Category Archives: pastoral care

The Weight of the Season

light-in-the-dark-2A meditation on the times, by Todd A. Peperkorn

There is something about this season that has a weightiness to it. I don’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 isn’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 shouldn’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.

On Confessing Your Illness

I recently had a conversation with someone that centered around the question of what to confess if you suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. So many of the symptoms which we face that are bio-chemical in origin also find their origin in our fallen nature. In other words, I can look at certain manifestations of my illness(es) as being the disease “talking” but at the same time it can be my sinful nature “talking”. Here are a few examples:

  • Laziness, sloth, incapacity to work
  • Boredom, lack of interest in anything, indifference
  • Isolation from others, unfriendliness, dislike of crowds
  • Inability to handle children

Now these are just a few examples. I think that any of those three categories could be easily attributed to sin or clinical depression/anxiety.

So what do you confess?

The real mess of depression and mental illness is that they are so intertwined. My general approach is that if you are in doubt, confess it. But it is also a matter of real pastoral care, so that when I am confessing something that isn’t sin, my pastor tells me that.

Probably the dilemma comes from the fact that when you are in the throes of the darkness, you aren’t in a position to be making subtle theological distinctions. I just want relief. And at some level, I don’t really care where it comes from. IT it comes from my pastor forgiving my sins, great. If it comes from my doctor or counselor reminding me that this is biochemical and not a character flaw, great.

So how do you approach this question?

Why Pastors Hide Their Depression


I’ve had a lot of conversations this week with the release of the book. They have been online, telephone, email, wherever. The contacts have been from pastors, teachers, spouses, friends from college, and pretty much across the board. I’ll comment on some of those at another time.

One theme that resonates through so many of the conversations is that pastors don’t want to reveal that they are depressed. This is also true generally, and especially in other service fields. But it seems particularly true with pastors. They mask their illness.

I know I did. I worked my tail off to put on a happy face, a “game face” with my congregation and family. It took incredible amounts of energy, and really made things worse.

But if possible what is even sadder than our self-inflicted super-pastor mindset, is that we are afraid of reprisals. I am afraid that I might lose my job, be kicked out of my congregation, that my district president won’t support me. So the very people who can and should and generally would try to help, are the ones who are kept in the dark.

Why? Why do we hide? And what will happen if we reveal to our families (Who probably already know), our congregation, and our brother pastors what is going on?

aka Todd Peperkorn

Why the Church Drives Away the Mentally Ill


In the last few years I have had the opportunity to speak or correspond with many people who struggle with depression or other mental illnesses. Pastors, teachers, DCEs, laity, each story is different, yet there are common themes.

One of those themes is how often the church, either at the congregational level or at the district/synod level, has failed these people. In all too many cases, their faith has been shaken to the point of disappearing. Now I don’t believe that there is any malice on the part of congregations or our church body. Far from it. But the sad reality is that we are driving people away from Christ by how we approach the mentally ill.


I have several theories about this. Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Because we so often equate clinical depression (or any mental illness) with some sort of character flaw, it is viewed basically as a sin. I think people instinctively know that this isn’t quite right, but they don’t have any other categories in which to place mental illness.

2. Everyone has weaknesses, and we work very hard to hide them. For many, depression unmasked is too close to home. It forces us to view our own struggles and failings, and that may just be too painful.

3. If we view the church as a place for the spiritually strong to work out, and not a hospital for the sick, then the mentally ill have no place.

4. The fundamental notion of “depression is in your head, get over it!” is so strong that we can’t help but judge others whose weaknesses are in public view.

5. Lutherans just aren’t very good at areas which aren’t “spiritual” in nature. If it isn’t about justification, then we just don’t get it. Hence, we try to place depression and mental illness simply into the “spiritual” box, and it doesn’t fit there.

Those are off the top of my head. What’s on your list?