I Got Depressed Because Jesus Loves Me2
I wanted to write this series in two parts. First, a few posts about how I sank into depression, and then several on how I recovered. Honestly, writing the first half has been hard, and I want to be finished. But I have one more I must write. I must ask the question why.
Why did I sink into such darkness? The only answer I can find is: Because God loves me so.
Maybe it was an answer to prayer. My wife has prayed for years that I would not get so high up in the ministry that I had a fall. One colleague recently told me he prays every day that God would keep me humble. Mission accomplished I guess.
Maybe depression was written in my genes. Depression and suicide seem to run in my family along with diabetes, heart disease, and love for fried food.
Whatever the reason or the means, I think God wanted to show me something -- me.
During my whole life, God has been tremendously kind to me. He has given me a wife and kids much better than I deserve. He has surrounded me with generous friends who love me. He has given me older men, spiritual mentors and fathers, who adore me for no clear reason.
He has also given me a fruitful ministry. I had great fun as a campus minister, and I have planted a church that I am proud of. It is more true to say I fell backwards into this great church plant, than to say I planted this great church.
Most importantly, he has given me himself. Have I taken this greatest gift for granted?
At the end of 2019 I was flying high. We had finally made it over the hump. For the first time in my life, I had no financial worries personally or for the church. RiverOaks was bigger than I ever expected it to be, we had several church plants and even a new presbytery. We had a healthy cohort of pastors who love and trust each other. My boys were grown and out of the nest without any disastrous heartbreaks. I even went so far as to tell my career coach I had achieved everything I had hoped. I had ticked the box on every long term goal.
All along the way, I knew the danger. I knew the temptation to confuse the gifts of God for God himself. So I regularly prayed: "God keep me humble and near you. Let me minister out of brokenness. Do not let me take your gifts for granted."
In 2020, he began taking them away. People who had told me every Sunday how much they loved me, suddenly disappeared. Then in quarantine, everyone stopped coming. Everything I loved about the ministry was taken away. I have felt alone and lost many times before, only to have God answer prayer and give me a token after token to remind me he was with me. But not this time. No one had the energy to prop me up or come to my aid, and God was strangely silent. I was left to myself, and what I saw frightened me.
I saw me. I saw a weak man with no stamina. I saw a heart filled with jealousy and hatred. I heard words come out of my mouth that no human should say. I had thoughts in my heart that no Christian should ever think. I even wrote on the front page of my journal: PLEASE DON'T READ THIS. I don't want anyone to know I ever felt this way.
Maybe for the first time, I saw the worst me. I saw a me that I despised.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the love with which he loves us, even when we were dead in our trespasses made us alive together with Christ. ~ Ephesians 2:4-5
But God does not despise me. He loves even the worst version of me. He loves me so much that he gave his son so he could spend eternity with me. And there is only one me. I come in many versions, but I am always me. And he always loves me.
That is the lesson I am finally learning. God loves the version of me that I despise. I find that impossible to believe, but believe it I must. Because he really does, and he is all I have. He is more than I will ever need.