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It's Time to Actually Get Real About Self-Care in the Church

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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 seem to be working at all. Last month 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 far too soon. Death seemed to be his only escape plan and way out of the pain he felt daily. A few weeks ago, I was so angry because a different 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 back off and step up. And, this guy… dude, hush. Show me your compassion and scars, don’t sling more shame and “shoulds.”

Please stop telling everyone this is a “sin problem.” This is a darkness problem because people are struggling to take care of themselves. I could rattle off a lengthy list of men and women who have made a huge difference in our world but also 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.

In 1 Kings 9:1-16, Elijah said he wanted to die and the angel of the Lord told him to take a nap and eat. 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 many times leaders are good at doing and serving, but they suck at resting and receiving.

With anxiety and depression, there is often no “snapping out” of it. I have been very open with my own struggles of anxiety and depression. I’m in the spotlight of ministry and have experienced a lot of trauma in life. Yet 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 I experienced verbal and physical abuse and still the stigma in the church feels worse? We understand pain inflicted from broken people, but we experience pain differently when we are going into battle next to someone who just pistol whipped us. We cannot minister effectively and be a 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 you can say to people when you are struggling with anxiety and depression. You have permission to take care of yourself. It’s OK for you to admit when you are not OK. 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 other people so 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 I finally had the courage to take a tiny pill that allows me to have what I call “normal people anxiety.” I refuse to chase it down with shame because I have clinical depression. Depression no longer has its hold on me — I am taking 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. Here are some things to say to loved ones when words are hard:

1. I know you need more from me but I’m running on empty and doing the best I can. If I had more to give, I would.

2. I’m working on it. Whatever “it” is causing you added pain/pressure, spell it out for them because they may not understand. They are not being mean; you may just be “high-functioning” and they have no clue you are fighting inner battles.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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, please clean up your own mess because chaos and clutter trigger me.

7. 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 please don’t push us to the breaking point.

When you are depressed or anxious, the most simple tasks in the world can feel 10 times harder. Sometimes you need assurance 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. If you are in a toxic environment, you don’t have to stay in it. If death feels like the only way out of all the pressure you feel, please reach out to someone. 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.”

Getty image by Zbynek Pospisil

Originally published: October 10, 2019
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