BCC Staff Note: The following testimony was included in part of Chapter 28—“The Complex Mind/Body Connection” by Dr. Laura Hendrickson—of Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. We include it today as our Weekend Resource with the prayer that it will minister to you personally and also in your ministry to others.
What might the complex brain/mind, body/soul interrelationship look like in real life? Bob Somerville is a NANC-certified biblical counselor who shares his testimony in order to help us to glimpse what this body/soul/emotion struggle was like for him.
“Upon returning from a trip to Russia with my wife, traveling and speaking to pastors and their wives, I experienced ever-worsening back pain. The pain became so bad that I could hardly walk. I had to teach my college classes sitting down. At the same time I was endeavoring to counsel a person through a crisis situation requiring hours of intensified counseling which was emotionally draining. I was also carrying an extremely full teaching load and ministering within our local church. Looking back, this combination of events added up to intense physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges converging in one time span. This was taking a greater toll on my body and soul than I could have ever imagined.
The orthopedic surgeon recommended back surgery to correct the herniated disc causing the back pain and assured me that I would be back to work in a couple of weeks. So the surgery was performed only to have the disc re-herniate shortly thereafter in another place. According to the doctor’s orders, I laid on my back for two months seeking for it to heal while losing fifty pounds and all muscle mass. The doctor had prescribed heavy pain medication to ease the pain plus medication for the insomnia. Never in my life had I experienced such pain and misery!
During this whole ordeal I read one book after the other to my wife while she lay by my side—books on the cross, the gospel, hope in Christ—that would ordinarily encourage me beyond measure. I was in the Word on a daily basis, seeking to learn what God had for me to learn through this trial. I couldn’t teach, nor serve in my church, nor even go about the daily activities of life.
Finally after two months of this my wife realized I had slipped into depression and brought this to my attention. The next day I began to read Depression: A Stubborn Darkness by Edward Welch and by the end of the third chapter I realized I was not just depressed but severely depressed. Welch quotes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which he says is the caretaker of the technical language for depression. It states that if a person experiences five or more of the symptoms during the same two-week period and this represents a change from previous functioning the person is in a “major depressive episode.” I had all nine symptoms. It was a deep dark pit, a true stubborn darkness.
I sought counsel from the lead biblical counselor in our church who was encouraging me in all the biblical responses to depression, but still it engulfed me to the point that I became non-functional. I had no feelings whatsoever, even of being saved—the worst of all, to not be able to sense God’s saving grace. I had constant thoughts of suicide. Everything was black and hopeless. I truly believed that I would never preach or teach again. (I had been a pastor for thirty-five years prior to becoming a professor.)
I was blessed to have my wife’s encouragement as she hardly left my side for months. Together we prayed and sought God’s grace to glorify Him through this. I was so thankful for her love which was constant and strong continually reminding me of the promises of God.”
As you’ve read Bob’s story to this point, how have you pondered:
- Diagnosis: How you would diagnose the issues? What principles from chapters 27 and 28 could you apply as you attempt to assess the symptoms?
- Prescription/Cure: What approach to dealing with these physical, emotional, and mental battles would you suggest? What principles from chapters 27 and 28 might guide you as you pondered “curative treatment”?
- Relationship/Care: How would you relate to, care for, and interact with Bob? What primary “lens” would you look through: suffering? Sin? Body/physical? Personal/spiritual? What principles from throughout the book might guide you as you pondered comprehensive and compassionate care?
Bob says, “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 a 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 this was not the result of sin which had spiraled downward, as Job’s comforters had assumed, but a matter of response to the pain medication and the impact of what had transpired physically primarily but exacerbated by what was going on emotionally as well. 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. My experience has given me a much deeper empathy and understanding for those who suffer in this way than I ever had before.
While the physical issues—the back problem and the level of serotonin in the brain, were being addressed through physical therapy, rest, and the anti-depressant 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. The recovery was a gradual process over a period of six grueling months.
I came to the realization that desiring comfort and to be in control was something I 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 as He drew me closer to Himself and demonstrated His faithfulness.
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 had to trust in God’s good purposes in them knowing that He would see me through those issues that were out of my control partly through a medical means.
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.
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. He has allowed me to share this testimony to encourage many which is just one way that God is using what I went through for His glory.”
Bob’s story is unique. I (Laura Hendrickson) do not share it as if it neatly wraps up or represents anywhere near all the complexity involved in the body/soul connection. It can, however, open our eyes to something of the interrelationship between our physical, emotional, mental, and relational “worlds.” Bob’s story illustrates the message of Christ-Centered Biblical Counseling. Understanding people, diagnosing root sources of problems, and prescribing wise “treatment options” requires robust, relational, comprehensive, and compassionate care grounded in our shared redemptive relationship to Christ.