My daughter Callie is a student at Covenant College. Last week she wrote a paper on a person in ministry who deals with a disability. Callie chose me. My disability is depression and anxiety. She sent me three questions to answer.
1) How does your faith change the way you interact with your depression?
I believe that dependency on Christ is the essence of Christian faith. In other words, Christians are in a trusting union with Christ and, apart from this union, they can’t do anything to help themselves or anyone else. But, just because I believe this intellectually does not mean that I yield to it easily. I suffer with depression and anxiety. Depression is a weird sort of disability. It’s the kind of thing that has crippled me in an invisible way. Others aren’t able to see it. For years I wanted to believe that I was OK. That I could build enough emotional ‘muscle’ to overcome depression. I tried to use Christ improperly to build this muscle. Maybe if I prayed enough or read the Bible enough or worked enough or toughened myself enough or performed enough – the depression would go away. It didn’t. It has taken me a long time to understand that Christ planned to ‘cripple me’ with depression in order to humble me and love me. And like a Christian man with two paralyzed legs has to grow accustomed to loving Christ from a wheel chair, I am having to grow accustomed to loving Christ from the constrictions of medication and an adjusted lifestyle. I used to feel that Christ would help me conquer depression once and for all. This would work for a little while. But when depression would cripple me I would feel abandoned by Christ. Now I am learning that Christ is using depression to conquer my self-sufficiency, my pride, and my shame.
2) How does your depression negatively affect your ministry?
I can’t do everything that I want to do. I can’t trust the ‘manic’ side of my personality that makes me feel like I’m superman and that I can save the world. Heck, I can’t even save me. No, that job belongs entirely to Christ. I have to adjust my schedule. I have to work differently. I can’t skip taking my medication and imagine that I am ‘healed’ just because I ‘feel’ better today. I have to realize everyday that I am a pastor who is crippled and I need to embrace that. I have to tell people ‘no’ in order to be healthy. That doesn’t always feel good to others who cannot easily see my ‘invisible’ disability. I have to make time to slow down and retreat. All this is very difficult, yet it is very crucial to my life and ministry.
3) How does your depression positively affect your ministry?
Christ uses my depression to teach me dependency. As I lean into him and am often even carried by him, I am learning to pray more and listen to the voice of my Savior.
Christ also uses depression to defeat my pride. I have many gifts and this often produces a lot of pride in me. Depression attacks my pride and mocks my gifted-ness in a way that helps me see that my gifts can’t be trusted; that my gifts are often my greatest enemy if they are not placed in the hands of Christ.
Christ uses depression to defeat my shame. I am often so embarrassed to admit to people that I have depression. I don’t want them to know that I am emotionally weak. Yet Christ is not satisfied to have me hide it. He calls me to humbly share my weaknesses with others. Christ helps me to embrace weakness in myself in way that helps me to also embrace the weakness in others. This has made me a person of prayer, a better counselor, and a more honest preacher. I am able to more honestly point people to the Cross instead of subtly pointing them to myself.
Finally, Christ uses depression to make me a better worshiper. Christ is my rescuer and my deliverer. The Cross is my food and the Resurrection is my life. As I worship God, Christ leads me to the lap of His Father. He comforts me in the arms of the Holy Spirit. He reveals my sin and wretchedness. He reveals his mercy, power, and beauty. He reminds me that I am a fragile clay pot, but I rest in His tender hands.
A couple of years ago, when my depression was at it’s worst, I went to meet with a Christian counselor. In our session together he asked me, “Tim, how long do you plan to stay in ministry?” I said, “I don’t really know. As long as I’m able I suppose. Maybe until I’m 70 years old.” The counselor chuckled, “The way you’re living, driving yourself, acting like a superman – I’ll be surprised if you make it another six months. Tim, listen to me. You are but flesh. You have weaknesses. Frailties. You have to embrace that reality.”
Those were powerful words. The reality is “I am but flesh.” I’m a man who suffers with depression. I always have been. I always will be. Christ has chosen not to take depression away. Instead, he has chosen, in his mercy, to meet me in the midst of my anxiety and depression and to walk me through it. He does this by waking me up in the morning. Greeting me in his Word and in my prayers. And then he gently reminds me – “Tim, go get dressed. Take your medication. Remember you are but flesh. And don’t worry, I am with you.”
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Ashley Cornwell Brittain – Totally understand it all…….thanks for sharing..ditto w/ Emily and Chris Ingram