Ever struggle with depression? I mean, ever admit that you struggle with depression? Sarah Robinson gives us all the courage we need to say we do.
Permission To Be Broken
By Sarah J. Robinson
“Honey, you struggle with depression, don’t you?”
My heart fell right through the floor as if it had accidentally wandered into the Tower of Terror. Those words from a mentor, so simple and so compassionate, still managed to cut deep, tearing apart my carefully constructed performance.
The first thing I felt was that familiar shame wrapping around me. Nausea rose in my chest as my thoughts started spinning. Once again, I’d proved unable to fix myself, unable to keep the ache pressed down enough to succeed in ministry. Eight months prior, I’d left the small church where I was a youth pastor and moved across the country to be part of a thriving, internationally recognized ministry. The transition was exciting but difficult; I desperately missed the church I’d loved and served in for years, and the pace of life in a megachurch was grueling. For a while, I thought I’d cracked the code and was past the pain I’d always carried, but the mounting stress had freed me from that illusion. But I couldn’t let my guard down. I’d fought so long to keep it together on my own that I counted it failure to be seen as anything but a perfect servant-hearted leader, whether as a small-town youth pastor or as part of a massive ministry team.
But then she continued. “I know, because I do too. I can tell you live under the cloud, though you fight it valiantly. You haven’t just rolled over and died, but it’s still there.” She went on, telling me I needed to learn to take care of myself, that I would need to prioritize it if I wanted to last in ministry. But my heart was slowly turning over, crawling back up from the pit of my stomach as I realized what she was saying.
I felt hot tears on my face and they tasted like freedom. I still wanted to sink under the table, but something in me sighed with relief. This darkness was depression, named and open and no longer denied. I wasn’t used to the vulnerability of brokenness. I was used to pulling in and standing up straight and taking more weight. I had grown accustomed to pushing back, resisting anything that looked like weakness, because that’s what I thought would make me better.
But that day, she identified the brokenness I hadn’t made peace with. She gave me permission to stop thinking I was failing because I couldn’t try my way into restoration.
She told me it was okay to need help. Until this moment, I had believed that I was on my own, that the ability of my brain to create joy was somehow in my control and if I could just pray harder or spend more time in Scripture, it would all be okay.
Sure, I had tried to go to therapy a few times, but that hadn’t gone well. And it certainly hadn’t lasted long enough for me to come to terms with a diagnosis of depression or accept that it wasn’t about my failure. So I’d been left trying to use the old coping skills that had never quite been enough. The more I tried to beat back the darkness with white-knuckle faith, the more it feasted on shame and disappointment. It was a vicious cycle, and I was stuck as long as I refused to accept that I had depression.
I’ve learned that denial is a time thief. It robs us of opportunities to move toward wholeness when we’re busily pushing away the reality of our circumstances. I lost years, busily rejecting the reality that I woke up to every day, when embracing depression and accepting that it’s an illness would have made a world of difference for me.
Stigma makes this sort of denial a popular pastime in our culture, especially in the church. When we believe good Christians—or pastors, or leaders, or whoever—don’t struggle with mental health issues, it’s really difficult to open up, admit that we’re depressed, and come to a place of acceptance. It can be even tougher for those in leadership positions to share our struggles because we fear being declared unfit for ministry.
The heartbreaking reality is this: as suicide rates continue to grow, nobody is immune. In the church, that means we are losing more and more of those in ministry. The news might stop our breath and make us wonder how somebody who seemed to love and serve people so well could take his own life. Often, you’d never know he was struggling.
That was my story until my wise friend helped me see something crucial about depression: it’s an illness, just like any other disease. It’s got a serious physical component, including all sorts of physiological causes. I couldn’t make it go away through avoidance or wishful thinking any more than I could with any other chronic illness.
All that time, I’d thought acceptance meant giving up without a fight. But it actually meant freedom because I couldn’t treat something I ignored, resisted, and fought. It meant taking a crucial step on the long journey to a rich, beautiful life.
Excerpted from I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah J. Robinson. Used by permission of WaterBrook, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Sarah J. Robinson once believed her lifelong battle with depression made her a bad Christian. Now she’s an author and speaker who helps others discover that mental illness doesn’t disqualify them from living rich, beautiful lives in Christ. Her book, I Love Jesus, But I Want to Die: Finding Hope in the Darkness of Depression, draws from a decade of ministry experience and the mental health field, Sarah helps readers fight for wholeness and cultivate joy. She lives in Nashville with her husband.