After many years of being out of print, I am thrilled to announce that I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression, is now back in print!
As many of you know by now, last summer I accepted the called to serve as an assistant professor and Director of Vicarage and Internships at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Since moving back to Fort Wayne, I was able to negotiate with the seminary bookstore to have them reprint the book. Please go to the followship link to order it online:
Fifteen years ago today I almost took my own life. I was in the middle of a â€œmajor depressive episode,â€ and got some really bad news from our insurance company. Because that is how fragile we are sometimes. The deeply spiritual and reflective times of life (like Good Friday) are often interrupted and derailed by the very human and earthly things of life. So it was that I was ready to kill myself, in between our noon and evening services. I was a pastor, after all.
Wait a minute. Christians donâ€™t do that! Pastors donâ€™t do that? Why would you come so close to throwing your life away? After all, since Jesus died and rose again from the dead, arenâ€™t you supposed to be happy as a Christian?
Iâ€™ve written about this event many times before (see HERE, and HERE, for example). It was a defining event for me as a Christian, as a husband and father, and as a pastor. So every year I seem to come back to it and ask some of these questions again.
Human beings are body and soul. I donâ€™t have a body or have a soul. I am ME, body and soul together. Any attempt to try to rip these apart inevitably ends up in either gross materialism or dualism. If I am only the material, the physical, then I am no different from animals, or plants, or even the earth itself. Death is my end, and there is nothing beyond it. At the same time, if my soul and body are separated, with the soul being the â€œrealâ€ me, then this physical world doesnâ€™t really matter at all. If that is the case, my body becomes the enemy, trapping me in this world until I die.
So when the body suffers, the soul suffers with it. When I am in physical distress from sickness or injury or whatever it might be, that changes me as a human being. It affects my soul, my faith, my life before God, and my neighbor. And in the same way, my spiritual state changes my body. We are together, forever linked. This is only of the many reasons why we confess in the Creed that we believe in the â€œresurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.â€
When the brain is broken, or strained, or (to use the very technical term) â€œout of whack,â€ then both the body and the soul are impacted. That is what makes mental illness so insidious and evil. Because the dopamine in my brain is not working right, and my serotonin levels are not properly regulated, my capacity for thinking AND feeling, AND doing are all messed up. Unraveling spiritual distress from physical ailments is sometimes nearly impossible. Where does one start and the other end? How can I tell? It comes to the point when we can confess with St. Paul, â€œwho can deliver me from this body of death?â€ (Romans 7:24) While St. Paul meant it in connection with his own struggle against sin, the same can be applied to our struggle against the consequences of sin.
It is for all these reasons that caring for those with mental illness is so very hard, so much work, and can involve heartache and frustrations galore. Sometimes you canâ€™t see the way out, and all you can do is keeping going through it with them.
For my own story, there were three people in particular who went through this with me. Well, there were many more than three, but three that always come to the forefront for me.
The first is my wife. At the time of this event, we had three small children, one who was just weeks old at the time. Neither of us knew anything about mental illness. It was the scariest time of our lives, and she had to take care of our children, work, keep the house together, and somehow take care of me. I will never understand how she did it all.
The second is my pastor. He stood by me through so many dark hours, conversations of despair, and brought Christ through it all. He didnâ€™t try to be what he wasnâ€™t. He was my pastor, and he was my friend. I will never understand how he did it all.
The third is my counselor. I didnâ€™t really even know I needed one until a couple of months before this incident. She brought compassion, listening ears, counsel, and wisdom in a way that is truly remarkable. The added bonus was that she was also a Christian, and a Lutheran no less. That allowed her to be my counselor and NOT my pastor. I will never understand how she did it all.
What does all of this mean? It means that caregivers are what keep the world going around. Make no mistake about it. A spouse, a friend, a nurse, a doctor, a pastor, a child, a father or mother, a teacher, a deaconess, all of these and more are the ones who are on the front lines of bringing Christ to a broken and suffering world each and every day. We need you, every one of you.
God is merciful. I didnâ€™t die. And for fifteen years, God has graced me with being a husband, a father, a pastor, and in some cases, a pastor to pastors. Sometimes I will be asked why Iâ€™m willing to help broken people. The answer is that I was helped when I needed it most. I still am. If God can use me to offer some comfort or care to one who suffers, then to Him alone be all glory.
Fifteen years of grace. Well really, fifty years of grace. And it isnâ€™t ending anytime soon.
If you are in the Fort Wayne area in early October, I hope you will consider attending. This promises to be an interesting and engaging day. There are a few Lutheran speakers, but not many. This makes me sad, mostly because I believe that we have something to say that the greater church can learn from. We must be a part of this conversation. We must.
Thank you to the Lutheran Foundation for the invitation to speak at this.
I will be preaching and speaking on depression and the cross on Sunday, September 30th, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Chapel and University Center. Below you will find a link to the Facebook event. I hope you will consider attending!
There is something about this season that has a weightiness to it. I donâ€™t mean a seriousness. We work very, very hard never to be serious in our world today. No, I mean a weightiness, that we are weighed down by many cares and worries.
In my own congregation we are weighed down with death. The deaths may be recent, they may be more distant, but it seems as though death is in the air right now. Who will not be at the altar this Christmas? Who is no longer among us that has been here for it seems as long as there has been a church? The list is longer than usual.
Seven years ago yesterday my wife and I lost a child in the womb. His name is Emmanuel. Four years before that, we lost a child named Nadia. While the grief of these losses is distant, their cry seems to echo through the years, and I hear them even now.
But it isnâ€™t just death that weighs us down, it is the effects of death. It is what the ancients would call corruption. There is distance in families that shouldnâ€™t be there. Love that grows cold. Hearts that harden at the sorrows of the day. There is an uncertainty, a hesitation about the future. What will happen tomorrow? How will I survive? Must I brace myself for another onslaught of grief and heartache? Is there no end to what we must face in this world?
That is the weight of December. That is why the days are so long, and the nights even longer. And no among of sugar, caffeine, or alcohol can make it all go away.
But there is One who will lift the weight. Jesus Christ is the one who comes into our flesh and blood. Christmas is about how our Lord takes on the frailty of human flesh so that we can take on the hope of the divine life. It is a strange exchange, that is for sure. But it is very real. Christ our Lord raises our humanity up by taking it into Himself. This is why we pray on Advent IV:
Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come and help us by Your might, that the sins which weigh us down may be quickly lifted by Your grace and mercy; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
As you pray, and wait, and fret, and worry, and scurry through this holy season, be of good cheer! Your suffering will come to an end. There is a resurrection for you and me, and for all those who are in Christ. The future is bright, because it is in Christ.
It has now been almost eight years since my book, I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression, was published by the now-defunct LCMS World Relief and Human Care. It went through two printings, and continues to be downloaded as a PDF on a daily basis. I also continue to receive requests for it on a regular basis.
If there is anything like it in Lutheranism that can be recommended to others, I have yet to find it.
Since my attempts at getting it reprinted through traditional means (CPH, NPH, etc.) has not borne fruit, I would like to make it available either through a small publisher or through a self-publishing venture like lulu.com.
I’m not trying to make money on this. I would simply like to make it happen, but I do not have the time or resources to shepherd this project through at this time.
If you have any wisdom on how this might be done, and would like to be of service to the Church in making this happen, please contact me either through the “contact me” page on this web site, through FaceBook or through Twitter.
Thanks for your help, and I pray that we can work together for the good of the Church and all those who suffer from this dreadful disease.
Todd Peperkorn, Author
I Trust When Dark My Road: A Lutheran View of Depression
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 â€œdoâ€ 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 didnâ€™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 didnâ€™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 didnâ€™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 didnâ€™t die.
My pastor wouldnâ€™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 someoneâ€™s home where I could stay without responsibilities for some weeks, and slowly, slowly, rebuild my life.
Now, Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 Iâ€™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 doesnâ€™t understand, at least a little bit. We all have darkness in our lives. It is either our own darkness or someone elseâ€™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 Godâ€™s instruments to bring you life, to hold you together, and to give you a glimpse into Godâ€™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, â€œFriendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .â€ (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 â€œthis stinks!â€ (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. Iâ€™ve tried going off medication (not a good idea for me). Iâ€™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 Lordâ€™s Supper that continues to give life. I know, the pastorÂ had to get one â€œpastorâ€ 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 donâ€™t keep Him away. My confusion or hurt doesnâ€™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.
â€œMy flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.â€ (Psalms 73:26 ESV)
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!