This is a slightly revised version of a talk I gave at the Campbell Church of Christ and Northlake Church of Christ. A few people asked for a transcript, so I wanted to add it to my blog and make it available to anyone who wanted to read it. This talk has been on my mind again recently because I’ve been struggling with depression again. It’s frustrating to feel like you’ve come so far, and made so much progress, but still fall on your face from time to time. What has been true, though, is that I’ve taken the lessons I’ve learned from past experiences to better help myself this time: identifying symptoms sooner, applying medication proven to work in the past, and relying on the boundless love and support of my blood and church families. I hope that if these words resonate with you, you will take hope from them, as I am attempting to do now.
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Throughout my life I have struggled with depression. This has been a brutal journey at times, but I’ve had amazing support from my family and my counselor, Dr. Griffin. Dr. G and I first met when I was in high school, and he’s been a formative part of my life ever since. He helped me to get to the root of my depression and figure out how I could help myself get better, which came, in large part, by learning to see myself as God sees me, not as I see myself.
Let me explain. There was a time in my life where I was very uncomfortable with the person God made me to be. I didn’t understand my quirks, my gifts—the way it all fit together. Because of that, I couldn’t believe anything good about myself and began tearing myself down, discounting different aspects of my personality. Dr. G helped me understand what I was doing to myself with the following illustration:
Every person is dealt a certain hand of cards in life. My “hand” makes up all the gifts and abilities that I have, to whatever degree I have them. Now, not every gift is going to be an Ace. To me, though, if it wasn’t an Ace, it didn’t count, and any cards that didn’t count were tossed away. I told myself, “Well, I’m never going to be in the Olympics, so I’m not a good athlete. I’m never going to be ‘Hollywood’ pretty, so I’m ugly. I’m not as funny or popular as my younger sister, so I’m boring and plain. I’m not as smart or responsible as my older sister, so I’m stupid and a failure.” As I discounted more and more cards, my arsenal with which to handle life dwindled, and it became completely unmanageable. Dr. G put it this way: “No wonder you’re depressed. Life’s just too painful with only two cards.”
Now, what Dr. G really helped me understand is that all of those cards, in their varying degrees or intensities, were purposefully crafted together to make me the best version of myself, and that, by discounting them, I was hamstringing myself—making it impossible for me to do the things I was designed to do. Furthermore, Dr. G convicted me of the fact that I actually had no right to throw all of those cards away. Those gifts were entrusted to me by God, and I do not get to ignore them just because I think they don’t count.
One Biblical story in particular has been a powerful reminder of this realization: the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. Now, I know that it’s just a coincidence of language that the ancient currency is called a “talent,” but that’s precisely what I’m talking about: the talents that God has entrusted to us. If you remember, three servants were all given charge of differing amounts of “talents.” Two servants used those talents and were able to show to their master a good return; they were productive. One servant, however, hid the talent he received—literally buried it in the ground—and then returned it to his master unused and with nothing to show for the gift—and the responsibility—he’d been given.
I’m here to confess today that I have been the wicked, lazy servant who hid my gifts in the ground.
I was greedy; I wanted more talents.
I was arrogant; I exaggerated my talents.
I was resentful; I coveted the gifts others had.
I was ungrateful; I didn’t appreciate what I had been given.
I was cowardly; I didn’t want to face my limitations.
Most of all, though, I lied. I lied to myself about what I could or could not do, what abilities I had and what abilities I didn’t, and I let that eat away at my spirit like a cancer until I was too sick to accomplish the tasks God expected me to accomplish.
This is written in my Bible under the story of the talents: “We aren’t let off the hook just because we don’t think our gifts are great. Whatever we have, in whatever measure we have, we are EXPECTED to use.”
I needed to come to grips with myself, and I needed someone who saw me more clearly than I saw myself to wake me up—to shake me from my distorted way of thinking and get back to the business of being the Grace God intends me to be.
One other small story of a slightly harsher reality check: when I was still working on my Bachelor’s at Pepperdine and was in the midst of my worst depression, I had a professor I really look up to tell me that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for college. Far from being mean, he was forcing me to face that very real possibility—a kick in the rear I needed to help me resolve that, no, I was meant to finish college, and I needed to get my act together in order to do that. Now, it took me a while, but I eventually finished my Bachelor’s, and once that first hurdle was cleared, a whole world of opportunity opened up to me. I went on to get my Master’s, taught full-time for a university, and now I’m in Atlanta working on my Ph.D.—none of which would have been possible without some hard truths.
Once I told myself the truth about the gifts God has given me, I was able to accomplish all I was meant to do, but was afraid I couldn’t do. None of this would have been possible, however, without an entire team of truth-tellers… and for that, they have my gratitude and a place of high honor in my heart.