By Gabriel Montez

Gabriel has been a pastor for six years in Southern California before moving to Central Texas. He now pastors a small church as well as a chaplain in a retirement community. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology, and a Master’s degree in Mental Health & Wellness from Grand Canyon University in Arizona. Gabe also has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation from Liberty University in Virginia.

    The Lonely Mind in a Crowded Room

    Wednesday, December 20, 2023

    The holidays are officially here with the Christmas music, food, and weather changing all around us. Some of us might remember the imaginative days of our childhood as we hoped for that perfect present while we looked at that perfect tree. Depending on what part of the world you live in, you might have noticed the cooler or colder days begin which trigger the anticipation of your favorite treats and specials on television. Or, for some of us, these descriptions were a hope or a dream that we never had but desperately wanted. We seem to constantly strive toward that perfect image of happiness. An unattainable attempt at perfection gives us consistent pain and frustration that leads us toward a heavy wave of loneliness.

    As adults, we can sink into depression, particularly during the holidays. However, I have noticed that people of all ages are feeling alone, and Christmas time can be worse. This encouragement will be for both younger and older people. This time of the year may bring the only sense of happiness then we sink back down to a depressed state for the rest of the year. Yet, those who are feeling depressed during the season when society emphasizes family for it to be special, will long for it to be over. Of course, we can see how commercialism has skewed the authenticity of “family” or the expectations of Christmas, not to mention how heavy-handed the season can be to then be cut off as soon as December 26th. Our clinging to a rich, feel-good season will be severed and then we become eager to find something to make us feel good again.

    Our sustainable happiness can also be challenged with insurmountable grief that cannot be resolved with the holiday season. Some of us may have had traumatic experiences during the contrasting expectations of the season. Many, whether young or old, have experienced the loss of a loved one who now must experience this time of the year without them. Or some might have acquired an illness, lost a job, fought with a friend or family, etc. The point is, as we hear that Christmas should be “the happiest time of the year”, when in a state of grieving, it seems to hurt that much more.

    Let’s not forget that while circumstances can bring us down, clinical disorders also seem to impose on our day-to-day when trying to live among the lights and the tinsel.

    “A range of factors and conditions can influence our mood during winter. For some, feeling low may be indicative of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For others, low mood may signal other forms of clinical depression.”1

    Our awareness to understand a clinical need as well as biblical is often in conflict. It is that much harder when we are already battling those low days and trying to seek proper help. Many of us are not open with others about seeking clinical help for depression or other similar concerns, especially in ministry. Often, we feel weak, broken, or unable and wonder who would truly trust our ability if they knew of our struggle. Where this leaves us is often feeling alone, depressed, anxious, and inadequate. As Christians, shouldn’t we have it all together?

    First, identify your emotions and go to God with them.

    I am rarely unaware of when I am in a bad, emotional place. I am either frustrated, angry, or anxious. During those moments, I tend to lash out at my family or myself. So, since I am aware of what I am feeling and I know that it is a negative feeling I would rather not have, it must be given to the Holy Spirit. Often, we neglect to give it to Him because we expect people to be the remedy. However, people can only do so much without the Lord giving authority to the process. Otherwise, nothing more can be done than to pacify the emotion for a moment.

    Going to God with how you feel will take some humility because we feel afflicted. The nature of our low state of emotions tells us that this is not the time to feel this way. Stop being crabby when everyone else is in a great mood! So, we feel like no one else can understand how we feel while suffering and we begin to spiral further into isolation. A pastor’s wife who constantly feels overwhelmed with organizing Christmas parties and other events will have a distant relationship with her spouse or kids. A pastor standing at the pulpit encouraging others while emotionally drained and burned out will feel the temptation toward isolation. Kids who aren’t up to being the “PK” again and again, after just getting yelled at, picked on, or failing, will act out.

    “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

    When we give our soul to God and include how we feel, and ask why, we are saying first, we believe in Him and trust that He understands us and can heal us. Then our faith can grow to take larger leaps. Going to a friend, family or even your spouse first may solve some of the issues, but without God being the first person you seek after, it can be open season for Satan or the flesh to muddle things up.

    Second, we confess our struggle to a friend.

    This can be an already established mentor, pastor, or someone similar. If you do not already have someone that you trust, I strongly suggest that you have someone who can understand your deepest concerns. This person MUST BE of the same sex as you confide in them. It is not enough to say that you will take all the precautions to avoid becoming intimate with the other person. Nor is it enough to feel confident in your walk with Christ and your relationship with your spouse.

    This step is necessary both for potential pitfalls as well as respect for your spouse and the other person. Furthermore, when a person is caring for another in a deeply emotional way, the risk of temptation can be unsettling. One may begin to question the spouse’s ability to care for the other while the confidant seems to be meeting the need. This can lead to resentment and frustration, thus one can fall into a compulsion for a romantic relationship.

    “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

    Lastly, don’t suppress your depression but acknowledge the need to process it.

    Once you have given it all to God and shared it with a mentor, it’s out. This is not like airing your dirty laundry on social media. Instead, what you have harbored is now out in a safe place with safe people and, most importantly, our Lord. In comparison, when a person has a physical illness that is visually obvious, we tend to treat it with prayer for God’s guidance as well as medication prescribed by a physician. As Christians, we should tend to our spiritual needs in the same way. We believe that God provides in all ways through His wisdom and ability and to those He ordains to help. So, allow for a process though God to be one with hard work but without shame and neglect.

    A process of healing may not come quickly, but the initial relief will be noticeable. A person struggling with depression will often feel detached from their church. So, it will be difficult to share in any Bible Study or group setting because of the emotional restrictions that person places upon themselves. Being vulnerable in safe places to get to the root of the issue can be liberating. A person who is willing to be vulnerable in the biblical sense is willing to share, preparing for the molding of the Holy Spirit and caring for the person next to them while accepting care for themselves.

    To conclude, it seems that the mental well-being in society is being attacked.

    Christians are no exception, yet feel the burden of hiding or limiting its impact. Technology has allowed for isolation to be more accessible. The holidays call for joy while excluding Jesus from any of the festivities. Our emphasis today while understanding the growing challenges is to listen and love others while being obedient to Christ. I often struggle with the obedience part as I strive for that perfect life and that perfect Christmas. How tempting it is for that picture to be made real, and when it isn’t, I am the failure?

    Is this not true in all areas of our life? We strive for that goal, image, or feeling that is not in Christ and our emotional state suffers when we fail. The control runs through our fingers, and we spiral into loneliness. It is then that we miss that loved one who is gone; we are homesick and feel abandoned. Rather than running from God at this point, let us make ourselves vulnerable to His will. Let us be willing to allow for the painful process of healing to take place. Furthermore, let us gain wisdom through our experience and care for those who are struggling. We are not alone. There are so many who are struggling with depression, so let us lean in seeking how we can glorify Him through the pain.

    “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

    1. Brown, Richard. "Feeling Sad at Christmas: Is There Something Wrong with Me?" Psychology Today. December 19, 2022.

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