A Plea to the Church and the Ones Who Are Struggling

By Sara KellarNovember 30, 2015

To the Church:

I know you’re trying.

You’re trying to help, trying to understand.

You’re acknowledging that depression is something that happens.

Maybe some of you have even experienced it yourself. Maybe some of you might be experiencing it right now.

If you are, I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t told anybody about it.

Thank you for all that you’ve done, but please know that there’s still more work to do.

It’s time to come alongside.

To those struggling:

The Church has the best of intentions. It’s trying to help, trying to understand, even if it feels like it’s just…not getting it. Not quite yet. When news of a celebrity suicide breaks, you listen closely for it to be broached in conversation, waiting to see if somebody’s going to be brave enough to talk about it first. During the service, you keep your ears perked for a prayer request for the celebrity’s family. You wait for something, anything… But there’s no prayer request, no mention of it.

To you, the one struggling, it feels like the elephant in the room. You wonder if others feel the same way. You can’t believe you’re the only one struggling.

But you’d never know – until one day it’s the topic of hushed conversation. Word gets out. Somebody is depressed.

What does that mean for them? The whispers want to know.

They love Jesus, don’t they?

They have a relationship with him, right?

Aren’t Christians supposed to be joyful?

 If they’ve dedicated their life to Jesus, is it even possible to be depressed?

To the Church:

It is. Take it from me—one of you, one that loves you, one that’s grateful for the home that you’ve given me. I have been well-loved by you, but I never opened up about my struggle until after I was sure it was over. It’s possible for a Christian to be depressed because I have been. An unsettling amount of people that I’ve opened up to about it, many of whom also love Jesus, have told me that they’ve struggled with depression as well. Some of them are still struggling.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians will “personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.” Depression doesn’t care where you’re from or what your job is or how old you are or what you believe. It just comes. I know that you’re trying to understand. And I know that it’s hard to understand something that, oftentimes, just doesn’t make sense.

We don’t have to understand it, though, to bear with someone who is going through it.

To those struggling:

You have already been remarkably brave for making it this far, and I am proud of you. I want you to know that.

However, I need you to be a little bit braver. Not just to help yourself, but also to help the ones who will come after you—the ones who, too, will feel like they can’t talk about it and the ones who know that they are loved but are afraid of the response that they will get if they share.

If you are struggling, right now, please speak up.

Don’t wait until after it’s over. Don’t wait until it’s an amazing part of your testimony where God came through—and he will come through. If the Church is to learn how to come alongside a person who is struggling with depression, then it must be through experience. Simply hearing about it in an abstract sense isn’t enough. It doesn’t compare at all to the personal experience, and personal experience might just be what the Church needs to hear to be able to come alongside you—and those coming after you—well.

To the Church:

I’ve asked those who are struggling to be brave to bridge this gap, so I’m going to ask you to be brave, too.

Don’t pretend this is something that’s not happening in your congregation.

Don’t be afraid to talk about it. If you’ve struggled in the past, open up about it. Ask for prayer during the service. If you’re preaching, talk about Elijah, who became suicidal after the biggest spiritual experience he’d ever had at the top of Mount Carmel. Talk about Job, who just didn’t understand why everything was taken away from him. Talk about his friends, who should’ve just stayed silent and been with him instead of offering their two cents. Talk about David, who escaped to Philistia when he felt God had abandoned him.

Just talk about it. You, least of all you, should be surprised by the power that words can hold.

You can help. You can help create a safe environment for those who are struggling. You can help bring about healing.

To those struggling:

Christians get depressed. You’re not alone.

To the Church/those struggling:

We can do this.

Leave a Reply

Comments (34)

  1. Thirza

    Thanks so much for this blog. I actually don’t know what to say. This helps me alot, thank you.

    Reply  |  
  2. Jef Maslan

    Thank you for this.
    This strikes a chord deep in my soul. This is the area I see myself going towards while working inside the church and struggling with my depression. Too many times I’ve seen the church respond the wrong way to people who struggle with mental illness and I want to do all that I can to fix that.

    Reply  |  
  3. Anon

    While I completely understand that this is so true in many cases, and indeed was very much what I experienced in the church where I last lived – remain hopeful because they aren’t all like that. My current church this year banded together and spoke very openly about these issues, when a member (who just for contexts sake, was a man in his 60’s) took his life. This member was heavily involved in the community and church, and yes sadly, I don’t think anyone really knew the extent of his struggle. But that was his choice, not his churches inability to listen, in this particular instance. The funeral showed the absolute openness and understanding of the Christian community around him and us, and there was nothing that was swept under the carpet.

    I have seen more pain experienced from christians in the church as they walk through life than I have outside the walls of it. The battle, despite appearing to be of flesh, is not of flesh, but in spirit. Those who know and love Jesus will experience a more intense battle of Satan trying to get in the way of that – but they have what many in the world don’t…an eternal and everlasting hope, even though sometimes it really doesn’t feel that there is any. He never promised to take all the pain and challenges away, but He promised to be there through the thick and thin of it all.

    Keep the good fight going.

    Reply  |  
    1. Anonymous

      Thank you for this…. I actually cried reading your comment.
      It wasn’t until after I gave my life to Him that I started really struggling with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. I never looked at it like it was because of that, that Satan was attacking me so strongly, I always looked at it like it was my own failing—why was I struggling with this now that I should have perfect joy and be free from sin?
      Thank you for opening my eyes to that, I really needed this.

      God bless you.

      Reply  |  
  4. Katie Waters

    THANK YOU TWLOHA for sharing this with us. Sarah, your words are beautifully written and very needed!

    Reply  |  
  5. Vincent

    Thank you! This feels like exactly what I want to say to the church.
    So many books and articles come from people who don’t understand. Those people offer advice, but lack the ability to empathize. They want to tell us what to feel rather than come alongside to support us through it. But support is what we need, not spiritual warfare advice.

    Reply  |  
  6. Alisa Smith

    Girl- sometimes people just go to church and before they enter, they think “Okay put the depression to the side- it cannot come out here” when the Church is the place to open up and be one body of Christ! You totally took the words out of my mouth. PLEASE Write more. -anxious reader Alisa

    Reply  |  
  7. Jeff Wolsleger

    Wow. Such a great article! As someone who goes to church and is a Christian and struggles with depression this hit right on. Thank you!!

    Reply  |  
  8. Jessi

    Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  9. Chris Hughes

    My wife struggles with depression and all I can do is Love her and pray. And yes there have been times when I felt a failure, unliked, unworthy. And God has always walked with me thru it.And reassured me that I’m not those things!

    Reply  |  
  10. Emma

    This is great! thank you for this, its so true and needs to be addressed within churches. Ive seen too many people completely abandon church because of the stigma associated with mental illnesses and them not feeling comfortable or supported by their church family.

    Reply  |  
  11. CB

    I agree! Vulnerability is key in all areas of life and depression is not exempt. So many times we don’t know who to turn to or who can understand because we lock it away in our efforts to appear whole when really we are most whole in brokenness. That is if we bring it to God! Depression is such a tight and obscure bondage. Sometimes causes are known, sometimes not. But I wonder to what end are we wanting people to come alongside. Do I want someone to always come sit in the boat with me? Some days, yeah. Just be with me. Other days I NEED someone to tell me to defy the power of emotions and simply tell me that Jesus is my Lord, not sadness or grief. Someone to tell me to rise up and rebuke that darkness in the name of Jesus. Someone to fight for me in prayer and in person. Sometimes I look around for a warrior to follow. Will the church come alongside to fight against the powers of darkness with me or just shake their heads and hug me? It gets old hearing the “I’m sorry” line. Unless of course you find the attention nice, which I don’t. Honestly, I think I’m ready to cling to God in faith that joy comes in the morning and I confess my sin keeping my identity in emotion than in Christ.

    Reply  |  
    1. Carla

      Then I’ll tell you: Jesus is your Lord. And he’ll never let go of your hand.
      Doesn’t matter how hard it gets, God never lets go of his children. Put your trust in him, and he’ll give you the strength you need to get out of dark places.
      I’ve struggled with depression and self-harm for almost 10 years (maybe more), and tried everything to feel better. The only thing that seems to work is to remind myself that he is there for me, and allow myself to feel his love.
      I sincerely hope you remember that he loves you next time you’re feeling sad!

      Reply  |  
  12. Hannah Friedrich

    This is one of the best blog posts I have read. Thank you.

    Reply  |  
  13. Connie

    Thank you

    Reply  |  
  14. Rick

    Matthew 26:38 reads: Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me..

    Christ even suffered from depression and wanted to die.. This scripture has helped me..

    Reply  |  
  15. Stan

    wow…I feel this way so often. I am a pastor, I am a teacher, I work 40 a week in a homeless shelter…I have found more of Jesus in the shelter than the church… and I know why. Thanks for this effort.

    Reply  |  
  16. Grace

    Great stuff Sara thanks for sharing your heart!

    Reply  |  
  17. Marie


    Reply  |  
  18. Adopted Preachers Kid

    Sadly, many churches including my former home church, do not recognize that depression is a scientific medical chemical imbalance. They tell us our faith must not be strong enough, that depression is not real, that it is our weakness of faith, that we must not be right with God, that must be sinners, that we want attention. It is so hurtful to the core, though I realize it is their problem, their sickness. I will never attend any church again, which is hard because my faith is strong.

    Reply  |  
    1. Bastet

      My thoughts are similar. If a person’s religious faith helps them to cope during tough times, that is great.

      I appreciated the primary focus of this blog….hopefully, it will speak to the many houses of faith who cling to the outdated and often harmful belief that a particular type of faith is ALWAYS the answer…..and that continued suffering indicates lack of faith, character weakness, or lack of moral principles. Many churches, mosques, temples, etc are learning that “one size does not always fit all.” However, many others have yet to come to this realization.

      We must insist that science play a KEY role in the discovery of effective treatments for mental illness. Religious communities can be important…especially for those who share a particular faith. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they usually turn to modern medicine….regardless of belief or lack thereof. Few people within developed countries would only rely on faith and prayer to treat cancer (i.e…”faith healing”). Instead, most people will turn to modern medicine….and can also find support within their faith communities.

      Some suffering people do not have a religious faith. In fact, the number of religiously “unaffiliated” in the US is rapidly growing. Primary treatments for illnesses must focus on ALL human beings.

      Reply  |  
  19. Beth Hairston

    I have been one that struggles, and on occasion I still struggle. In fact, a few years ago I got a tattoo of the word “love” on my arm so it would be a permanent reminder of what TWLOA started. I also wrote a blog a few years back about a similar struggle. Thanks for your words. It was a great reminder, and made me realize that I, and others, still struggle with this.

    Reply  |  
  20. Joshua

    This is a great and honest piece. And speaking also as someone who once battled this depression and also is a Christian, do as this says and speak up. There is someone willing to be there for you. Some people are afraid to overstep boundaries, so you have to step up and say “I need help”. I promise that you will find help.

    Reply  |  
  21. Melanie Waye

    Unfortunately, this is so true. I am one of the struggling Christians. It is hard alone to share with a spouse, family, and friends. It’s even harder at church. You don’t want people thinking you’re crazy, so you go to church wearing a mask over your real face. I’ve become good at wearing that mask, but it is still hard to do. After reading this, I’ve decided to go to one of our pastors about my own difficulties with depression, and make him aware of how the church can help.

    Reply  |  
  22. Robert Ward

    Although your words do generally strike home with most evangelical Christian churches I would like to point out one that gets it! Saddleback Church in Southern California gets. Recently they held a week long gathering on exactly this topic. Pastor Rick Warren having lost his son to mental illness 2 years ago gets it! They have really made strides here to understand what is going on! Please take a look at the works going on at Saddleback and see for yourself to know some of them do get it.

    Reply  |  
  23. Jeremy Nakasone

    Hello Sara my name is Jeremy and I’m a friend of Jamie, Emily, and Jason Blades. I’ve been involved with TWLOHA pretty much since it’s inception. I just want to applaud you in posting this blog! I’m studying to be a counselor, and as a Christian I have seen the church struggle with this issue in a very real way. In recent years there has been somewhat of a pull away from psychology and mental health awareness in the church with this belief that “spiritual guidance” is what is needed. I believe thats BS and that we need to fully embrace the reality that these issues exist in our churches and that the church can be a huge benefit to those struggling! God created our brains to work a certain way, and our mental health is as important to God as is our physical health! When we have good mental health we are able to live more like God created us to!

    Reply  |  
  24. jcfenske

    Not all people are alike, each of us is unique. Not all churches are alike, they are all unique. I connected with TWLOHA when working with struggeling adolescents in the church. A loving, open, caring community of people who are not afraid to talk about the tough stuff-both the church AND TWLOHA. A broad brush is not always the best one to use.

    Reply  |  
  25. b.e. noll

    Thanks for this. It’s so kindly written. I’ve struggled with a lot of things. Yet, with prayers from many who know me [prayers I’d just go through with it] I shared a very brief version of my story. It was very hard to do. The guys were very gracious to me. And they did… what they have been doing for years with me. They sat, they listened, they stayed. Sometimes that…screams louder than your lungs ever will. They thanked me for sharing. I was so nervous I wore my grey “hot topic” TWLOHA shirt. [to remind myself I wasn’t alone, & I’m not “the only one”]
    I sat there, in a room, at my church, & shared. Depression, wanting to die, being abused… & the communities that have helped me trust people again. I was glad I did it. I’m still waking up & finding new reasons why.

    a friend from church is right:
    “Please don’t hide your scars – let them shine as lights to help the rest of us find our way – in the darkness.” thankful Aaron Kunce tweeted this… thankful Renee Yohe lives it.

    Reply  |  
  26. anon

    Great article.
    Sometimes the one hiding behind the biggest mask are those in the church who hold leadership positions. I imagine much freedom would come if those of us who are leading would be brave enough to take off the mask and get real. So much fear in doing so!

    Reply  |  
  27. Glen Kirkpatrick

    Sara: Thank you for this important post. I’ve shared it on Facebook: my personal page as well as the Overcomers Ministry group I administer and where I also contribute.

    Reply  |  
  28. Paige Hall

    Thanks so much for writing this! I’m a Christian who also struggles with Bipolar Disorder. I love going to church and seeing my church family, but when it comes to my disorder, I feel very isolated. I can tell that people care, but they have no clue what I’m dealing with. Every time I try to talk to someone, the conversation quickly goes silent. I feel like I’m the only one there that gets depressed. The church needs to step up, get a better understanding of depression and other mental illnesses, and reach out to people who are struggling both inside and outside of the church.

    Reply  |  
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