When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
— Isaiah 43:2
There has been a great deal of banter the past few days regarding Simone Biles’ decision to withdraw herself from her team competition as well as her individual competition in this year’s Olympics. So many people have such strong opinions about what she did and/or what she should have done. My guess is the strongest of opinions have come from people who have neither met her nor ever had a conversation with her. All of the experts on her mental health needs are evaluating, diagnosing and prescribing from a distance. Honestly, it has been sad for me to watch not only as a pastor but also, and maybe more importantly, as a human being.
About six years ago, I recognized something was wrong with me. I assumed it was purely a spiritual battle and that I would be able, with God’s help, to grit my teeth and get through it. This thing that was nagging at my spirit had been around a long time. It had whispered accusations at me for years and tormented me for as long as I could remember. Time and again, I would muster the courage to use all of my emotional energy to push it back into the shadows because, as the old adage goes: out of sight, out of mind. However, something was different this time. I couldn’t rest on the laurels of my ministry success and get rid of it. Just reminding myself I was married to a beautiful, godly woman wasn’t doing the trick. Understanding that my kids needed a strong and resilient dad wasn’t cutting the path forward. I needed something more. I needed help.
You see, the issue I was having involved my spirit, but it also involved my mind. I was in the midst of a mental health crisis, and either I didn’t know it, or I didn’t want to admit it. As this reality became clear, my mind was filled with the concern of what others would think of me if they knew I was struggling with mental health issues. What would the church think of me? Would people ever trust me again to help them navigate through their personal issues? Essentially, I was asking what all of the people who would evaluate, diagnose and prescribe from a distance would do with me. It was terrifying.
If you ever want to hear the whole story, I’d be happy to share it over a meal or Zoom call with you. Suffice it to say the Lord did give me strength, not to push through but to get help. I went to a professional counselor (actually, three of them) to work through things that were weighing heavy on my heart and mind. I was introduced to the 8-year-old version of me, and we were able to have a good chat that I desperately needed.
I cried a lot. I thought a lot. I confessed a lot. I forgave a lot.
Depression and anxiety are real. I believe we have been told for far too long that expressing those feelings indicates weakness. Personally, I believe the strongest people are the ones who are able to recognize when they are not well. Are there circumstances where a person has to push through the pain? Of course. Are there times when it is appropriate and applaudable to look fear in the face and laugh at it as we press forward? Absolutely. Is it ever OK to say no to something simply because you know you are not in a place mentally to carry the burden? Yes. Yes. Yes.
I’ve never met Simone Biles. I’ve never been an Olympic athlete. I’m not sure what else she really needs to do to prove to the world that she is an exceptional athlete with remarkable talent and grit. What I do know is I am proud of her for modeling a different kind of strength and determination to the world.
Seriously, if you are struggling with any type of depression or anxiety-related issues, reach out to me. I would love to visit with you. Maybe my story can impact you in a way that gives you the strength to overcome this very real and very powerful foe. I will be gracious and kind as we remember together that God makes beautiful things out of the ashes and that the Spirit that is in us is far stronger than the spirit that is in this world. I am for you. More importantly, I hope you never forget that our creator God is for you.