This morning I have the privilege of speaking to a group of pastors, and I want to convey to them the difficulty that the church today has in facing the issue of mental illness.  I am considering using this shortened version of “Preacher’s Story” from my book to dress the problem in flesh.  But I thought as long as I had it out and was tinkering with it, I would share this version with my Gentle Readers.  Enjoy.

Preacher’s Story

During our stay on the psych ward, Preacher and I had several long discussions.  From the start, the big man asked me a lot of questions.  I let down my defenses and told him my story.  When I was done, he asked:

“Do you believe you’re still a Christian?”

I sighed.  “Jesus promised everlasting life to everybody who would put their trust in Him.  Everlasting means forever.”

“Even though you tried to kill yourself?”

“Look—my mind isn’t what it used to be, but unless it’s changed in the last few days, everlasting still means everlasting.”

He paused.  Clearly, he could see that I was getting testy, but he asked one more question, in a tone more sincere than the others.  “How do you know whether your depression is sickness or sin?”

I just looked at him.  That was the question for any person of faith, wasn’t it…. 

 

As we continued our discussions, I learned more about my roommate.  He was pastor at a local church, and had taught—”…thoroughly, vigorously, and repeatedly…”—that there was no place for depression or even discouragement in a true believer’s life.  After all, the Bible says that “…all things work together for good…:” for those who love God.  Feelings of guilt came from sinful thoughts or acts.  Despair was a failure to believe the promises of God—or, possibly, a demonic influence in one’s life.

“Needless to say, we didn’t have any members in our church suffering from mental illness,” Preacher said with the slightest hint of irony.

 

Another time, he asked me, “Who knows what happened to you?”

“My family.  My pastor.  A select group of friends.”

“Will you tell the members of your church?”

“I don’t know.  Some would understand.  Some would think the way you do.”  I felt brave, so I pushed the limit.  “So what are you going to tell your church?”

He got up and walked away without answering.

 

After dinner, he came and sat down across the table from me.  “Do you know why I’m here?”

I couldn’t resist a little sarcasm.  “Let me guess:  you tried to drown yourself in the baptistery, or maybe you tried to perform an exorcism on yourself.  It must have killed you to come here.”

“Psych ward humor?  Not funny.  Actually, I cursed out one of my board members.”

“Seriously?”

“And then I went home and hit my wife.  And then I broke down.  It was not my choice to come here, but I should probably be grateful that she called the crisis center instead of the police.”

He told me of the struggles he had encountered in the military, before he got saved; and how, even after seminary, marriage to a pastor’s daughter, and 30 years in the pulpit with a reputation for preaching hellfire and brimstone, he still struggled.

He suffered from flashbacks and nightmares, fears, and rages.  He fasted and prayed, and never missed a Sunday. His church never knew.  His family took the brunt of it. 

“And then it all came out in a church business meeting.  Things got heated and I lost it, then went home and…you know the rest.” 

“I’m sorry for you—I truly am.  But I have a question for you,” I said.  “You don’t think you belong here, do you?”

“Of course not.  What does it look like for a pastor to go to the world for treatment, instead of to a Christian counseling center?”

“Did you have a choice?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“This is where my wife brought me.  Besides…”

“Go on.”

“I run the Christian Counseling Center.”

“You don’t believe in mental illness, but you run a counseling center?”

“There’s no problem that a proper understanding of Scripture can’t solve.”

I paused to let the irony of his own words sink in.  “How’s that working for you?”

Preacher studied the surface of the table.  I continued.

“Have you gotten medical tests and professional counseling since you’ve been here?”

“Yes.”

“Have they given you a diagnosis?”

“Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“Is that a sickness or a sin?”

“A sickness.”

“And can the Lord still use a man even if he’s sick?”

Preacher looked up and nodded.  “But I don’t know if my church will even want me when they know about…this.”

“You want my advice?  Apologize for your behavior, but not for your depression.  Ask the members to pray for you and be patient with you while you and the Lord AND the doctors work this out.  They’ll probably come right alongside you and be completely understanding and supportive.  Unless, of course…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless their pastor did too good a job convincing them that depression is a sin problem rather than a sickness.”

Preacher sighed, shook his head, and swallowed hard.  “For once, I hope I wasn’t as good a preacher as I thought I was.”

His wife, listening at the door, spoke up.  “Don’t worry, Honey.  You weren’t.”

 

 

 

 

Pinterest