A Depression Observed, Part 1 – Worst Meeting of My Life

(You are reading part one of a 12-part series. Visit noeldear.com to read all articles as we post them throughout December 2023.)

On Tuesday evening, September 12, 2023, I stepped into perhaps the most dreaded, humiliating, and difficult meeting of my life. Eight of us met in a small, out-of-the-way classroom at the church where I serve as pastor. I am unsure if I had ever even been in that room prior to that fateful meeting. Now, this would be the place where I would share my dark secret and trust seven men and women with my future as their pastor, as anyone's pastor, and in many ways, who I would be for the remainder of my earthly days.

The meeting was my idea, but it was not something I would have chosen under any different circumstance. I invited some key leaders in my church. Present were my administrative pastor, chairman of deacons, representatives from our personnel team, two men from a group of deacons who often met to encourage and pray for me, and the leader of the search team that first met with me seven years earlier and asked me to serve as pastor for this great church. I knew all of these men and women to be people of wisdom and people who loved the Lord. I would share my heart with them. And I would proceed in whatever way they believed was best, no matter what that might be or what it might entail.

My dark secret... DEPRESSION. I never used that word in the meeting. I hate that word for so many reasons. I'll have more to say about that later in these posts, but on that dark night, I hated the word because it seemed insufficient to describe what I felt. I have heard it said that depression is the common cold of mental illness. Nothing seemed common about what I was going through, and I saw no reason to believe that this situation would pass in a matter of a few days.

In that meeting I told the group of trusted counselors and friends that I was suffering from despair. I have since thought of better words, but at the time, despair seemed apt because the word emphasizes hopelessness. You might ask, "Why not just say hopeless?" The answer to that question will be an important point to return to, but for now, just know I was reticent to simply say I felt hopeless because I knew the Bible said that Christ is our hope. And while I did not know exactly how that fit with my experience, I did not feel right saying I was without hope.

But... I was without hope.

Like everyone who has lived a few years, I have faced some hard times. Not any extraordinary level of hardship, but I have had to overcome a few obstacles. There have been times when I have suffered from my own poor choices and times I have suffered for the poor choices of others. However, whatever I was going through on and around September 12, 2023, was about something other than hard times. My obstacle was not a problem that needed to be solved. It was not something broken that needed to be fixed. It was not a price that needed to be paid.

I was without hope.

I was in despair.

Shame compounded my despair. It was hard for me to know whether the greater pain came from my despair or the shame and embarrassment I felt for my despair.

Christians who love the Lord, read their Bibles, and go to church should not face despair or depression or whatever you want to call it. And pastors with multiple advanced theology degrees who lead churches and provide spiritual direction for families and communities REALLY should not experience despair or depression.

Or so I thought...

I knew, on some intellectual level, that Christians and ministers have and could experience depression. Still, I really thought that if we knew the whole truth about those who are depressed, we would learn that their emotional struggles were, in fact, the result of some weakness in spiritual constitution, some deficiency in theology, or maybe some behind-the-curtain sins.

Consequently, I was embarrassed and ashamed of my despair. I should be stronger. Filled with the Spirit, I should be the picture of unwavering joy and perseverance. My life should be a model of what it means to know the hope of the Lord.

I intentionally showed up late to the meeting with these seven friends and leaders. I did not want to make small talk as we waited for everyone to arrive. I did not want to answer questions about the meeting's purpose before it began.

I walked into the room and sat down. The meeting began with none of the usual preliminaries friends would ordinarily share. I briefly thanked everyone for their attendance at this short-notice assembly. Then, shaking with shame, head down with embarrassment, I read from prepared remarks so that I would say everything exactly as intended. I told these men and women that the Bible says there is safety in a multitude of counselors. Consequently, I would accept their suggestions as the wisdom and direction of the Lord. There would be no debate or pushback from me. I was asking for guidance, and I was resigned to follow it.

I told the group that I had a problem. The problem was not some hidden or scandalous sin, marriage problem, financial struggle, illness, addiction, or problem with the church or my staff. I told them I had simply hit a wall. I had lost all motivation to work, serve, and lead. I told them that the simple act of being around and interacting with people was painful. And I told them that, worst of all, I felt no hope. As I said earlier, the word I used was despair.

I shared my embarrassment. I told those friends that I had done all I could to hide my struggles and shore up my weaknesses, but my efforts were not succeeding. My situation grew worse each day.

I am happy to report that these seven men and women showed me the tender love of Christ. They supported my desire to seek help and renew peace. In the next few days, I met with larger groups of church leaders. I met with my direct reports and then with the larger church staff. And finally, I shared with my church family on Sunday morning. I serve an incredible church, and I serve alongside an incredible staff. Without exception (so far as I know), everyone has been 100% supportive. I thank the Lord for that. I know I am blessed far beyond what I deserve.

How did I get to that place of darkness and hopelessness? And what pathway leads toward peace, strength, joy, and HOPE?

In a dozen or so blog posts, I want to share my story. I do not have any quick fixes. I am not offering any life hacks. I am still on this journey and likely will continue on this journey for the rest of my days. But through his word, the Lord has mended some broken bones and set them in place. He has put me on a path to healing. He has reminded me how he walks with me on this journey. He has given me hope.

I have found the Lord's salve. It is effective. And it is GOOD. Perhaps this salve is the same balm that can bring peace and joy back into the life of another.

Walk with me a little while on this journey.

Pastor Noel