The Day I Learned to Lead

Posted by in emotion, physical health, relationships, vocation

Just a handful of hours after the birth of our second daughter, my wife entered into a deep internal darkness. Our second daughter had been born healthy, but my wife had not fared so well. She fell rapidly into the depths of postpartum depression. My mind rushed to what I knew. Be a real man. Do not be weak. But it was clear that my wife’s struggles were not a matter of the will – the joyous, peaceful, and energetic wife I knew had vanished.

I had been the Senior Pastor with our new church for only six months. We knew many congregants, but not deeply. We lived hours from our families and I felt alone.

After a couple days, we went home from the hospital and life deteriorated quickly. My wife’s depression disabled her and she could not get out of bed. I spent a lonely week away from my pastoral duties and struggling to care for her, our two year old and our new baby. Life itself had lost all attractiveness to her. I hid all the medications in our home and summoned my in-laws to help with her care. We literally dragged her out of bed, dressed her and hauled her to the doctor every day. As the doctor experimented with medications, her condition ebbed and flowed. I tried not to.

As the next week progressed I believed that I should demonstrate my resolve and give the sermon on Sunday. It was my duty. I wanted to share our struggles, but to emphatically proclaim the sufficiency and power of God to overcome them and give us joy.

Sunday came and my wife’s parents stayed at home with her and the girls while I sought to demonstrate my indestructible heart before the church. As I stepped onto the platform to welcome the congregation into our collective worship of our God, the rivers of truth inside my soul could not be resisted. I began to weep. I grasped to regain my composure like a true leader should, but my physical body had become too feeble to contain my authentic self. I had lost all my strength to hide the pain inside. I could not pretend to be in Psalm 23 when I was still in Psalm 22.

I stood before the people of God naked, but finally true. I saw congregants weeping with me as I slowly shared the details of our week. I explained that my wife resided in an awful place of internal darkness and that I felt overwhelmed by the task of caring for an infant, two year old and an adult. I shared that I trust that God is faithful, but that I did not feel God’s peace at that moment. I wept and wept and eventually drained my eyes into the well of God’s community.

Later that day as I drove home, I experienced a consuming sense of guilt that I failed in my task to confidently proclaim faith amidst trial. I felt that I set a poor example by not demonstrating unwavering faith and resiliency in that time of difficulty. As the lies of our culture were pounding my heart, God called me back to truth. God shook my soul and asked, “what is strength?” As I reflected on this question over the next several hours I could not deny the images of Christ weeping with others at Lazarus’ death, washing his disciples’ feet, and ultimately surrendering his divine power to be crucified and killed. It became clear to me that as I cried and shared my heart before the congregation I was, for perhaps the first time in front of the congregation, strong – a real man, created in the image of an infinitely mighty and yet emotional God. I was more genuine, authentic, and finally open to God’s movement and God’s strength than ever before.

In the months that followed, church members stayed with my wife and the girls every day and provided us meals. Many in the church, both men and women, shared stories of their own brokenness and struggles with depression in ways that they never felt comfortable before. For the first time in the infancy of my pastoral experience, I realized that leadership is not about appearing indestructible and having all the right answers, but about modeling openness and honesty. Only then can we move from despair to hope by God’s power and not our own.