Lessons Learned from the Dark Valley of Depression

May 14, 2013

Lessons Learned from the Dark Valley of Depression
Paul Tautges

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Paul Tautges

Lessons Learned from the Dark Valley of Depression

BCC Staff Note: We describe the BCC’s Grace & Truth blog as “Voices from the Biblical Counseling Community.” The modern biblical counseling movement spans a diverse spectrum of people and organizations committed to a view of people helping summarized by the Biblical Counseling Coalition’s Confessional Statement. It is with this diversity in mind that we have run a series of posts addressing the important issue of biblical counseling and mental illness. In addition to today’s post by Pastor Paul Tautges, we’d encourage you to read:

BCC Introductory Note

The following post first appeared at Paul Tautges’ Counseling One Another site under the same title Lessons Learned from the Dark Valley of Depression. The BCC is re-posting it here with Paul’s permission. In this post, Paul interacts with chapter 28, “The Complex Mind/Body Connection” by Laura Hendrickson from the BCC’s recently released Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling.

Lessons Learned from the Dark Valley of Depression

Yesterday’s post, The Mind, Body, and Medications, concluded with mention of the experience of Bob Somerville whose lengthy testimony concludes Dr. Laura Hendrickson’s chapter in the new book Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. Dr. Somerville is a NANC-certified biblical counselor and professor at the Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California. In this gutsy testimony, Bob shares how the grace of God brought him through a deep, dark, and unexpected encounter with depression.

In today’s post, I ask you to listen to Bob as he shares the lessons that God taught to him as a result of his time in the valley. But first, here are two quick bullet point lists of the external factors that contributed to the onset of depression, as well as the spiritual disciplines that Bob sought to maintain while in the fog of depression.

‘Life Factors’ that Contributed to the Onset of Depression

  • Excruciating back pain following his return from teaching overseas, making it difficult to walk.
  • Emotional drain from intensive counseling of a person in crisis
  • Full teaching load at college
  • Local church ministry
  • Back surgery to repair a herniated disc, which re-herniated, leaving him on his back for two months
  • Loss of 50 pounds and all muscle mass
  • Heavy pain medication plus medication for insomnia
  • The resulting inability to teach and preach

Disciplines that Continued While in the Valley of Despair

  • Daily time in the Word
  • Reading many books on the cross, the gospel, and hope in Christ
  • Helped by Ed Welch’s book, A Stubborn Darkness
  • Sought counsel from a biblical counselor
  • Encouragement of a faithful wife who hardly left his side for months

Engulfed by Darkness

“…but still the depression engulfed me to the point that I become nonfunctional. I had no feelings whatsoever, even of being saved—which was the worst feeling of all, not being able to sense God’s saving grace. I had constant thoughts of suicide. Everything was black and hopeless. I truly believed I would never preach or teach again.”

“The depression became so severe that I was taken to the hospital completely out of touch with reality. After receiving a combination of psychotropic drugs in the emergency room that morning, it appeared by that afternoon that I had come back to normalcy. However, within a few days the effect wore off and there was need for further medication. We sought counsel from a respected biblical counselor/doctor, who advised us that medicines were in order. My colleagues concurred. They saw that my condition was not the result of sin that had sent me into a downward spiral, as Job’s comforters had assumed of him, but a matter of response to the pain medication and the impact of what had transpired physically yet was also exacerbated by what was going on with me emotionally. Reluctantly I took the medicine for a six-month period, along with seeking to learn and grow spiritually from the situation. The medicine helped stabilize me so that I could think rationally and apply biblical principles to my situation.”

6 Lessons Learned from the Darkness

  1. Deeper Empathy for those who Battle Depression: “My experience has given me a much deeper empathy and understanding for those who suffer in this way than I ever had before.”
  2. Recovery Is Sometimes Slow and Gradual: “While the physical issues—the back problem and the level of serotonin in the brain—were being addressed through physical therapy, rest, and the antidepressant medications, the issues of the soul were being addressed with continued biblical counseling and pursuing God through His Word, biblically based books, and prayer. Our family was very supportive, as well as our church family, ministering to us with calls, cards, meals, and prayers. My recovery was a gradual process that took place over a period of six grueling months.”
  3. Idols of the Heart—Previously Hidden—Were Exposed: “I came to the realization that desiring comfort and to be in control were things I had idolized and needed to confess as sin. Suffering was part of God’s plan to produce the holiness that He was seeking to work out in my life….”
  4. Growth in Humility and Awe: “I grew in my awe of the unsearchableness of our humanness. It humbled me to know that I wasn’t in control of what was going on in my mind and emotions and that I had to trust in God’s good purposes in them, knowing that He would see my through those issues that were out of my control, and that He would do so partly through a medical means.”
  5. Greater Dependence upon Grace: “I needed to seek only Him and rest in what He has accomplished through His sacrificial death, resurrection, and intercession on my behalf. My entire salvation and sanctification is solely dependent on His grace.”
  6. Joy Comes in the Morning, after Mourning. “What praise I offered to God for His amazing grace when I was finally able to go back to teaching and preaching again! My emotions have returned and I have an irrepressible joy over my Savior and a story that I can’t keep quiet about.”

It is that final sentence from Bob that convinced me that I should write this unplanned sequel to yesterday’s post. May we all be humbled by this transparent testimony of how God graciously restored joy at the end of a deep valley of depression and may we ask the Lord to teach us to be more compassionate toward one another!

[As I said yesterday, when I blog through books, which is often a practice of mine, I do so by my own volition—based upon my own personal growth needs and ministry interests. In the case of this book, Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling, I am especially appreciative of my colleagues at the Biblical Counseling Coalition who are responsible for compiling this important collection of essays on theological and methodological issues in biblical counseling today.]

Join the Conversation (Added by the BCC Staff)

What are your thoughts as you reflect on Bob Somerville’s testimony in Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling?


7 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from the Dark Valley of Depression

  1. In reflecting on people’s tendency towards a lack of empathy for those who suffer from depression and other difficulties involving the emotions, and noting the care that Bob’s church family provided during his most intense healing period, I am left wondering: Would they have responded as fully if there had not been identifiable medical components to his suffering ? Only God knows; but more to the point, is it possible that God permitted this experience partially for the growth of the church family, as well as for Bob’s growth ? If we take Biblical soul care seriously, no one’s battles are theirs alone.

  2. Thanks Paul for this post. Bob was my professor and NANC advisor and his wife Mary was my thesis advisor. They are wonderful godly people from whom I’ve learned much!!!! So happy he’s doing much better!

  3. Pingback: Mental Illness and Compassion | Biblical Counseling Coalition Blogs

  4. Gavin, I also have the same question. It’s not just the church, but society in general that treats mental illness as a lesser illness than a herniated disk or even the common cold. Scientists are starting to idenitify parts of the brain which are different in people who live with long-term mental illness. Maybe things will change if we can hold up a picture of a brain scan and say, “This spot right here shows I have an illness.”

  5. Touching article! Depression is truly a dark night of the soul. I am 68 years old and have had 3 bouts with it in my lifetime. Once when I was 26, again when I was 30, and again when I was 63 – each lasting about 6 to 12 months.
    I read that Charles Spurgeon suffered with episodes of depression. He testified that after each, the Lord expanded his ministry in some way. I can say “amen” to that, because it is my experience too. The Lord used it to direct my life into a more productive ministry, and greater spiritual growth. So on this side of it, I praise him for the experience.
    If you are in depression, hang in there and fight the battle one day at a time. The Lord is faithful and will eventually bring you through.

  6. Pingback: Around the Web - Christian Blogs | Scripture Zealot blog

  7. WORRY?

    A wise man once said “WORRY IS A PRAYER TO THE WRONG god.”

    Matthew 6:25-34 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…….32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

    Worry results when we think we can handle our problems without God’s help.

    1 Peter 5:6-7 Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

    It is a mistake to think we can handle the small problems and let God deal with the major worries. Small worries can mushroom into major proportions without relying on God’s assistance!

    WORRY IS A PRAYER TO THE WRONG god!

    You are invited to follow my Christian blog at: steve-finnell.blogspot.com or google search steve finnell a christian view

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