Nobody expects leaders in a church to suffer human ailments. We automatically assume they are exempt from stress, headaches, cancers, thyroid disease, heart disease, ect. They have some direct connection with the Father that us regular ole sheep do not have. As if their prayers make it to the Father just a tad bit quicker than ours. It's like they are super human or something. When in reality they are simply human taking on the same daily tasks like the rest of us. The recent suicide of lead pastor Andrew Stoecklien has left not only his congregation in shock but an entire Christian community. Here is a man that absolutely loved God. He had a beautiful life. But he struggled with something the church hates to talk about. Mental Illness. I cannot help but think maybe, God will use his story to shine light on what exactly clinical depression is. Just maybe, this will be the light that pierces through the darkness.
I have so many things that rush through my mind when a suicide goes public. It triggers so many raw emotions in my spirit, mainly because of my own mental health war. I start wondering if he faced pressure from others not to medicate. Or if he lacked support from his peers. Did he feel judged in the ministry. I can't assume anything without knowing the situation, but I still wonder. It honestly makes me want to write a letter to every single Christian who is affected by mental illness.
To The Christian Who Suffers From Clinical Depression,
I think the mental health stigma has you wandering around, waiting for one person to look at the invisible leprosy you carry in your brain and say, "Hey, I know you are struggling, let me walk with you." No judgement. No questions. Just being there. No one knows you take 20 mg of lexapro every evening. You haven't told anyone about your panic attack last night, because the last person told you it wasn't real. Your body aches physically and all you can think about is getting home to take a long nap. I know you long to be understood more than anything. You feel so alone standing in the midst of a congregation of 400. Your Sunday best face is on, but you secretly are praying no one asks you how your week was. I know you long for friendship, but fear rejection. I see you in your pew silently sitting with the voice inside your head screaming "This is too much to bear." But all are too busy singing their hallelujahs to stop and see your pain. Dear Christian, I see you. I hear you.
The greeter in your church has impaired vision and had to see an eye doctor for prescription glasses last week. The youth pastor's 5 year old son came home from school today with strep throat and required an antibiotic. After a heart attack three years ago, one of the elders in the church has to rely on a blood thinners for the rest of his life. The pastor's wife has diabetes and takes daily insulin shots. The pastor gets a headache weekly and pops an aspirin as needed. Never once have you questioned their faith. But the first sign of clinical depression and need for medication.....
GASP! How can you be struggling with depression??? Don't you believe in Jesus?
You need to have faith and read your bible more!
You need to ask for healing!
God doesn't want you to deal with this!
I have heard these lines for years! I too would go home after church and cry myself into a puddle of tears thinking there was something wrong with me. Alienating myself from God and people, because I thought I was doing something wrong in my walk with Christ. I couldn't pretend I was ok. The pressure to be healed at the alter was in my face every sermon. I had ladies pinning me in a corner at church telling me I needed to stop relying on medication and start relying on my Savior. Depression was slapping God in the face telling Him I didn't believe in Him. I avoided medical care for years thinking it would somehow break my covenant with Jesus. Just thinking back at those dark times makes me tear up. But I am so much stronger today than I was then!
The church can't figure out why so many members of the congregation are turning to suicide. It has nothing to do with their "faith". Maybe we are shaming them away from the healing God has provided through medical doctors. So when I say I HEAR YOU, Dear Christian! I mean I HEAR YOU! Guess what, you are allowed to treat your brain for it's chemical imbalance! For some reason in this country every organ in the human body is affected by sickness and worth treating except our brain!
So how do you face this? Do you sit around and wait for the world to catch up? I mean it's not like mental illness is new. It dates back to almost every single character in the Bible. Jesus Himself faced a moment of anxiety! (I'm sure I lost half the Christian readers on that comment.) Jesus knew that He was on his way to the cross, but He did not dwell on what was going to happen. He was able to take one day at a time, just as He teaches us to do today. You are out of your mind if you think He was not full of sorrow for what He was about to endure! Jesus has not forgotten how He felt in that garden. When you pray about your feelings, He knows. He understands. He is wants and is able to help you, because He too has faced every problem He has ever allowed us to endure. Find comfort in knowing that your Savior understands you so intimately. He understands the emotion of depression and anxiety because He bore every disease, sickness, and disorder on the cross along with our sin. Like Jesus, you may be in the garden right now praying and wishing this cup would pass. Like Jesus, trust that the emotions you are feeling do not define the TRUTH. The pain and suffering you feel today will one day be replaced with every promise God has given His people.
Lastly, I would like to pray with you and for you. God hears our prayers and stores every warm tear in a bottle.
Father, your word says you are close to the broken hearted. Your compassion has no boundaries. God, I pray that you would supply peace and joy that surpasses all understanding for your broken people. Use every anguish to bring us closer to You. No pain is unredeemable. No anguish is in vain. You make beautiful ashes out the worst case scenario. To those who are lonely let your voice be heard. To those who need a friend make your presence known. God restore tired spirits, mend the weak in body. The blood of Jesus has not lost it's power, amen!
No matter what, suicide IS NEVER EVER EVER an option! Your life matters. If you are facing suicidal thoughts please contact someone you trust! If you feel you have no one, you can call a trained professional with the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Also, there are multiple faith organizations willing to help.