I am at my best when I surround myself with positive, encouraging people. Yes, there are people who constantly complain. There are people who can take most any situation and drain the life out of it. I need to seek out more positive people.
I am at my best when I stay connected to God through daily, spiritual disciplines. Time alone. Time in scripture. Time with a book that helps me reflect on the nature and character of God. Time to write in my journal.
I am at my best when I get physical exercise. Yes, I work out for my health. But it is much more than my physical health. It really does help me emotionally as well.
I am at my best when I have friends outside our church. (Some who are not in ministry may have trouble understanding or relating to this.) Far too often for someone working with a congregation of people, it can become all consuming. In fact, you can very easily lose perspective. I have good friends who live both in our community and in other places. These people are very important to me.
I am at my best when I tell the truth. Churches can become very dysfunctional. In fact, at times dysfunction seems very "normal" in a church. We dance around concerns and quickly shuffle our feet and do most anything but address issues right in front of us. In fact, churches are notorious for ignoring "the big pink elephant in the middle of the room." After awhile, you may begin to wonder, "Am I the nutty one here? They seem just fine ignoring this situation. Maybe there is something wrong with me?"
I am at my best when I remain my own person before God. Far too often, we live in a state of reaction. If I live in a reactive mode, I am constantly trying to be someone who will please these people. I will say or do what I think will please them instead of being true to what I really believe or think. If I live in a reactive mode, I may feel uncomfortable if people think differently than me.
Yet, I know I do not have to live this way. I am a better man, husband, father, minister, etc. when I remain my own person before God.