On Easter this year, Christianity Today reposted an article written by J.I. Packer from the magazine’s April 10, 1981, issue.
Packer was a complementarian and Calvinist, so there’s quite a bit on which we disagree, and this article is no exception. In one section, he mischaracterizes depressed people as real-life Eeyores who can take anything and turn it into gloom and doom. Side note: I believe Eeyore was depressed and could have used a good therapist in addition to his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.
I understand that opinions on depression in 1981 were different than they are today. Sort of. Let’s face it: We, meaning the big “C” church, still struggle with talking about depression. Advice runs the gamut from putting on the whole armor of God so you can battle Satan who is at the root of your depression to advice to get help from a professional.
Which brings me to my mom.
After she died, I started going through her Bible. She carried it every week to church and was an avid margin-note-taker. Every Sunday, all I wanted to do was hold that Bible. It was a big, black leather, KJV Bible with gold-leafed pages. It was magical, and I loved it.
I came across one sentence, five words to be exact, that broke my heart: “Depression is from the devil.”
“I came across one sentence, five words to be exact, that broke my heart.”
I am confident that she believed this with every part of her being. I am also confident that she suffered from depression for much of her life, but she never would have admitted it. No matter how bad life got, everything was fine. Perhaps her refusal to admit to her depression came from the five words I found in her Bible. Or maybe it was because of the reluctance of society or her generation to talk about mental illness. Whatever the source, it prevented her from getting help when she so desperately needed it.
And had it not been for the suicide of my late husband in 2014, I probably never would have gotten help either.
After his death, I found a psychologist at a local Christian clinic near where I lived, and he helped me navigate a world in which someone close to me not only had died but had died by suicide, another thing we don’t talk about in church, but I’ll save that for later.
During this time of intense grief, he helped me recognize my depression and encouraged me to see it not as a shameful thing but as a valid medical condition. He helped me to understand the science behind it and encouraged me to take medication when he felt it was needed. He allowed me to feel what I felt when I felt it with no judgment and walked with me through my grief and depression. To this day, I believe he is the sole reason I have changed my views on depression.
“Part of my calling is to speak up when church folk try to attach spiritual guilt to any of these already stigmatized issues.”
When I finally accepted the call to be a pastor, I knew that my experiences with issues such as mental health, suicide and addiction — among others — were embedded in that call. Part of my calling is to speak up when church folk try to attach spiritual guilt to any of these already stigmatized issues. Christianity Today, I’m talking to you. Views like this on depression are ignorant and damage the progress we’ve made as a society and church in the realm of mental health discussions.
The larger part of my calling is to normalize the issues such as these that are stigmatized so that people don’t have to suffer in shame or isolation like I did after my husband’s suicide. I regularly talk to my congregation, either in conversation or from the pulpit, about mental illness. It is not always easy to admit that I struggle with depression and anxiety. I sometimes get looks of shock and sometimes pity when I talk about medication or the fact that I regularly see a therapist. But I still do it. Because I have found that when I open up first, it gives others the courage to do the same. And when that happens, the healing begins.
Kim Brewer serves as associate pastor of Pantano Baptist Church in Tucson, Ariz.
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Listening to depression as a spiritual and political practice | Opinion by Eric Minton