Doing Life Together

church-275844_1280Being a pastor can be a dangerous job. Consider the profile of John Smith. His pastoral experience is shared by many. His response to  stress and pressure of the job is of grave concern.

Pastor: Johns Smith (fictitious name)

Job: Senior pastor of a small church in the midwest

Stress: Leadership and congregational conflicts; financial worries over dwindling members and tithe paying; long hours; few confidantes; pressure to grow his church membership; overwhelming needs of church goers; discouragement and isolation as he feels he cannot share his struggle with depression as the senior pastor.

Response: Pastor Smith committed suicide as a result of untreated depression, isolation and lack of support.

According to Lifeway research, 59% of pastors counsel people with diagnosed mental illness and 23% say they have personally experienced some type of mental illness. Suicide among pastors is on the rise. Why? Pastors are under a great deal of stress that often goes unrecognized. They are also a target for the enemy.

We know that genetically, some people have a predisposition for depression. This doesn’t mean they will automatically become depressed, rather, given the right circumstances, depression can be activated. Without support and help, the mind gives in to negative thinking. Hopelessness, failure, inadequacy, the lie that somehow you would be better off gone, takes over and leads people into a dark hole. Left untreated, depression can include suicidal thoughts that may lead to suicide. And the stigma attached to admitting depression is still strong.

Stress pushes a person’s coping ability. And the enemy uses our weaknesses to attack us. This is when people need support, prayer against the lies of the enemy and help. When pastors feel isolated, discouraged and negative thinking takes hold, they can give in to hopeless thinking just like someone in their church. They are people just like the rest of us –maybe more isolated because they believe they are not supposed to be depressed or hopeless.

We now know what happens in the brain when someone is depressed. We can image the brain and see the changes. Altered chemistry often has to be corrected with wise counsel, support and possibly medication. Ministering to the minister with scriptures and healing prayer can prevent him from responding to those suicidal thoughts. Sometimes we have to come along side pastors and be Aaron to Moses–lift their hands and minister the love of Jesus and encouraging them in the faith.

What can you do for your pastor? 

Pray. Prayer is powerful and brings down strongholds.

Think before you speak and burden your pastor with yet another thing –is this petty, am I complaining and need to mature in my own walk, is this a real need? Certainly if you need spiritual guidance and counsel, he will help you. But check your motive first.

Offer support in ways  you can. Examples might be, volunteer a few hours of office help, network Christian services in your area, or volunteer to help at church.

De-stigmatize mental health and educate your congregation to the facts about depression. There are a number of myths associated with depression.

Let’s be a part of taking pastors off the list of dangerous jobs. Pastors are called to minister to us and yet they are human too. Compassion is needed.

sad-468923_1920Ann has been unhappy and anxious regarding her current life circumstances. Her husband left her for another woman. As Ann tries to cope with this harsh reality, the therapist tells her to stay present, to live in the moment and practice mindfulness. While Ann has tried this several times and come up short in terms of her new reality of living single, the therapist continues to push this strategy.

Ann is frustrated, feeling that the message from the therapist is–try harder to rid yourself of this unhappiness. Be more mindful and you will find contentment. Yet, her husband’s actions have daily implications on her past, present and future life.

While mindfulness techniques teach contentment in the moment, they do not help people problem-solve real life problems. Ann can calm herself when she starts to feel anxious, but she also has to deal with the fallout of the affair and the way it will affect her future. Feeling unhappy isn’t simply a reaction to the moment. It often involves a serious of situations and events that require action and response. Right now, she is blaming herself for not staying present and doing better with mindfulness.

Is Ann’s self-condemnation an overreaction to the hype around mindfulness? A large meta-anlaysis of mindfulness found small benefits to mindfulness use when compared to people who had no treatment. In other words, despite the popularity of mindfulness programs and techniques, the data calls for more research to see if there is a lasting and measurable benefit. No advantage was found using mindfulness over other therapeutic techniques. The review of data indicates that we can’t make the grand conclusions about mindfulness that are being made.

So for Ann, she needs additional help navigating through her current life stress. She doesn’t need to feel that if she doesn’t practice mindfulness right or enough, then she is somehow to blame for feeing anxious. The root of Ann’s stress isn’t wrong thinking. It’s her husband’s unfaithfulness. The consequences reach into all parts of her life- past and future as well as the present.

handshake-1830760_1920The election is over and a new President has been installed. Is love governing your actions and speech?

The ongoing discontent of those who dislike (even hate) this President is not going away soon. Prepare yourself for more slander, lack of civility, intolerance and divisive language aimed at dividing Americans and stirring up turmoil.

The question is, will you choose love over hate? We have a choice when it comes to our reactions to things we don’t like or go our way. While I can’t control the press, celebrities and others who will choose to be hateful and critical, I can control my mouth. I can look to the Bible for guidance.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. – Psalm 19:14

Pause and mediate on this verse. Now, think about what you have said in your day-to-day conversations with friends and family. Have your words met the standard of Psalm 19:14?

Frankly, I have been appalled at what I  hear and have observed in media and on social media. It doesn’t reflect Psalm 19:14. The way we talk about this election and new President is important because it expresses what is in our hearts.

1 Peter 2:12 tells us, “Keep your conduct honorable.”

Honorable conduct includes the words we say. Those words should not include name-calling, gloating, elitism, fear-mongering, hate, lying and disgust. Instead, we are to guard our hearts and mouths because words are powerful–as we saw during the election cycle. Let’s not be guilty of behaving in the ways we found disturbing. Let’s resist the urge to retaliate against those who are mean-spirited. Matthew 5:44 tells us to bless those who curse us and pray for those who despitefully use us. Ultimately, we are to love our enemies. This is only possible with a transformed heart.

James 3 tells us that we can praise our Lord and Father, but also curse our brothers and sisters who have been made in God’s likeness. The tongue is a fire, capable of consuming others. It must be tamed by the Holy Spirit in us. So before we speak, let’s check our words and ask the Lord to help us bless others rather than curse them.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”Now is the time to model love, humility, and civility towards one another–whether you liked or hated the outcome of this election. Haven’t we had enough verbal attacks and negative messaging? Have we forgotten that mercy triumphs over judgment?

We, the people, can behave differently. If we want to be great again, let’s start by controlling our tongue and actually treat each other with respect. Choose love.

woman-1814968_1920It’s cold. You don’t want to get out of bed. Lately you’ve been craving carbs. It’s hard to get motivated. You just want to hibernate!

Since this feeling come on seasonally, you think, “I must have the winter blues!”

Maybe, since about 20% of people struggle to shake off those winter blues. But it could be more serious. It might be a certain type of depression that begins to peak in the fall and winter called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). With this type of depression pattern, you feel better when Spring arrives.

And you may be surprised to learn that SAD can also take a Spring/Summer pattern as well. Both the winter and summer seasonal types of depression have to do with peoples’ sensitivity to light–those who get too little light (the fall/winter pattern), and those who get too much light (the spring/summer pattern). Light impacts our sleep-wake cycle and when that cycle is impaired, depression can result.

So while more people get the winter blues, about 7% of people experience SAD. And SAD is tied to latitude–the farther north you live, the less light you get in the winter.

So what can you do if you suffer from Fall/Winter SAD?

  1. Lift your shades and let the sunlight into your rooms.
  2. If it is bright outside, don’t wear sunglasses for part of the time.
  3. Do outdoor activities that expose you to natural light.
  4. Consider trying a light box or dawn simulator (talk to your mental health provider about how these work and the protocol to follow). This helps many people.
  5. If you feel depressed after trying these things, you will need to see a health care professional and be treated for depression in more conventional ways.
  6. Symptoms of SAD can be confused with other medical conditions so make sure you have a physical exam and are properly diagnosed.
  7. Stay in the spiritual light as well–Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid, He is our anchor and hope.