Aaron Loy from The Mosaic, an Evangelical Free in Lincoln, Nebraska wrote a great article about his battle with depression. In it he stated that it is a gift from God. This is a quick post on what Aaron shares in common with Abraham Lincoln and how they and their communities were better off because of their talents. I am grateful that this is helping to challenge the stigma of mental illness inside the EFCA.
“Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.”
Abraham Lincoln June 28, 1862
“I leave you, hoping that the lamp of liberty will burn in your bosoms until there shall no longer be a doubt that all men are created free and equal.”
Abraham Lincoln July 10, 1858
“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Mark 3:25 NIV
When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861 the United States was in a crisis. South Carolina which threatened to secede if a Republican were elected did so on December 20, 1860. Before the Civil War began in April of 1861 six more states would also secede over the next few months. Those states were Mississippi, Florida Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. War hung over the nation as the politician from Illinois traveled to D.C. by train to become the next President. Lincoln delivered a firm address promising to defend the country, but also offered stand down where contentious. Slavery would be respected but Lincoln warned the government would “hold, occupy, and defend” its property. Lincoln closed out his speech by turning over the prospect of Civil War to his fellow Americans. “In your hand, my fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect, and defend it… We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” A week later in Montgomery, Alabama those seven states signed the permanent Confederate Constitution on March 11, 1860. In the tense environment Lincoln wanted to prevent more states from seceding. He was particularly worried over the states of Virginia and Maryland. If those seceded than the District of Columbia would be surrounded.
As March became April the crisis that would spark the Civil War happened in the harbor outside Charleston. South Carolina demanded that the United States abandon its military facilities in Charleston harbor. On December 26, 1860 Major Robert Anderson moved his forces into Fort Sumter and away from Fort Moultrie which was more exposed. With the approval of James Buchanan the United States tried to re-supply Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter. On January 9, 1861 South Carolina fired on the United States and quickly seized all remaining federal properties in the harbor. When Lincoln became President 2 months later he informed the Governor of South Carolina that they would provide relief to Fort Sumter. Again South Carolina ordered Major Robert Anderson to abandon Fort Sumter. With an ultimatum Anderson still refused. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861 the Confederates bombarded Fort Sumter for 36 hours, and Major Robert Anderson agreed to evacuate. This event triggered the Civil War, and soon Virginia and three other states would secede and join the Confederacy.
The Civil War would be the bloodiest conflict in American history. Originally it was thought that it would be short and without much loss of life. So much so that before the first Battle of Mananas many local D.C. citizens packed picnic lunches to watch the war, almost like it would be entertainment. The horror of the first Battle of Manassas sent both local citizens and the Union Army running. It was at the Battle of Manassas that in rallying his troops Stonewall Jackson got his name. The conflict would go back and forth in a stalemate. After clashing in places like Antietam, Cold Harbor, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Gettysburg and the many more when the guns fell silent over 625,000 causalities occurred. In the South one out of every five males were killed in the war. Abraham Lincoln who went through general after general until he found Ulysses S. Grant finally found the right men to wage the battle. Lincoln who was a political mastermind in dealing with his opponents also transformed the Civil War into a moral issue with his Emancipation Proclamation. The war would weigh on Lincoln and it would try him early on when there were many setbacks. But the eventual wearing down of the South helped bring an end to the war in 1865. Sadly Lincoln would not live long after the Civil War ended.
The Civil War had many affects on the United States. For example it put to death the ability of states to secede. Industrialization was also a by-product of the Civil War as the economy changed from an agrarian to industrial. It also solved the slavery issue which had challenged the United States from its days in infancy until it was outlawed with the 13th Amendment in 1865. The abolition of slavery wiped away capitol in the South. One adverse consequence of the Civil War was a national opiate addiction. Many wounded soldiers were treated with opiates during the war, and opiate addiction plagued the United States at severe levels. I believe this happened until Civil War veterans started to die off in the early twentieth century.
Abraham Lincoln’s Battle with Depression
Many historians today in presidential history often rank Abraham Lincoln as the best president in United States history. Actually the question most often asked is this…would the United States have won the Civil War had it not been for Lincoln’s leadership? Many historians have much to say and one of the most prominent Civil War historians James McPherson has said much about Lincoln in this article here.
But here is the part that I want to focus on. How many know and are aware of Abraham Lincoln’s battle with depression? Lincoln dealt with depression throughout his life. He had two major depressive breakdowns at both the age of 26 and 31. Lincoln also was suicidal, so much so that his friends formed a suicide watch. At 32 Lincoln wrote, “I am now the most miserable man living.” Lincoln’s practicing law partner William Herndon in Springfield, Illinois wrote “Gloom and sadness were his predominant state,” and “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.” You can read more about this in Joshua Shenk’s “Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness,” When Lincoln became President he still struggled with depression and dealt with the topic from time to time. The biographer of Abraham Lincoln is Stephen B Oates and the definitive biography to read is called “With Malice Toward None.” In that book Oates writes about how Lincoln was severely depressed. Shortly before his second inauguration Illinois Senator Orville Browning commented that Lincoln “looked badly and felt badly – apparently more depressed than I have seen him since he became President.”
Now here is the question I would like to ask. Was depression a gift to Abraham Lincoln? Could he have been the talented an gifted leader he was if he didn’t have his depression? Did his depression strengthen him, and allow him to touch and feel the darkness of war? Did his depression resonate in his writing and delivery of the Gettysburg address? Could he have mouthed some of the words he did in any of the speeches to Congress? From my perspective I don’t think so. I think depression was an incredible gift that served him well in the darkest hour of the United States. I also want to state that I believe that we attach too much stigma to those who deal with depression. There are many gifted world leaders, authors, musicians, and more that struggled with their own demons and more. Yet where would the world would be without the Winston Churchill‘s, General Douglas MacArthur‘s and the Hector Berlioz’s? All these individuals and more dealt with mental illness in the form of depression. Its with that stated I want to highlight and feature something I read in the newest EFCA Today that was published.
Aaron Loy of Mosaic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska
Aaron Loy who has struggled with depression would find himself in company of people like Abraham Lincoln. Aaron has been vocal about his depression with penning about the topic in Relevant Magazine in “Confessions of a Depressed Pastor.” Aaron Loy is a pastor at the Mosaic Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. Aaron first attended Trinity College of the Bible and graduated in 2009, then he was involved in the Mosaic Leadership Centre and obtained a Master of the Arts in Transformational Leadership from Bethel Seminary. In his career he was the Campus Ministry Director for Youth for Christ from 2002 until 2004 in Lincoln. From 2005 until 2008 he was the Worship pastor and College Ministry Director at Rivertree Church which is in the Lincoln, Nebraska area. Then Aaron moved to Los Angeles to be a part of the Mosaic Leadership Development Program. In January of 2010 he founded and established the Mosiac in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Mosaic is an Evangelical Free Church. The EFCA honored Aaron with the Church Planter of the Year Award in 2012. He has published for Relevant Magazine, EFCA Today, and Church Leaders. Plus he writes a blog which you can read here. Aaron is one of the pastors I discovered when working through the Midwest District. His blog has some good articles that I would like to use for discussion in the future.
Recently Aaron Loy published an article in EFCA Today called “Depression is a Gift from God.” I found this article to be quite helpful and I wanted to single it out. In writing about the Evangelical Free Church of America, from time to time when there is positive attributes to single out and recognize The Wondering Eagle is going to take that action. Aaron writing about his depression is brave and he deserves to be commended for what he did. The stigma of mental health issues in the modern evangelical church very much exists. But that stigma is chipped away through courageous actions such as this by Aaron Loy. Its helps humanize depression and reveals that many people struggle with it. Another significant factor is that it helps make the culture inside the Evangelical Free Church of America healthy. So to Aaron who will eventually read this I want to say “kudos” With that I am going to turn this article over to Aaron Loy and let him teach what he has learned about depression.
Depression as a Gift from God
I am a pastor and I struggle with depression.
I know you’re not supposed to say that, but it’s true. Depression has been part of my story for as long as I can remember. Going into ministry didn’t make this struggle go away. At times ministry has made it significantly harder.
As ministry leaders, we not only deal with the internal battle Paul describes in Romans 7, but we also regularly enter into others’ battles (and subsequent carnage). Tough, messy work.
But as hard as it’s been at times, I believe my struggle with depression has been one of God’s greatest gifts to me and to the people I serve.
Complete inadequacy = readiness
Early in ministry it was important to me to be perceived as a gifted, motivated and capable leader. I made a point of projecting confidence and strength at all times.
Then, five years into our thriving church plant, I hit a wall. I found myself exhausted and deeply depressed. For the first time in my life, I experienced daily bouts with anxiety and crippling panic attacks. Some days, just getting out of bed was a struggle.
I became painfully aware of my shortcomings as a man, as a husband, as a dad and as a leader. I felt broken. Weak. Completely inadequate.
Perhaps for the first time in my life, I was ready to be a pastor.
I am weak but He is strong
I decided to share my struggle with our church. Having no strength left, I did the only thing I could do: lead out of my weakness.
And then something strange happened: Our ministry took on new life. People didn’t leave in search of a more capable pastor; they stayed and brought friends. We began to see a fresh moving of the Spirit and genuine life change. And while I was sure I was underperforming across the board, God began doing some of His best work in our midst.
This journey has been both humbling and freeing. It’s humbling to realize God doesn’t need us nearly as much as we sometimes think. But it’s also freeing to realize that God has promised to do His perfect work through even our most feeble efforts.
God doesn’t need our strength. Our weakness is more than enough.
I suspect depression will always be part of my journey. But I’ve come to realize that to be aware of one’s own inadequacy and absolute need for God’s provision is an incredible gift. I’ve often wondered if this is why God refused to take away Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Because a broken and dependent Paul was a Paul through whom God could change the world.
He was a Paul who could pen these words and truly mean them:
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take [this suffering] away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).
My prayer is that we, too, would come to know what Paul knew: that God doesn’t need our strength. Our weakness is more than enough.