the shape of leadership

Getting Real About Depression

Authenticity can be the first step toward healing

Lindsay Petri on March 15, 2019

I shifted in my seat, uncomfortable, not because of the chair beneath me but because of the sermon I was hearing. It didn’t help that my husband, John, was the one delivering the message, “Living a Life on Mission.”

To be honest, I had no intention of going up on stage that morning. My inner struggle was real, and the last thing I wanted was a platform and a microphone. Yet as our service came to a close, the Holy Spirit prompted me to get out of my seat and head toward the stage.

John had occupied a front-row seat to the anxiety and depression that had recently wreaked havoc on my life, and I could see the concern on his face as I spontaneously headed to the platform. Would I resign my staff position? I certainly had threatened it as I navigated the darkness. Would I have a mental breakdown on stage similar to the meltdowns I’d had behind closed doors? How would I respond to his message in the middle of my mess? I wasn’t even sure myself.

As the words began to take shape, I began by honoring my husband and the powerful message he had delivered. Then, emboldened by a craving for honesty, I shared my struggles. Yes, I did want to live a life on mission, which was evident in my willingness to sell everything, move onto a houseboat, and plant a church.

However, there are highs and lows and ebbs and flows — and, quite frankly, in that season of life, my mission had become simply getting out of bed and putting one foot in front of the other. I explained how the depression had left me empty, without hope and completely paralyzed. Anxiety had left me paranoid and insecure. I felt just sane enough to know I was mentally ill – and helpless to do anything about it.

These feelings had complicated my job in ministry. Yet here I was, confessing all my struggles publicly.

I hope transparency isn’t a ministry trend that fades but a mode of operation that helps us break down barriers.

Authenticity is a buzzword in the church today. It’s trendy to talk about transparency, but are we truly able to be vulnerable, admit our weaknesses, and take people on a journey with us through the valleys?

I grew up in an abusive, alcoholic home where things were very different in public than they were behind closed doors. I hated the hypocrisy and was determined to live my life in an authentic way, and so I chose to stand on that stage, completely exposed. It’s one thing to be transparent about the struggles we’ve overcome; it’s much more challenging when you’re right in the middle of the battle.

Authenticity was the bridge that connected me to my path toward healing; however, it was only the beginning of the process. I made a deliberate choice to focus on my spiritual, emotional and physical health — even when I could barely get out of bed.

Spiritually, I pursued God through prayer, Bible meditation, worship, and service to others. Emotionally, I sought counseling and Christian mentors to help me process and pray through my complicated, confusing and unreliable feelings. I also chose to see a naturopathic doctor to guide me to a physically healthy lifestyle. She educated me on the importance of sleep, exercise and nutrition as I navigated my depression.

It was anything but easy, but I chose life. With God’s grace and the help and encouragement of those around me, I persevered — even on, especially on, the days when I just wanted to run and escape it all.

Here’s the truth: Our churches are full of people struggling with anxiety and depression. When God seems silent, they also want to escape and run to the world for answers. Perhaps they find temporary relief, but I know firsthand how this path ultimately leads to desperation and destruction.

I spent a lifetime running to worldly things to try to ease the pain of my childhood. Instead of healing, I found more pain, more abuse, more addiction and more trouble. Then, mercifully, I found Jesus and a fellowship of believers who were willing to help bear my burdens.

Walking through my depression authentically helped me connect with others who were struggling. I hope transparency isn’t a ministry trend that fades but a mode of operation that helps us break down barriers through true humility. In these moments, God is truly glorified because in our weakness, He is strong.

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