Locations & Times

Breaking the Silence

by Jeff Lucas on May 02, 2023

I am so grateful for the local church that welcomed me in as a brand-new Christian. It was 1975, and as I’ve said here before, it was an era of fabulous music and horrendous clothing choices. Looking back, surely a fashion demon was roaming the earth, luring humanity into the belief that it was a good idea to wear platform heels, flared trousers, and (I itch as I write this) non-breathable bri-nylon shirts.

My landing on planet church was not without turbulence. Those Christian people seemed very strange. I became a believer after attending a service of baptism by full immersion. Bewildered by the presence of a miniature swimming pool at the front of the church building, I was a little frightened when the black-gowned minister waddled down into the tank dressed like Dracula and sporting rather large waders. Had he been doubly mugged by that roaming fashion demon? And the aquatic mugging that followed confused me more as a number of hapless innocents were plunged beneath the tepid water. 

My bewilderment was compounded by some of the songs that we sang. 

One snappy little ditty was:

It isn’t any trouble just to s-m-i-l-e

No it isn’t any trouble just to s-m-i-l-e

If you pack up all your troubles then they’ll vanish like a bubble if you only take the trouble just to s-m-i-l-e. 

There was just one problem — and that was that for my angst-filled, guilt-burdened, 17-year-old self — it was quite a lot of trouble just to s-m-i-l-e. Sir Winston Churchill likened depression to being like a “black dog,” and my immediate family had a few kennels of our own. I am so thankful for a loving congregation and a caring pastor who helped me to find a way through, but I remember feeling irrationally ashamed about my mental health struggles. 

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And the blues resurfaced later when I became a church leader. My idealism was quickly vaporized by politicizing clergy, believers who made much ado about nothing, and long hours of work for very little money. Again, I was rescued by the kindness of a congregation that smiled rather than sneered when their 22-year-old minister dispensed his pearls of wisdom about God, life, and the universe. But a few of my friends were not so helpful. I think they might have previously worked for Job. “Snap out of it,” they said. “Pray more. Trust God. Find joy.” 

I felt bad because I felt bad, and fell silent about my struggles.  

But as I turned to scripture, I discovered that God refused to present us with a group of grinning, airbrushed heroes who sported halos as their fashion choices. There was Elijah, who did rather well in the miracle department but wrestled with the deepest despair. During that autumnal season, one of his prayers, “I have had enough, Lord, kill me now,” is unlikely to be produced as a prayer magnet for Christian refrigerators. The apostle Paul spoke with gut-wrenching vulnerability about his own emotional shadows. And when we peer into the gloom of Gethsemane, surely we see a Savior overwhelmed and depressed. 

And so, at last, I decided to speak up and speak out. Initially, it felt quite unsafe, and there were some who told me that I didn’t have enough faith, or that I should refrain from taking medication, which is bizarre. If I had a broken arm and my doctor suggested a sling, a sling I’d wear. 

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Looking back, there are some choices that I’ll never make again. You won’t find me staggering around on platform heels. Trousers with flares will not make a comeback in my wardrobe. And I won’t be sporting a mullet, despite the rumor that it’s coming back in style. I just don’t have sufficient hair to make such a hairdressing choice. 

More importantly, this much I’ll never do again: I won’t slink back into shamed silence about depression, because it’s vital that we be a church that talks openly, honestly, and hopefully about mental health issues. When the arctic chill of sadness strikes us, conversation allows us to huddle together for warmth.

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