While this is a difficult subject to share with others, if our journey through depression can encourage another who is going through it, then it will have brought meaning and purpose to our suffering as described by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:4.
In my husband, Bob’s book entitled, If I’m A Christian, Why Am I Depressed?: Finding Meaning and Hope in the Dark Valley, he shares his experience with depression—the circumstances that precipitated it, its symptoms, how he found hope and comfort to sustain him through it, how the depression lifted, and he was able to return to his teaching and preaching ministry.
He shares how years of ministerial stress took a toll on his body and his nervous system broke down bringing on severe anxiety and depression—truly a terrible dark night of the soul. Words cannot adequately describe its depths.
He sought to fight the darkness the only way he knew—by seeking God through the daily reading of and meditating on Scripture, spending time in prayer with deep soul-searching, letting the gospel of Jesus saturate his heart by absorbing books and music of faith, talking with a biblical counselor, writing notes of encouragement and reaching out to others, all the while pleading with God for His mercy and grace for the day. And praise God for the grace God in His mercy gave to help him persevere through each grueling day!
But I must also add that although these disciplines he practiced all helped to strengthen his faith in the Lord, they did not remove the depression! It continued on day after day, week after week, month after month.
It taught me this—no “doing” on our part will ever guarantee our healing! We cannot “earn” God’s healing through our good works! God does not owe us anything. He has already paid the ultimate price for our salvation! Our healing is not dependent on the things we do or don’t do—it is totally up to God as He wills for His good purposes. Paul didn’t have his thorn in the flesh removed, but received assurance that God’s grace would be sufficient.
Now fast forward 6 years. Bob was back into living the same lifestyle as before—over-loading his life with ministry (which he freely shares), when I fell and broke my leg and the trauma of it all resulted in sending his body into another bout of severe depression. Two and a half years have gone by and he is just now seeing the darkness lift—truly a stubborn darkness!
We now see that Bob’s schedule left no margin for rest and his body was stretched to the limit, so that when something traumatic happened his nervous system was unable to handle it. His adrenals gave out from excessive stress, producing “adrenal fatigue” as we have now learned. The adrenals regulate the nervous system and are responsible for the fight or flight response. They produce cortisol—the most important anti-stress hormone in the body. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the amount of stress exceeds the capacity of the body to compensate and recover, oftentimes producing anxiety and depression. Again!
Let me share with you some lessons God in His grace has been seeking to work into my heart:
“Knowing” Should Always Precede the “Doing”
First of all, I’m learning that He is more concerned with my “knowing Him” than my “ministry for Him.” The “knowing” should always precede the “doing.” In order to do this God allows a trial to come into our lives that He might reveal to us our hearts and our great need for Him. And so He did with me. In His mercy, God revealed to me certain heart issues that needed dealing with.
You see, since Bob and I have been married we have been about the “doing”! And I’m here to tell you that we can become so busy “doing ministry” that our first love becomes the ministry rather than Jesus Himself! Even ministry can become an idol! And sometimes in love, God strips away all that we hold dear, so that we might find Him to be the dearer—the greater treasure. And so He stopped us in our tracks by His grace to help us center on Him. Yes, we may be called to sacrifice for our Lord, but it needs to come from a heart that has taken time to bask in His love and grace, with a life that is balanced with work, rest, and worship as He ordained for sustainable sacrifice.
Our Life is to Bring God Glory and He Gets to Choose How
My life is to bring God glory, whether in the pastorate or in the pain of suffering. He is the author of my story, not me! He gets to choose the how and where. I have to confess my place of choice was as a pastor/teacher’s wife, not as his care-taker through depression. But God gets to choose! I don’t! I am not my own because I’ve been bought with a price. I’m His! He orders my steps! He’s called me to live for His glory in everything; the venue doesn’t matter. I can live for His glory whether as a wife, a mom or grandma, a neighbor, a teacher discipling women at TMU, or at home as a caretaker of my husband, supporting him through depression! And God gets to choose!
Suffering is a Tool of God’s Grace
This suffering (depression) is a tool of God’s grace to make me more like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). He’s seeking to make me look like His Son! Has God promised me personal happiness—good health, a comfortable, predictable life, and a host of people who appreciate me? No, He’s offering me much more than that! His goal for my life is not first my happiness, but my holiness. He wants for me that which will last forever—the image of Christ restored in me. And He is not done with me until the day I see Jesus face to face, and then I will be like Him forever!
God Holds Our Future in His Hands
Because God is sovereign, I don’t have to be anxious about the future. Bob and I dreamed of finishing strong in the ministry, of dying in the saddle. But God is more concerned that we finish strong in Him! Still believing, still trusting, and still loving Him through the best of times and through the worst of times, because we can be assured that our sorrows will come to an end, and that heaven awaits those who persevere. We always have hope, no matter how dark the valley that God has called us to go through. ‘‘We do not lose heart…for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16-17).
May we remember these words and let them encourage our hearts on this road of life He has given us to live for His glory!
Questions for Reflection
Is there something you want from God that you are hoping to earn by your “doing”? Consider whether your heart wants it more than God Himself. Be honest! What is your place of choice in which to serve Christ? Where has God put you? Will you accept it as His place of choice for you and ask Him for strength to live it in such a way as to bring Him glory?
Mary Somerville, having been a pastor’s wife for many years, has authored the book One with a Shepherd: The Tears and Triumphs of a Ministry Marriage, newly published with a Study Guide by Mary Beeke. She has been an adjunct faculty member in the biblical counseling department at The Master’s University for the past 12 years.