The above article, found on lifenews.com, demonstrates the dangerous intersection of a self-willed society and a terrible disregard for human life.
The above article, found on lifenews.com, demonstrates the dangerous intersection of a self-willed society and a terrible disregard for human life.
Ten years ago, on Good Friday in 2006, my life took a profound turn for the worse and for the better. I was on partial disability for clinical depression, and I was barely hanging on. Trying to “do” disability, be a pastor, and a father to two girls and a newborn only weeks old, it was all getting the best of me. I was barely holding on, only I didn’t know it at the time.
When I got back from my morning constitutional (nine holes of golf), I received a phone call from my insurance company. They told me matter-of-factly that they had determined I was no longer ill, and that my disability had been canceled/revoked as of two weeks previous. I hung up the phone. It was the last straw, the end. I could not hold all of this together anymore. I was (so my disease was telling me) not worth anything to anyone, and it was time to give up. I resolved to end my life.
Well, after church, of course. I was a pastor, after all.
So the day continued. I didn’t tell my wife anything. She was quite used to me wandering around the house as a zombie. By that time it would have been strange if I did anything else.
I went to our noon service, a joint Good Friday Tre Ore that we held with our sister congregation in town. I was preaching. Right before we went in I told my pastor (my colleague and friend), that I was going to kill myself after the service. It probably didn’t come out sounding that dramatic. I have no idea what I actually said, anymore than I have any idea what I said in the sermon. But I will say that it is a, well, unique experience to preaching on the death of God for the salvation of the world while you are planning your own death.
But I didn’t die.
My pastor wouldn’t let me out of his sight after the service. We eventually went to Panera and stared at each other over a cup of coffee for an hour or two (six? Half an hour? I have no idea). Eventually I came out of the fog enough to call my counselor. Somehow we/they developed a plan to get through the weekend, appeal the determination of the insurance company, get me to someone’s home where I could stay without responsibilities for some weeks, and slowly, slowly, rebuild my life.
Now, I’ve written about this many times. You can find some of them HERE, HERE, and HERE, for example. But after ten years, it strikes me that it might be useful to highlight a few things I’ve learned after ten years of a life that was saved:
First, my story is not unusual. While it may seem strange or unusual because I’m a pastor, there are many, many people with stories much like mine. Sometimes they are darker, sometimes brighter, but in almost every case there are commonalities. A sickness that no one fully understands. A low point that no one could see coming. Friends and family, or even a stranger stepping in so that life may go on. At the time it felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through. Today I am more amazed that someone doesn’t understand, at least a little bit. We all have darkness in our lives. It is either our own darkness or someone else’s. But it is there. I have come to recognize that as a part of our common humanity.
Second, one can never be too grateful for the people around you. Family, friends, pastors, doctors, counselors, all of these and more are God’s instruments to bring you life, to hold you together, and to give you a glimpse into God’s mercy when the darkness surrounds you. The kindness that has been shown to me and to my family just never seems to end, and I am constantly amazed at the people that God continues to place into our lives so that we might be cared for and loved.
Third, recognizing our common humanity can serve as the beginning of healing. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” (The Four Loves). If this is true of friendship, how much more is this true of our weaknesses, our diseases, and our need for mercy! Speaking with others who suffer, giving them permission to say “this stinks!” (or something more colorful), it is a liberating thing. While it is sometimes hard, very often I benefit more from the conversations that those who have reached out. We are never alone.
Fourth, healing never really stops. The last years have had plenty of ups and downs, health wise. I’ve tried going off medication (not a good idea for me). I’ve tried and transitioned through different counselors, and doctors, and even pastors. Each of these have held their challenge, but they have all pointed to the simple fact that while life is fragile, things do change. And that is okay.
Finally, it is the Lord’s Supper that continues to give life. I know, the pastor had to get one “pastor” answer in to this. But it is true. No matter how I feel, Christ is present delivering His gives to me. My mood or health don’t keep Him away. My confusion or hurt doesn’t deter Him. He gives Himself in the Eucharist, and in doing so, is with me to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). That rock, that certainty beyond all doubt, is what sustains me when everything else seems to go dark.
If you are suffering with depression, bipolar disorder, or the myriad over other mental illnesses that seem to afflict us day by day, know this: you are not alone. Christ has suffered for us, and we in turn suffer with each other.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalms 73:26 ESV)
Pastor Todd Peperkorn
I was interview recently on Higher Things Radio. It is on suicide and depression. I thought the interview went really well, and answered some questions I haven’t talked about before. Episode 287. Enjoy!
I will be writing more on this in the days to come, but in the meantime, here is an interview I just did on Issues, Etc.. The topic is suicide and mental illness.
Peace be with you all! I’ll post more later.
a.k.a. Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
I’m in a pretty good place, from a mental health point of view. I have an excellent counselor, my medication seems to be pretty stable, and I have a loving and supportive family and church. I haven’t found a father confessor that’s less than 100 miles from me yet, but otherwise I feel like all of the various pieces are as in place as they are likely to get. For this I am very thankful.
What always strikes me, as this day comes around, is how many there are who suffer with depression, despair, bipolar disorder, and so many other diseases and maladies both physical, emotional and spiritual. Just yesterday I was contacted by three different people about their trials with mental illness. I had only met one of them beforehand. Sadly, these sorts of days are not that uncommon.
Our Lord’s death for our salvation was nearly 2000 years ago, and the world continues to be remade by His death and resurrection. But it is still a sorry, broken world. More than anything else, we need to hear and receive the healing balm of the Gospel, and we must continue to learn how to give of ourselves to one another. I speak to myself as much as to my readers.
Know again, friends, that Christ is here for you. He suffers for you, dies for you, and rises for you. Rejoice in His salvation, no matter how dark the road may be. You are never alone.
(a.k.a. Pastor Todd Peperkorn)
Once again, it is the day. The anniversary of when I was ready to end my life in the pit of despair and depression. Last year I wrote about it HERE. You can follow the links there if you’re interested.
Somehow this day has kind of become a day of self-evaulation for me. I suppose that makes sense, it being Good Friday and all. It is sort of a “take stock” day for me, as I reflect on God’s richest mercies in giving His Son and in giving me life.
Things are pretty dramatically different today than they were a year ago. We now live in California. I am the senior pastor at a small to mid sized confessional congregation near Sacramento. There are lots of great people here, who love me and my family. It is a great blessing, to be sure.
But it is also really strange. I still feel like they don’t know my story, our history, and our life. I don’t like talking about myself (ok, not that much), but I do occasionally want to stand up in bible class and say something like,
“Are you people crazy! I am wounded and broken. I’m a mess, barely hanging on by a thread. Why would you want us here? Surely you could find someone cheaper that isn’t always on the edge?”
Then I remember people like Paul, or Elijah, or Augustine, or Luther, or Herberger, Gergardt, and the many thousands of shepherds God has provided His sheep with over the millennia. If there is one thing that this history should teach, it is that the Ministry is about God’s service to us in His Son, not about the man. They are a strange and messed up lot. In that regard I guess I fit right in.
All things are new, yet all things are the same. Wounded and broken, but healed by the blood of Christ, we go on despite what our heart and mind might say to us (Psalm 73:26).
We rest in Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith. So, friends, do not despair. Christ cares for you with an everlasting love. From Bach’s St. John’s Passion:
Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
Rest in peace, you sacred limbs,
Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
I shall weep for you no more,
Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh!
rest in peace, and bring me also to rest.
Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
The grave that is allotted to you
Und ferner keine Not umschließt,
and contains no further suffering,
Macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu.
opens heaven for me and shuts off hell.
This year I’m in a better place personally and emotionally than I usually am by this time in Lent. Sermons are done (I think). Family is coming. Everything is okay. Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes, that’s all you have, and it is enough.
I pray for all my fellow sufferers that Christ’s death and resurrection would sustain you in the true faith to life everlasting. Your labor is not in vain. Your suffering will come to an end. There will be peace for you.
Grant peace, we pray, In mercy, Lord;
Peace in our time, oh send us.
For there is none on earth but You, None other to defend us.
You only, Lord, can fight for us. Amen. (LSB 778)
My heart goes out to the students and community at Valparaiso University right now. Here’s the opening paragraph from the above article:
Pastor Darlene Grega, a chaplain at Valparaiso University, apparently died from suicide this week, according to a spokeswoman for the coroner’s office in Porter County, Ind.
I have written and posted about pastors and suicide any number of times around here. I myself had a pretty harrowing Good Friday four years ago when I moved from the if to the when stage. Suicide is the unspoken companion for anyone who suffers from depression, especially chronic depression. It is the silent partner, the knock at the door, and the shadow that seems to darken everything.
I doubt we’ll ever know the demons that Darlene fought as she tried to serve the people of Valpo. I never met her, so I have no personal take on that. But suffice it to say that God does not abandon His children in their darkest hour.
God’s peace be with all those who grieve at Darlene’s death. May yours tears come to an end and the hope of the resurrection draw you into Him.
+God be with you+
[Full disclaimer: I am opposed to women’s ordination. That does not mitigate the tragedy of this event, and now is NOT the time to have that discussion.]
Recently there was an article in USA Today about a pastor in the Carolinas who committed suicide. Here’s the article. I would urge you to go and read the entire article, but here is an except:
Those who counsel pastors say Christian culture, especially Southern evangelicalism, creates the perfect environment for depression. Pastors suffer in silence, unwilling or unable to seek help or even talk about it. Sometimes they leave the ministry. Occasionally the result is the unthinkable.
Experts say clergy suicide is a rare outcome to a common problem.
But Baptists in the Carolinas are soul searching after a spate of suicides and suicide attempts by pastors. In addition to the September suicide of David Treadway, two others in North Carolina attempted suicide, and three in South Carolina succeeded, all in the last four years.
Being a pastor — a high-profile, high-stress job with nearly impossible expectations for success — can send one down the road to depression, according to pastoral counselors.
For the most part the article is really quite good in nailing the problem. One sentence in particular really grabbed me:
Society still places a stigma on mental illness, but Christians make it worse, he said, by “over-spiritualizing” depression and other disorders — dismissing them as a lack of faith or a sign of weakness.
Isn’t that the truth! Christians are horrible at addressing mental illness, because we equate the mind with the soul, and presume that if someone has a mental illness that it is at the root a spiritual problem. Now I will be the first to grant that mental illness always has a spiritual component, but arguing that clinical depression or other mental illnesses are simply spiritual is irresponsible, and borders on a denial of the First Article.
God created us, body and soul. Because of sin, we feel the effects of the Fall throughout our entire existence, body and soul. It is entirely right to say that sickness and disease are the results of sin, but it is also true that God has given us many tools to heal, body and soul. The chief of these is the healing Word of God. But there are also many other methods of healing that God has provided, including medication, doctors, therapy, etc. Can these be misused or abused? You bet! At the same time, I would suggest that the “spiritual card” can also be horribly abused. If I tell someone who is mentally ill that they need to pray more, or spend more time in the Word, or come to Church, and that this will simply heal them apart from these other tools, I am saying that God only works through the Word and not at all through any other means. I’m not sure what to call that. But it isn’t right.
We pray for the families and congregation of this pastor, and hope that God will use this as an opportunity to bring healing and help to so many who are in need.
Be at peace,
Three years ago Good Friday I seriously contemplated taking my own life. I’ve written about it before. Here is my post from last year.
My observation from this year is that I am struggling with negative thoughts. Good Friday truly is good. This is the gift of life that God gives to each one of us in the death of His Son. But for me, Good Friday is a reminder of arguably the worst days of my life. I don’t like the association that I have between Good Friday and those dark days and nights. How do I replace these negative memories with positive ones? I feel sometimes like negative memories are a mental cancer that eats away at me, that draws me back into the darkness. I don’t want them. No, I hate them. But I don’t know how to get them out of my head.
I feel like I need a mental reboot somehow. I want to erase these memories, overlay them with something brighter, think of God’s mercy and not my own weakness and failings. It will come. I believe it.
Despite all of my own struggles, I have a wonderful wife and family, a great congregation, and very very good friends. They keep me alive, and keep me going.
God’s peace be with you all this day.