We often hear people say, “You don’t look depressed.”
Well, what does depression look like?
Depression can look like sadness and listlessness and depression can look like Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of the Inland Hills Church who took his own life this weekend.
Depression can hide itself behind the pulpit and people and curated images on Instagram. You can baptize people and pray and visit the sick and shut-in and still be depressed. You can have a beautiful wife and three kids (one of whom just turned four) and still be depressed. You can begin a new teaching series called “Hot Mess” and talk about how God takes us from “Mess to Masterpiece” and preach about how “God’s Got This” and still die by suicide.
Depression is not a respecter of persons. Pastors get depressed too.
This is what depression can look like.
The Gospel saves. It is the power unto salvation for those who believe. But the Gospel doesn’t ward off depression, or keep us from mental illness.
How do I know? Well, Elijah and David and Charles Spurgeon and other great men of God knew God and knew what He could do. They preached the Gospel, but the Gospel somehow did not inoculate them from the insidious hold of the dark night of the soul.
When your pastor kills himself, it means that even though he is a man of God and a spiritual leader, he is also a man of like passions, proclivities and pain. That you can know your Bible but still know despair. That he is more like us than we realize.
I wish our churches would understand that. I wish we wouldn’t give the Devil so much credit.
I wish the church realized that it is okay to have both Jesus and a therapist, that God equips various people with different skills to help one another, that you are not weak or a failing Christian if you need more than Jesus… that Jesus is enough until He isn’t. Jesus is enough and Jesus is not enough.
Sometimes it’s not a mere function of willpower, of saying that “this is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it,” of questioning our souls for being downcast and commanding ourselves to put our faith in God. Sometimes it’s not just a function of prayer and praise. Sometimes it’s pills. Sometimes it’s practitioners. I don’t believe the Bible prohibits us from accessing all necessary supports to help us journey through this life.
This world is in a mental health crisis. We lead lives of quiet desperation that give us a one way ticket to despair. We are so connected yet so isolated, so informed yet so ignorant. And for some of us, not only do we crucify our flesh and die daily for Christ, but our flesh is battling mental decay. We are deteriorating.
With Jesus there is always hope, but what happens when you can no longer see the hope that Jesus offers?
“How to get out of depression” is not a question that I feel equipped to answer. The truth is I don’t know. But I do know that we ought to love others as much as we love ourselves — in essence, the way I love others is in direct proportion to how I love myself. It starts with me. I cannot serve from an empty vessel. I know that no matter who we are, we need to take care of ourselves and pay attention to ourselves. Tell people that you are struggling. Life is so, so very hard, and I can totally understand hopelessness and wanting to end the pain. Sometimes it feels as if you are kicking aimlessly at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. I can’t blame anyone for taking their own life. If death does become the inevitable end, at least you did not go without a shout.
But the fact still remains that we need you here — whether you are a parishioner or a pastor. You — no matter who you are or what you have done — you have a gift that this word so desperately needs. So it is in everyone’s interest to have you stay with us for as long as possible — preferably in good health.
So we also need to pay attention to one another. There was an article I recently read about kids and drowning and how drowning doesn’t look like drowning — how true is that in the case of mental health? Drowning is often silent. So many of us are drowning right before our very own eyes. Part of it is creating real community and a support system — Jesus, a family member, a good friend, your doctor, and a therapist perhaps — so that if any one of those legs fail, you will still be standing. Find people in front of whom you cannot pretend, in front of whom you don’t need to pretend. Let’s pray for one another, but let’s also make sure that people don’t feel alone. Again, tell people that you are struggling. This can be especially hard for pastors, whose ego often makes them larger than life and disallows for such admissions. But there are so many other pastors struggling — find one of them and let your soul be laid bare. Let’s be vulnerable and real and open with each other. While our pastors pour into others, who pours into him/her? Pastors can be especially prone to depression. We need to check in on each other more, and perhaps check in on our pastor the most.
I’m praying for Pastor Andrew’s family and church at this difficult time.