In April of 1989, I came precariously close to ending my life.
I was in the throes of a completely debilitating depression. Totally incapable of rational thought, very ill, and unable to help myself, I lived believing the tormenting devilish lies continuously being fed into my mind. They were condemnatory, malicious lies, without foundation, yet to me they seemed completely logical. They dominated every moment of conscious thought.
Rev. Al Downey is the Pastoral Care Co-ordinator for the Alberta and Northwest Territories District of the PAOC. In the last year he and his wife, Yvonne, have made over 3,000 contacts in caring for ministers.
Guilt And Pain
Yes, I was a believer.
Yes, I was a pastor. That only magnified the guilt and pain. It brought a deeper shame and more complete sense of failure. I believed that I had failed myself, my family, my church, my vocation, and most of all my God. Desperation drove me to the ‘brink.’ One step into heavy traffic and it would all be over.
In that one fragile, frightening moment, when life and death wrestled for domination over me, I am so glad that life won. I am here today only by the grace of God. I came 2 steps and 10 seconds away from being a suicide statistic. I would have missed so much.
Empathy and Comfort
In the light of the furor caused by the recent suicides of pastors and all the subsequent discussion it has spawned, I wanted to address this issue from my own past personal hell, and offer these few thoughts:
First, to those in ministry who feel in absolute hopelessness and desperation, I want to say:
You need not feel any sense of blame, shame or failure because of your present situation. Great men and women all through Scripture and Church history have faced and fought the “black dogs” of depression and mental illness. You are not alone in this. There is no need to suffer in silence. You have always been, you are, and always will be, valuable in the eyes of Father God. Wellness or illness cannot change that. You are His prized possession.
You can and should reach out for help. I firmly believed that no one could help. I was wrong. There was help available. There is a positive, constructive way out of your private pain. There are numbers of us who personally understand what you are facing and we desire nothing more than to walk with you through this time. Modern medical help is available as well. More is understood about mental illness than ever before.
This torment is only for a season. There is hope for the journey ahead. I know you will find that hard to believe. I didn’t believe it either. I had no hope, no expectation of recovery. Yet, here I am almost 30 years later, functioning well in life. I take medication to stimulate the production of serotonin in my brain. I feel no remorse or guilt for doing so. I only feel gratitude for the help it gives. It is a small price to pay. Long ago I chose to discount the opinion of those who would censure me for taking ‘tricyclic antidepressants.’
Do I believe in divine healing? Absolutely! However, when God chooses to heal me, I will rejoice. Until then, I will thank God for medicine. I encourage you not to hesitate to take medicine prescribed by a competent, caring physician. Stick with it. It will make a difference.
Grace And Mercy
Since my recovery, God has allowed me to minister to scores of people living, as I had, on the brink. That has brought me immeasurable joy.
Can we, with the same grace and mercy we have received from God, allow Him to judge according to His love? Then we will be free to be caregivers for those who are fighting mental illness and comforters for those left behind in the terrible wake of suicide.
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