Last week I learned the news of a beloved seminary professor’s passing. I was heartbroken. Yesterday morning I learned the details of his death at his own hand. I was shocked and devastated. I never had Dr. John Gibson in class, but I was one of the many students with car trouble that he rescued. He poured money and time into repairing my car himself. He was a friend and one of the greatest examples of joyful servanthood I’ve ever seen.
His death has made the rounds to most of the national press: CNN, Washington Post, USA Today. Just google him and you’ll find it. This isn’t because of some investigative journalist. This is because his wife had the courage to bring his struggles into the light. He struggled with sexual addiction and depression. He was one of the many people outed for registering with the extra-marital affairs site Ashley Madison.
I came to work completely shocked. Pushing through preparation for a children’s day service at church felt ridiculous. I left early so I could process my feelings and understand why I felt so grieved. I could barely tell our administrative assistant I was leaving. I nearly broke down in front of my associate pastor. I needed to go home and weep, pray, and work out my feelings on this revelation.
I haven’t seen Dr. Gibson in three years, and there’s a good chance I never would have again. We weren’t that close, and yet I learned we shared some of the same struggles. I too suffer from depression. I don’t want to equate it to his, but it is a very isolating thing. All people who have depression feel shame, but there is a special amount of shame that goes with being in the ministry. Reading through the Psalms I see David suffered, Elijah was suicidal, and Jonah, well Jonah was just a pill. God showed himself to them many times in miraculous ways and still they were overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, failure, and hopelessness. This gives me great comfort and yet I still fear someone will find out and never allow me to lead music in another church. I fear people will feel like they have to walk on egg shells around me. I feel like people will overlook me and replace me with someone less broken.
Yes we were connected in more ways than just that Chrysler Cirrus (which eventually burst into flames). I can’t pretend to know the pressure he was under, nor the temptations that he faced. But I wish I could have said, “yes, me too.” I wish I could have told him, “Sometimes I feel so low I’m looking for anything to distract me from this anguish.” Or simply, “It’s okay to be depressed!” We forget that we’re supposed to be sad sometimes. My nephew cried for 20 minutes the other day because he couldn’t watch Ant Man. At first I tried to distract him. Then I realized, maybe he needs to let this out. It had been a long day and Ant-Man is pretty awesome. Yet I don’t give myself the same grace. If I start to feel a little low I reach for the laptop or TV remote, I try to fill the emptiness with a bag of chips. I wouldn’t dare admit I’m lonely or anxious in this moment. I fail to allow God to work in those moments, and yet when I do lean into the feelings, when I bring God into those moments I find God revealing Himself to me. I can have an Isaiah 6 moment. “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips!” I can finally see my sin for what it is, and at the same time feel completely forgiven. As the Seraphim said, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
But what grieves me the most is that his sins were already paid for by death. Jesus suffered and died for us. He took the punishment for our disloyalty and disbelief so we could be loyal…so we could believe…so we could live. This is what makes me cry into the abyss, “Why God, Why did this happen?”
So my ultimate hurt is absolute selfishness. I wanted John Gibson to fight through this. I wanted him to fight with me. I wanted to see him redeemed even if I never knew about it. If I know you or don’t know you, I need you to do the same. Walk this life with me. Jesus has suffered so much more in our place. In the midst of our depression and difficulties let’s choose to worship Him. If you suffer from any kind of mental health disorder please bring it to light and seek help. If you are a church seek ways to help people, including your own clergy. If you’re not able, know where to find them help.