You’re Not Alone: Depression in Youth Ministry

Youth Specialties
June 24th, 2016

For months, I felt isolated and alone. I felt as if I had a target painted on my back and every person I encountered was out to get me. The world felt volatile and dangerous. Quite often, it seemed as if my world were caving in on me. I desperately tried to pinpoint where these wild emotions were coming from.

I blamed parents.

I blamed students.

I blamed my fellow staff members.

I blamed my family.

I blamed God.

I was essentially trying to shift the weight of responsibility to anyone but myself. I felt shattered and broken. Most days I struggled to even get out of bed. Despite my attempts to blame everyone else for these feelings, I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me. But I still felt abandoned.

I was depressed.

Finally, my incredibly supportive wife had to bluntly tell me that I was causing my own pain. All the agony I was experiencing wasn’t coming from another person—it was coming from me. Even worse, my suffering was causing others pain.

That truth pinballed in my head for weeks as I wrestled with how I was torturing myself and those who loved me. During the time I was processing all of this, I took a road trip. God tends to do a tremendous amount of work in my life while I’m alone in my car. Sometimes I hear his voice in music, sometimes I hear him in silence, and sometimes I hear him speaking through podcasts. I was attempting to catch up on the myriad podcasts that had piled up on my iPhone, and I came across one about pain and suffering. It seemed fitting, so I hit play. Within minutes, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion—it seemed as if everything spoken in this podcast was about me personally. About fifteen minutes in, one of the guys said this:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

When I heard this, I felt as if God had spoken directly to me. In that moment, I heard his voice clearly telling me that even though I was experiencing pain and turmoil, I didn’t have to stay in that place—I didn’t have to let that become my normal. It would be difficult, but I could choose to accept my depression and move through it. I didn’t have to continue to suffer.

I realized that I’d been desperately trying to wear a mask—I wanted everyone around me to think I was okay. But my internal mess was spilling out, and the mask wasn’t fooling anyone. Everyone knew I was broken. Even I knew it—I just didn’t want to admit it.

I once heard a speaker at a conference say, “You can’t un-know what you now know. Just like you can’t un-see what you’ve already seen.” Once you realize there’s a problem or you recognize something that needs to change, you have a choice. If you ignore it, you’re lying to yourself. You’re just pretending that . . .

attitudes . . .

or feelings . . .

or desires . . .

or temptations . . .

or sins . . .

or passions don’t exist.

And if you don’t deal with those realities about yourself, you’ll cause more problems in the long run. If you don’t deal with temptation, it can lead to many problems. If you don’t deal with your newfound passion, it can leave you feeling empty.

[bctt tweet=”If you don’t deal with depression, it will cause unnecessary suffering.” username=”ys_scoop”]

Believe me, I tried to ignore my depression.

As I sat there in my car, I realized I wasn’t just going through a difficult time—I was struggling with deep depression, and I needed to address it. My relationships with my family, my friends, myself, and God were all disintegrating in front of me. Questions raced through my mind:

How does someone get out of depression?

How can I get rid of my depression forever?

Where do I even begin?

In my clouded mind, I felt the grace of God gently grab hold of me. I was reminded of his unfailing love for me. The beautiful thing about God is how much he loves each of us in the midst of whatever mess we’re in. No matter how beaten down we may feel, God is the one who lifts us up, dusts us off, and holds our heads up. There’s no mess that’s too messy. There’s no depression too deep. God’s love transcends. His love is too big to be stopped. His love is so large that he actually sits in the mess with us.

The grace of God crashed down on me that day. I knew I could no longer stay stuck in the mess, and I knew I couldn’t do it by myself—the only way I was going to move forward was with God. God met me in my mess and said, “Let’s figure this out.”

I wasn’t magically cured of depression, but I did begin the hard work of healing. With the support of my family and friends, I was brave enough to . . .

see a doctor . . .

get on anti-depressant medication . . .

visit a therapist . . .

ask my church board for a sabbatical . . .

seek healing in my relationships with family, friends, and God . . .

and begin to love myself again.

One of the things I did during this journey was re-read Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli. In this book, Mike paints a beautiful picture of how God loves us and can use us wherever we are—he can even use us in our darkest moments. Pretty much everything he said in that book was monumentally life-changing for me. However, one of the more impactful things he said is this:

[bctt tweet=”Getting stuck can be the best thing that could happen to us, because it forces us to stop.” username=”ys_scoop”]

It halts the momentum of our lives. We have no choice but to notice what is around us, and we end up searching for Jesus. When we’re stuck, we’re much more likely to pay attention to our hunger for God and the longings and yearnings we have stifled. Sometimes being stuck is the low point and we say, “Okay, I give up.” We cannot grow without first giving up and letting go. Getting stuck forces us to see the futility of our situation and to put life in perspective so that we can move on.

Maybe you’re reading this today and you’re ready to give up on ministry, relationships, or even your own life. As someone who was ready to give up, let me offer you this: Your depression doesn’t diminish your value.

[bctt tweet=”Your depression is part of you and your story, but it doesn’t have to own you.” username=”ys_scoop”]

You can own it. You can deal with it. You can journey through it. But you can’t do any of that on your own.

You’re not alone.

God is with you.

And he desperately wants to journey with you through the mess.

Ryan_Schmall-819x1024Ryan Schmall is the Student Ministries Pastor at Redding First Church of the Nazarene in Northern California. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on Twitter or read his blog over at iamryanschmall.tumblr.com.

Youth Specialties

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.