As a person who has had struggles with depression and anxiety, as well as, being a pastor in Southern California, the recent news of Andrew Stoecklein (pastor at Inland Hills Church) hits so close to home for me. The dynamic pastor from Chino, attempted to take his life Friday, August 24th, and finally succumbed to his injuries a day later.
The pressures of leading a church, while finding ways to increase membership, on top of caring for and providing for a family, and doing the dance of life can be a bit overwhelming. No one tells you that it’s ok to be honest about feeling pressure. Seminary doesn’t teach you how to deal with loneliness in the context of being surrounded by loving people. And we’re not typically taught how to slow down in the fast paced life of running a church.
The words of my former pastor ring true when he once told me, “I wouldn’t recommend pastoral ministry to anyone unless God truly has called them.”
October of 2017 was the last time I thought about taking my life. I first entered a season of depression and anxiety three years prior, but none as intense as it escalated to last year. I struggled to go to sleep on most nights, laying in bed gasping for air while my wife slept peacefully. I rode rollercoasters of emotions, going from being ecstatic about a completed poetic masterpiece I had been working on for weeks to staring off into the distance feeling alone in a matter of seconds. I felt as if my life was in a constant state of shouting just to get attention, yet no one was hearing me. I carried a knife in my pocket just incase I was brave enough to finally end it all.
Until one day, it was as if God snapped His fingers and my darkened funk was lifted. I’ve gone ten months without wanting to take my life nor have I been anxious about anything. Do I worry about some things? Absolutely. Do I roll into periods of sadness from time to time? Sure. But the dark cloud of depression has seemingly disappeared.
Reading about Andrew’s unfortunate end, however, reminded me of how quick depression can overwhelm you. When you least expect it to, anxiety can punch you in the mouth and leave a suicidal sting. I was reminded of the importance of living in complete honesty and surrounding myself with trusted people who I can cling to at any given moment. I was reminded of the importance of rest. And, being at the tail end of my month long sabbatical, I was reminded of the importance of rhythmic rest.
And, this morning, I was reminded of a passage in Scripture that God seemed to have breathed new life into. The Apostle Paul, to the church in Philippi, once said,
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing.”
There are so many things in life that are out of our control. Whether it be the ups and downs of our jobs or the curveballs thrown by our family members and whether it’s the direct actions against us by others or the hurtful critique from obnoxious individuals, there are many things in life that we have no power over. And, because there are many things we can’t control, we shouldn’t be anxious over these things. We shouldn’t allow anxiety to get the best of us. If anxiousness is the worry, unease, or nervousness brought on by an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome, then trying to control the results is useless. It’s insane to think that we can manipulate uncontrollable outcomes in our favor.
And that’s where a lot of my anxiety and the resulting state of depression stemmed from. They maturated from my need to control everything. Many of my bouts stemmed from me trying to control the outcomes of the unknown. I would want something in a particular moment that wasn’t meant for me to have in that particular moment. It was me pining over decisions I made and not wanting to deal with the consequences. It was me allowing the pressures of life to beat me down, even though I knew letting go was the best option.
In other words, instead of choosing God’s wisdom, I tried to figure life out on my own.
Paul, however, advises that we simply present everything to God through prayer and supplication. We simply ought to ask God to fulfill our needs and do so with extreme gratitude. We present our needs with thanksgiving, knowing that God’s answers to our prayer, whether they’re “yes”, “no”, or “later on”, are always with our best interests in mind.
The challenge for us is to be ok with the answers we’re given…no more and no less.
It’s in this reality, as Paul says, where the peace of God will envelope us. No matter the outcome, with God’s peace wrapping its astronomic arms around us, our hearts and minds will be guarded. They’ll be guarded from anxiety. They’ll be guarded from depression. They’ll be guarded from suicidal thoughts.
My prayers of peace and comfort go out to Andrew’s family.
And, specifically for those currently in pastoral ministry, I want to remind you that it’s ok to be honest. It’s ok to be honest from the pulpit. It’s ok to be honest with your spouse and friends. It’s ok to take breaks. It’s ok to rest. It’s ok to reach out for help.
No one will think any less of you.