Depression and the Pastor's Wife
Paul Tautges has served Immanuel Bible Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin as pastor since 1992. He is also an adjunct professor of biblical counseling and conference speaker. Paul has authored eight books including Counsel One Another, Comfort Those Who Grieve, The Discipline of Mercy, and Brass Heavens. He is also the editor of the popular Help! discipleship counseling booklet series (24 titles). Paul is a NANC Fellow and a Council Board member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. He and his wife Karen are the parents of ten children. Paul blogs regularly at counselingoneanother.com.
- 2014 Jan 31
[Today’s post is written by Cara Croft and is from the excellent new book, The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft, published by Zondervan.]
Every counselor begins with the question, “So how long have you suffered with depression?” The truth is that I am not sure. At times it seems like a lifetime. As a child I was always told that I was melancholy, and that description is true. I was a very quiet child. I tended to sit, listen, and observe others; I still do that. However, I tend to slip at times into a different kind of darkness.
My first major bout with depression came my freshman year in college. My parents were divorced and had been since I was three. However, I was feeling a new pressure in my relationship with my dad, and I was not sure how to handle it. I became very discouraged when I realized that I was in a situation in which I could not make my mom and my dad happy no matter what decision I made. So, I went to counseling. I cannot remember most of what that counselor and I talked about, but I do know that God used that time to bring me to a deeper level of brokenness and a greater realization of my dependence on him. As I look back at my time in college, I can clearly see times where God met me in very real ways.
Then I got married. My sweet husband knew that at times I struggled with discouragement and being down, but usually I rebounded quickly. We had been at the church for three years when I hit my next major bout with depression. My youngest child was born a month early and we went through a year with various health issues with our children that ended in several different surgeries and hospital stays. To the point of exhaustion, I tried to care for four children, my husband, and our church; homeschool; and go to a bazillion doctor’s appointments. I was overwhelmed with my life and felt like I was failing in everything I did.
No matter what I did or how I changed my schedule I just could not do it all. After a year of struggling (yes, it took me a whole year to finally admit I needed help), I came to a place where I had to share with my husband what was going on. I was depressed, not just down, but depressed. I was in a place of darkness where it seemed there was no hope, happiness, or joy.
Back to counseling I went; only this time, my husband came too. He had noticed my struggle but he was not sure how he could help me deal with it. Counseling was helpful. I saw how much I try to earn God’s favor. I struggle with perfectionism and am frustrated with myself when I am anything less than perfect. I tend to dismiss the encouraging comments from my husband and from other church members, and I tend to replace them with self-loathing thoughts like “if only they knew the thoughts I had, or if they knew how I really was than they wouldn’t say those things.” I was choosing to believe lies instead of believing God’s truth about who I am in Him and how he sees me.
After several months of counseling, the darkness lifted. I experienced a joy that I had missed for months. I experienced peace and a renewed love for God and his word. I found a joy in serving my family and my church that had not been there for a long time. I found freedom in not having to please myself. But the battle did not end. Please understand that I still had the thoughts creep into my head that I wasn’t good enough or that I had failed again. However, I also had God’s word to remind me of the truth of my freedom in Christ.
However, depression is a battle that does not go away. Depression is not easily or quickly cured. Though it can go as quickly as it came, it can also reappear as quickly as it disappeared. And so, once again, I find myself in the embrace of depression. I find myself back down in the pit of darkness and despair.
Why am I at this place again? I am not sure. For over a year now, I have struggled, at times more intensely than others, but the darkness has never completely lifted. I have learned many lessons from this struggle.
- First, depression comes and goes, even for Christians. God allows us to be in the darkness for a season, but he is always faithful to bring us out of it. He is there in the darkness whether I feel him or not; he will not abandon me here.
- Second, I need others to help me in my struggle. I have a few very close friends who know very intimately my struggle with depression. When I get to these places of depression, these dear Christian ladies know they need to check on me and remind me of God’s truth. They often spend time speaking God’s word into my life and reminding me of his care for me. They spend time both praying with me and for me. They are invaluable to my fight with depression.
- Third, my husband loves me despite my fight with depression. I am often tempted to worry that my husband will be disappointed to see me struggle. I am still in shock when he finds joy in caring for me through it. Now, I recognize that my struggle is hard on him as well. His care for me does not come without great sacrifice on his part. He proactively seeks the help and counseling that I need. He deliberately cares for me and encourages me, even when I don’t receive his care and encouragement. He has not given up on me.
- Fourth, my family doctor has been invaluable in helping me with my struggle. She often is one of the first to recognize the signs of my depression. She has worked with me to make sure that there are no other underlying physical causes as one of the sources of my depression. For example, blood work discovered I had a very low B-12 level, depression being a side effect of this condition. Raising my B-12 did not solve my depression issues completely, but treating this did play an important part in dealing with it as a whole. She has also encouraged me in persevering. Oftentimes, my doctor has reminded me that it is not unique for pastors and their wives to struggle in these ways as she has treated many. It is invaluable to have a medical person who is like-minded to aid in helping with your struggle.
- Fifth, and most importantly, I am constantly reminded of my complete and utter dependence on God. He is the one who has to sustain me in these times. He is the only one who can bring me up from the pit. I cannot do this Christian life on my own apart from God. One of my friends pointed out that depression is actually a gift from God because it leaves us in a place of humility and brokenness that cannot be achieved in other ways. It is in these places that God begins deep healing of old wounds. Without depression I would never take the time to allow God into those hurtful places. I know that God will not leave me here forever, though if he chose to, I also know that he would sustain me through it each day. God is good and faithful even in these times.
My struggle with depression is not the result of being a pastor’s wife. If my husband was in another vocation I believe I would still struggle. However, being a pastor’s wife (as well as being a pastor) intensifies this struggle. The exhausting nature of caring for the church, the temptation to carry the burdens of those who are struggling in our midst, the demands on our time and on our family, and the spiritual battle that we daily face all contribute to exhaustion and vulnerability. This exhaustion is especially intensified as we try to do all of these things in our own strength, apart from God. Therefore, finding pastors and their wives struggling with depression is not uncommon.
So let me encourage you if you find yourself in this place. First of all, you are not alone. Many Christians have very real struggles with depression and have for the whole course of time. You can be a Christian, even a strong, mature Christian, and be depressed.
Next, let me encourage you to get help with your battle, which cannot be won by yourself. This battle demands encouragement, counseling, at times medical treatment and prayer. You have to be courageous enough to speak up and admit your struggle. Until you ask for help you can’t get help. However, the irony of depression is that sometimes we are unable to ask for help. So if you know someone who is depressed, then reach out and offer them help. Depressed people do not need to be forgotten. Even though they may be silent, they are suffering, and many times by themselves. If you are struggling then find a friend in whom to confide. Talk with your spouse about it and start sharing your struggle instead of staying silent. We have to be honest about our struggle, but we need others to ask us about it as well.
Finally, let me encourage you that God knows your need. He knows where you are and He will be faithful to you in these moments. The work that Christ did on the cross provides forgiveness for our sins and our short comings and gives us the freedom to walk with God and not lose his favor. The work Christ did provides healing for our souls. You are not alone in your struggle, you are not alone in your darkness, and you are not alone in your pain. God is real and his people do care, and he will bring you through this struggle with a greater love and dependence on him.
[Reading this book was a recent blessing, help, and conviction to me! If you love your pastor and his family and want to know better how you can pray for them then get yourself (and him) a copy of The Pastor's Family by Brian and Cara Croft.]