How long, O Lord?
Leading from the Pit (of Depression)
How Can You Be a Spiritual Leader When You Can't Get out of Bed?

Depression is all too common for Christian leaders. Research from the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke Divinity School indicates that clergy members are (by rather conservative figures) over 1.5 times more likely to experience depression than members of the general population.

Leadership Journal wants you to take care of yourself. It was a key theme of a full issue recently, and of many excellent pieces we've published in the past. If you experience routine depression, or struggle with healthy self-care, please seek out professional counseling. In the spirit of health and honesty, here's our friend Lane's three simple tips for those mornings when life feels like the pits.

-Paul
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King David is a common biblical example of (usually) great leadership. But if we read the Psalms it is clear that David spent a lot of time in despair. Or, more poetically, "the pit." In Psalm 69 we catch a glimpse of David, the despairing leader. He writes:

Lord, the Lord Almighty, may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel, may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me.

I am clinically depressed but I am also a leader in my work, church, and a father of five. When I read David's words I hear myself on a bad day. Those days when I wake up and I'm not sure why I am doing what I am doing. When I don't feel good about myself. When I don't want to get out of bed. How can I lead anyone? I think on those mornings. I can't even lead myself.
Like most of you, I can't just phone it in and sleep until I feel better. I have to get up, go to work, write and teach, love my wife and kids, even when I feel worthless. How is that possible?

For what it's worth, I have developed a short three point checklist to help bring clarity and direction to my work and life even when I don't feel like doing any of it:

1. I remind myself that God is Almighty.
David's prayer in the verse above reflects a truth he knows when he feels weak or strong, God is the one who is in charge. Our feelings don't change that. It might not make us feel better right away. But it is important to remember.

2. I do a basic inventory of my emotions.
Is there a reason I feel the way I do? Has someone criticized me? Have I wronged someone? There are legitimate reasons that I feel off of my game. But since I suffer from depression I know that sometimes I'll feel off my game for no reason at all.

3. I do my best and let God make up the rest.
Once I've established that the way I feel is not indicative of an external reality, I basically allow myself to go through the day just doing the best I can. Sometimes that means I move a little slower or I don't accomplish everything I had hoped to. But sometimes slowing down makes me notice things I wouldn't have otherwise. At the end of the day I know that God will take the little that I have to give and use it for his glory.

December 30, 2013
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