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