Too many times in today’s world, the church is hiding from talking about and dealing with the topic “Mental Health.” It is something our leaders need to be doing a better job of addressing and realizing even pastoral families can struggle in this area.
We recently got permission to use a blog that a pastor’s wife had posted on her Facebook page written by a friend of hers and is spot on, and I felt it needed to be shared.
I think it’s important to talk about mental health with a different spin. Maybe because the current spin is ticking me off and doesn’t work at all. This week was another heavy reminder that no one is immune to depression, anxiety, and suicide. Another pastor took his life. Another young soul who was making a HUGE impact on the world is gone much too soon. Death was his only escape plan and a way out of the pain he felt daily. Yesterday, I was so angry because another man and spiritual leader was talking about something he had NEVER wrestled with. He told the “church” to wake up, but maybe the “church” needs to step up.
Please stop telling everyone this is a sin problem. This is a darkness problem because people are not taking care of themselves. I could rattle off a lengthy list of men and women who made a huge difference in our world who wrestled with depression and anxiety. Thank God they talked about it. But we are not talking about this issue enough. We are bringing shame to the table, not hope in Christ and permission to take care of our health. Enough with the try harder and do more mentality. It is the most unholy hustle of them all. Busyness does not equal holiness. If the price is your health, family, and life… the cost is not anywhere close to holy. It’s just unhealthy.
Elijah said he wanted to die, the angel of the Lord told him to take a nap and eat. (I Kings 19; 1-16) Three times he was reminded to TAKE CARE of himself. Yet, as a leader, they view us as weak and needy to take a sabbatical. The angel told him, “This will be too much for you.” That’s why he needed to rest and eat. He needed time to replenish before he tackled another assignment from the Lord and someone had to tell him that repeatedly. Why? Because leaders are good at doing and serving, but are horrible at resting and receiving.
With anxiety and depression, there is no snapping out of it.
I have been very open to my own struggles with anxiety and depression. I’m in the spotlight of ministry and have gone through a lot of traumas in life. Of all the hard things I have experienced in life, nothing has landed me in counseling more than being married to the ministry. Yeah, I said that. Did I mention that I went through a little verbal and physical abuse and church hurt feels worse? We understand the pain inflicted by broken people, but we experience pain differently when we are going into battle, so to speak, with someone who just pistol-whipped us. We cannot minister effectively to you AND be your walking target at the same time. (This could get me in trouble with ministry people, but I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid for you.)
We put ourselves last and call it “Kingdom” work. It’s not kingdom work; it’s called neglect.
It’s unhealthy and can turn into abusive behavior where people feel like they must sacrifice themselves and families in the name of serving Jesus. Can we just call it workaholism? Because it is.
You are more important than a job, your image, and all the calendar events you feel pressured to attend. You are more important than the roles you fill. You are allowed to take breaks to prevent burnout.
I want to give you a few things that you can say to your people when you are struggling with anxiety and depression. You have permission to take care of yourself. It’s okay for you to admit when you are not okay. It really is.
Please go to counseling. I’m going and I love it. I need it. And it’s helping me. I spend a lot of my time counseling everyone else, why shouldn’t my heart be a priority? It’s worth the money and time. Trust me.
Please talk to your doctor and discuss medical care. I take an antidepressant and I am PROUD that I finally had the courage to take a tiny pill that allows me to have what I call “normal people anxiety” and now I refuse to chase it down with shame because I have seasonal depression. Depression no longer has it’s hold on me because I take care of myself. I’ll quit the stressful job. Bye, Felicia. I’ll be MIA if I need to be because I’m worth that. I want to show up for the people I love the most in life. I will not spend myself to make hard to please people happy, it never lasts anyway.
Here are things to say to loved ones when words are hard:
- I know you are needing more from me but I’m running on empty and doing the best I can. If I had more to give, I would. (So… it’s your turn to be a giver. Make me proud.)
- I’m working on it. (Whatever “it” is causing you added pain/pressure, spell it out for them because they don’t understand. They are not being mean; you just are high functioning and they have no clue about your inner battles.)
- I need you to give me time to work through this in a safe space. Please don’t push me harder because I need grace.
- I’m typically able to be the glue for our family and meet everyone’s needs; I need you to give me room to be unglued for a little while without making me feel guilty or crazy.
- I need you to let me vent in a shame-free place. If you can’t handle that… it makes me feel disconnected from you.
- You don’t get to tell me I’m wrong for feeling this way. But what you can do is step in to help with the things that are overwhelming me right now. (So, clean up your own mess because chaos and clutter trigger me.)
- I’ve reached my quota for heavy conversations. Can we table this until I’m in a healthy place? (We are terrified to say something we don’t really mean, so don’t push us to the breaking point.)
When you are depressed or anxious, the most simple tasks in the world feel ten times harder.
Sometimes you need assurance that:
- You are more valuable than growing a business, ministry, or job.
- You are more important than your to-do list and what you accomplish.
- You are worth the money it will take for regular counseling, medical care, and vacations. (Staycations are not a lot of benefit. Go somewhere.)
If you are in a toxic environment, you don’t have to stay in it. If death is your only way out of all the pressure you feel, please find a profession that doesn’t kill you.
Restructure your life in a way that works for you and please stop sacrificing yourself and your spouse on the idol of “church growth.”
Jesus gives us rest, not lists, darling. He tends to our needs and is never, ever neglectful.
I love you people,
— Jennifer Renee
I want to remind you of a couple sentences from this blog that are so profound: “Please stop telling everyone this is a sin problem. This is a darkness problem because people are not taking care of themselves.”
Pastors and their spouses are great at helping others, but many times they neglect themselves. Please know we are here to walk with you on the ministry journey. Please let us know how we can help.