Today, however, is a vastly different story. I can testify to "joy unspeakable" (1 Peter 1:8). I still have problems aplenty. I still face attacks and plenty of discouragement. But somewhere, somehow, in the past few months, I have definitely gotten--or been given--my groove back (to use an ungrammatical but clear enough phrase).
So how did it happen? It is a gift of God, first and foremost--just to be clear. But I think (to quote an old Hamburger Helper commercial) "I helped."
Here's how I helped:
- Prayer – Sure, sure, sure. You would expect a pastor to say that, I know. But seriously. God is my salvation from depression, and prayer was a daily means of grace to me. Some days my praying was fairly unintelligible, I'm sure, and often repetitive (along the lines of, "Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy, Lord have mercy have mercy have mercy"--that kinda thing). But as I look back in my prayer journal over the last couple years, I can SEE how prayer sustained me (a really great reason, by the way, to keep a prayer journal).
- Exercise – Late last year, I began to run. I didn't want to. I've never aspired to be a runner. But I did. I started slow, and built up, and lo and behold, one day very early on, I experienced the runner's high people talk about...and actually went out a SECOND time in the same day to repeat the run! Never thought I'd say that. But it truly made a huge difference in my mental and physical ability to "spring back" from discouragements, old and new.
- Counsel – When I went to my first appointment with my first "shrink" (I've had two), he asked me the standard question: "Why are you here?" I explained that I wasn't in crisis (this was before my bout with depression), I had no pressing issues to discuss, but I knew that someday I would, and I thought it would be wise to have a counselor I knew and trusted (and who knew me) when that day came. Boy, was that ever prophetic! I'm not the sharpest tack in the carpet, but I nailed it that time. My shrink was absolutely crucial in helping me through and out of my struggle with depression.
- Nutrition, etc. – I’m no expert, and am still learning to eat and live way healthier than in the past, but more than a year ago my shrink referred me to an internist. Long story short, he's worked with me to (1) quit drinking pop--even diet pop--entirely, (2) severely limit caffeine, sugar, and processed flour from my diet, and (3) address an adrenal imbalance common in men over fifty. I still have a long way to go, but it has made a huge difference for me.
- Accountability – Part of my depression involved some disappointment in and transition from an accountability relationship. I have since found great reward, stability, and mutual encouragement (again) from meeting with TWO accountability partners weekly (one via Skype, the other in person). I need this in my life, and when it's missing, I'm more susceptible to discouragement and depression. It's not that these men convince me I'm not crazy, but they do remind me I'm not the only one.
- Grandchildren - Seriously, the arrival of three grandchildren over the course of my most stressful and disappointing season of ministry may have added eustress to distress....but those three bambinos have been a means of God's grace to me. And perhaps most importantly, they have been instrumental in refocusing me and my priorities.
- Rest - At some point in my struggle, I realized I had stopped observing my weekly Sabbath when I began to get depressed. Or I began to get depressed when I stopped observing my weekly Sabbath. Doesn't matter which. I need a weekly day of rest, reading, prayer, and walking to restore my soul. I knew that, I just let it slip. Never again. And likewise with my annual habit of a 4- or 5-day prayer retreat. Sabbath restores me. Retreat restores me. They're too valuable to neglect.
How about you? How have you prevented or addressed discouragement and depression in your ministry?