By / Mar 19

“I’ve never shared this with anyone.” 

“My husband thinks I’m crazy because I can’t seem to get past this. It affects our communication, our intimacy, how we parent.” 

“Every time I walk into church, I feel like I’m going to throw up.” 

“I don’t know where to begin.” 

These represent common responses from women who participated in support groups for survivors of abuse and trauma.

In recent years, we have seen the light of truth and justice shining into dark corners where unspeakable things have gone unchecked. Sometimes the light shines brightly, exposing whole systems of oppression. Other times, it breaks through the night slowly and quietly, one story at a time.

We can affirm the many ways churches are seeking to equip themselves for greater understanding and compassion toward the abused and traumatized. And yet, as we are confronted with statistics of abuse and trauma survivors, we can acknowledge the reality of the work before us.   

As a woman in the church with a masters degree in counseling, I sensed a call from God several years ago to come alongside those recovering from abuse and trauma. I long for people to experience healing from whatever suffering plagues them. 

Over the past two years, I facilitated five women’s groups to process the experience of abuse and trauma. Each group of 12 women met weekly, spending 90 minutes at each session for six weeks. Two of the groups met in local churches, and the other three were conducted in an online format with women from across the country. I’ve been able to observe and learn several things during time with these incredible women. 

Healing in story

A few weeks ago, a new friend asked me to tell him my story. He had heard a small piece of my personal background, and it prompted him to want to know more. With warm eyes, he inquired of me, and I found myself comfortable sharing with him. As I finished, he looked directly at me and said, “It’s not supposed to be that way. Our God is grieved by that, and I am very sorry you experienced that.” The offender has never acknowledged it, and likely never will this side of eternity. But something was restored in my heart that afternoon by one person being willing to listen empathetically and acknowledge the wrong done to me. 

While telling our stories does not absolve the offender of responsibility, it can serve as a reminder that God hears us and cares deeply about our stories. His own Son spent a great deal of time listening to the stories of those who had been mistreated, abandoned, and abused. One account we find in Mark 9 of a father bringing his son for healing serves as a vivid example of Jesus inviting the man to share his story. He offered dignity and restored hope to those who felt alone. 

One way of being ambassadors of light is by providing a context for hope and healing through engaging with survivors’ stories and helping them find meaning in the larger narrative of God’s story. That’s what the support groups seek to do, honoring each person’s story and cracking the window just enough so that light can start shining into the darkness. 

Healing in community

The groups I facilitate take a whole-person approach, giving consideration to the intricate ways the body, mind, and soul have experienced abuse or trauma of various kinds. My hope is that they offer a compassionate and safe space to begin processing what recovery might look like. The groups are not intended to be a substitute for individual counseling or other specialized forms of trauma care. The primary aim is to provide a Christ-centered perspective on healing in the context of a supportive community. 

Standing by a survivor requires empathetic people who can feel their feelings, absorb their pain, and walk alongside them for the long haul.

Many of the women who participate in these groups have never opened up to anyone about their abuse and trauma. They have pressed on with life while greatly affected by how their bodies and minds respond to the trauma. Shame becomes a recurring theme. Some have found themselves unable to hold jobs or maintain intimate relationships because they never processed their experience. Some have faced compounded or secondary trauma after sharing their story with someone who diminished them with a quick platitude like “forgive and forget,” or worse, abusive statements like “move on!” or “keep quiet . . . don’t stir up trouble.” We must offer a community that builds trust and listens well.

Important elements to remember

Understanding several critical elements will prove helpful for anyone seeking to care for abuse and trauma survivors.

Oppression and abuse reach far wider and deeper than we can imagine. The power structures in place within our churches can often create an atmosphere where abuse can be miscategorized or hidden as “anger issues” or a “marriage problem.”

Survivors need a multi-pronged approach to healing. They need a support system including trauma-informed therapists, counselors, doctors, friends, advocates—a community who will speak hope and truth back to them when the voices of darkness whisper doubts and accusations.

Each experience of abuse or trauma is full of nuances. There is no one-size-fits-all model for healing. Approaching the survivor with a canned format for counseling or support creates the potential for retraumatization. Continuing education and training, growing in empathy, and being an active listener are critical to the helper’s ability to adapt to the unique needs of each survivor. Two resources that are helpful for learning more at an individual and church level are and

A survivor doesn’t always know exactly how he or she feels or what he or she wants. Their identity has been so skewed and silenced by oppressors that the survivor may not have a vocabulary for processing the experience. Acknowledging this helps us approach he or she with greater patience and compassion, particularly because it reminds us that there may be confusion as they share their story. Indecision or fluctuating emotions are common responses from survivors. As they encounter someone who remains steady and committed to patiently listening to them, they may begin to gain clarity about their feelings and be empowered to make decisions about next steps.

Walking alongside a survivor requires patience. We should only engage someone in their story if we are prepared to offer the care necessary to walk through it with them. Standing by a survivor requires empathetic people who can feel their feelings, absorb their pain, and walk alongside them for the long haul. We should not sign up to care for a predetermined length of time, but must be willing to be there for the long haul.


I share what I have heard and learned and continue to learn from survivors so that when a survivor chooses to share his or her story with a friend, there is a deeper awareness out of which the friend can listen, support, and help provide a context for healing. Survivors will need a multipronged support system in the healing process. One person cannot play all those roles, but if we are invited into the support system by a survivor who shares their story, may we bring hope.

By / Apr 29

The blues. A black hole. The dark night of the soul. Whatever you call it, depression is a resourceful thief that seeks to steal any semblance of joy, happiness, and peace from those who suffer.

Depression is a devious and duplicitous agent. Given the specific situation, it can be a cause or an effect of substance abuse, ranging from alcohol to prescription and illicit drugs. It can also initiate a litany of other unhelpful and even destructive coping strategies.

Of course, one of the major things we frequently attribute to this condition is suicide. It is widely believed that more than half of suicide victims battled some sort of depressive disorder. Some of the better known victims include Kurt Cobain, L’Wren Scott, and Kate Spade. Difficult seasons of life can affect anyone. In recent months, several pastors, including Andrew Stoecklein and Jim Howard, took their own lives after battles with depression.

While depressed pastors receive more attention in today’s social media culture, they are not a new phenomenon. You’ve likely heard of renowned English pastor Charles Spurgeon’s lifelong struggle with depression, which he described as “extreme heaviness,” “the shadow of death,” and “my great horror of darkness.”

But there’s a clear disconnect in play. When we look to pastors and faith communities for guidance on how to deal with depression, the responses are a mixed bag of everything from hyper-spirituality—essentially, be a better Christian—to complete outsourcing. As an understandably frustrated former church member once put it, “Pastors don’t want to fool with brokenness. They just want to grow with healthy people.”

The cause of depression can be issues within us, the hormonal, biochemical, or organic. But depression may also be triggered by external issues like family and relationship conflict, grief and loss, or workplace difficulties. In reality, there are usually confluent factors for a large number of depressed individuals. Unfortunately, none of us is immune to the myriad life issues that wreak havoc on our emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Why “pray more” isn’t enough

For most depressed individuals, causality is a mixed bag. That’s why more often than not, a two-pronged approach to treatment that includes both counseling and medical intervention is warranted. And that’s precisely why Christians must not be told to simply pray harder, be better, or just have more faith. A 2013 study by Lifeway Research found that nearly half of evangelicals “believed that people with serious mental disorders can overcome their illnesses with ‘Bible study and prayer alone.’”

Many of those who are depressed already pray, read their Bibles, and attend church regularly. And not just any church—your church. Shrouded beneath robes, they sing in our choirs. Hidden behind lecterns, they teach Bible lessons. Lost among toys, they serve in preschool worship care. They sit inconspicuously on pews or in chairs right beside you and me. They sing the words of the songs. They laugh awkwardly at the bad jokes of the preacher. And they mask their depression by responding “Fine, thanks” five or six times during the meet-and-greet piece of the service.

In a culture that is increasingly disconnected and unsupportive, church is often a depressed person’s last real hope of finding a community of truth and grace to walk with them through the cavernous valleys, oppressive shadows, and turbulent storms of life. Imagine carrying that prodigious burden yet finding no considerable connections.

Inconsistent and shame-based messaging within church families is one of the primary contributors to the ongoing stigma associated with mental health struggles or mental illness. Author and speaker Amy Simpson, in her book Troubled Minds, writes, “The church allows people to suffer because we don’t understand what they need and how to help them. We have . . . ignored, marginalized, and laughed at the mentally ill or simply sent them to professionals and washed our hands of them.” That’s a pretty strong indictment, but in my experience, it’s spot-on.

When confronted with hard stuff that is outside our comfort zone, our tendency is to gravitate to our safe place. We speak Christianese. We spiritualize. We wax eloquently, speculating about the reason and purpose for the pain. Our approach should be more personal and empathic, closely resembling the humble Christ, who time and time again met people on their turf, in their torment, and on their terms.

Far too often, in our quest to focus on them, we make it more about us.

Depressed people don’t just need Bible verses; they need compassionate companions who regularly live out the “one anothers” of Scripture.

Let’s look at three pragmatic benchmarks:

  1. Love one another: It’s awfully easy to fear or judge those we don’t understand. But it’s our responsibility to show his love.
  2. Pray for one another: We don’t have to know all the details of someone’s struggle in order to lift them to the Father in prayer. Stopping to pray with another is a particularly powerful demonstration of love and care.
  3. Bear one another’s burdens: There are so many ways to serve those who are depressed. From the practical day-to-day needs of meals and laundry to providing childcare during counseling sessions, support groups, or doctor’s appointments, you can be a blessing to someone in need.

It’s important to realize that ministry is messy, especially when mental health issues are involved. Ministry takes time, attention, and follow up. It requires intentionality and invariably invites interruptions and inconvenience.

Church pastors and staffers, be courageous enough to talk about depression, and assure those in your congregations and communities that this Jesus we preach and teach about has real hope to offer, hope that is often found within the skill sets of counselors, doctors, and psychiatrists who have spent a lifetime preparing to help people. It is also found in the friendship and nurture of the church family.

By / Mar 30

I was recently with some friends, and we were sharing with one another how the hardest things in our lives—the really hard things—are the things, in the end, that we are the most deeply grateful to God for.

This was no list of “privileged” suffering. This was raw, painful stuff: abject poverty, abuse, barrenness, deaths of spouses, and real struggles that make most people uncomfortable to even acknowledge the existence of. Yet this group, through tears, rejoiced and expressed gratitude for what God had allowed—or perhaps, more specifically, what God had withheld.

Who among us doesn’t want food and shelter? Who doesn’t want love and safety in their relationships? How many of us plan to lose a spouse before we’re old? And while I know there are some exceptions, how many women do you know who don’t long to bear and raise children?

These are things so basic to our human existence that most people can’t really imagine what it is like to live without them. And yet, there we were, not having even realized all this about our little circle (it’s definitely not why we were together), sharing how God, in his providential care, had chosen to withhold things from us in various ways. It was an intensely beautiful time together.

There was real grief shared of sorrowful and hard experiences. And yet, all of it was accompanied with rejoicing for the deep and profound lessons that God has taught through them. There was no sugar-coating of the realities involved. The experiences of grief and suffering can feel harsh, unrelenting, and even cruel.  But shining through the lines of story after story were beaming, glorious, wonderful realizations of the light of God’s goodness and kindness in withholding the good things that we had each longed for and providing lack instead.  

How do we learn that God is our provider if we never have to look to him for provision?  How do we learn that God cares for his children if we never know what it is like to lack care?  How do we know how long-suffering God is with our sin if we never face long-standing patterns of sin in those we love?  How can we know the sweet comfort of the Comforter if we never need to be comforted?

We can’t. And so the truth is, God orchestrates lack into our lives in order to fill us with something infinitely better than what even those very good things can bring—himself.  When we lack food and shelter, he is our portion and our cup, the bread of life. He is our strong tower, our refuge, and he would rather allow us to hunger and thirst for him than to have a full belly and no taste for Truth.

When we are victims to the horrible evil that dwells within men’s hearts, we find a suffering Savior who knows what that is like because he suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of the deepest evil the world has ever known. And through it, he demonstrates how he delights to make beauty that can only truly be appreciated through seeing and knowing and living in the ashes.

When we are devastated by tragedy and loss, we come to know the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief who would rather let us experience the searing pain of loss than let us miss out on what a Perfect Bridegroom can provide in the midst of all that pain. And when we long for something so badly that our chests ache and our souls burn, we find the tender, compassionate Shepherd who would rather give us what he knows we ought to long for in order to shape us into a better reflection of his goodness and care, than allow us to become arrogant or proud in the fulfillment of our lesser desires.

It’s so contrary to what we want. It’s opposite of what we think. We want good things—and they are good—but the problem is that they are not good enough. That’s what our lack reveals to us. Not having what we long for reveals our real needs, and not having the things we want refines our tastes for the things we need. Suffering the loss of what is precious to us helps us value the One who is most precious of all.

Our lack, especially of good things, ends up making room for the best things. Praise God for being willing to bear our sorrow and broken hearts in order to fill us with joyful, thankful hearts that know him better and love him more because of it.

By / Feb 5

Vaccines have proven to be one of humankind’s greatest inventions and the single most powerful and effective way of reducing disease and improving global health. Here are five facts you should know about vaccines:

1. When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease (typically between 85-95 percent), the remaining members are also protected because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals (e.g., children with leukemia)—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as "community immunity" or “herd immunity” and is the primary benefit of vaccines both to individuals and to society.

2. For each virus, statisticians are able to calculate the minimum percentage of community immunity necessary to achieve herd immunity and prevent an outbreak. Though we only need about 85 percent of the community to have immunity to rubella, smallpox, and diphtheria to prevent an outbreak, diseases such as whooping cough (pertussis) and measles require at least 94 percent immunity. This is why public health experts argue that exemptions to vaccinations should be limited to those who are unable to vaccinate because of health reasons. When parents refuse to vaccinate their children for philosophical reasons, they increase the risk of disease exposure for the entire community.

3. Annual use of recommended vaccines for children has been estimated to avert up to 3 million deaths per year globally, with even greater numbers of prevented cases of illness and substantial disability. For children born in the U.S. in 2009, routine childhood immunization will prevent an estimated 42,000 early deaths and 20 million cases of disease, with savings of $13.5 billion indirect costs and $68.8 billion in societal costs.

4. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences and an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public, performed an analysis of more than 1,000 research articles on vaccines. The analysis by a committee of experts concluded that few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines.

The review of possible adverse effects of vaccines found convincing evidence of 14 health outcomes—including seizures, inflammation of the brain, and fainting—that can be caused by certain vaccines, although these outcomes occur rarely. In addition, the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism.  

5. Despite nearly thirty years of research, there has been no causal connection established between vaccinations and autism. However, the claim that vaccines caused autism was given credence in 1998 by the publication of a fraudulent research paper in the British medical journal The Lancet.

That paper was later retracted when it was discovered that the chief researcher, a British surgeon named Andrew Wakefield, had manipulated the data and failed to disclose that he had been paid more than $600,000 by lawyers looking to win a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Wakefield also was found to have committed numerous breaches in medical ethics, including using some of the children named in the lawsuit in his study. In May 2010, British regulators revoked Wakefield’s license, finding him guilty of “serious professional misconduct.” They concluded that his work was “irresponsible and dishonest” and that he had shown a "callous disregard" for the children in his study.

Despite being discredited for fraud and unethical conduct, Wakefield is still considered the primary source and champion for those who erroneously believe in the connection between autism and vaccines.

By / Nov 20

How can I know if my depression is primarily caused by a malfunctions in my body-brain or wrongs I’m committing in my beliefs-behaviors?

Another way to ask this question would be, “Is my depression something I am doing or something that is happening to me?” There is no universal answer to this question. The two leading treatments for depression tell a conflicting story: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychotropic medications. The effectiveness of CBT indicates that beliefs and behaviors play a large role in depression. The effectiveness of medication indicates that body malfunctions, particularly in the brain or glandular systems, also play a large role.

The reality is that depression is always both: (1) beliefs-behaviors and (2) body-brain. We are embodied souls. Every emotion we feel registers neuro-chemically in our brain; this is true of pleasant emotions (i.e., joy, excitement, and peace) and unpleasant emotions (i.e., depression, anger, and anxiety). Every change in our brain affects our thoughts and actions. Consider how you think-move in the morning before coffee.

There is a long list of things that can cause depression (i.e., a persistent down mood and/or the inability to enjoy normal pleasures): a significant loss, failure, lack of purpose, unrealistic expectations, temperament, glandular malfunctions, chemical imbalances, certain diseases, response to some medications, change in seasons, fatigue, isolation, sin or idolatry, unbelief, foolishness, legalism… (the list could continue).

The follow up question would be, “How can I tell if my experience of depression is rooted primarily in my beliefs-behaviors or my body-brain?” Here are a series of questions to guide you in this assessment. The order of these questions is intended to help you eliminate belief-behavior causes first. There are body-fluid tests for glandular causes of depression, but not for brain-chemical causes, so in most cases, it is recommended that you assess things in this order.

  1. Are you harboring any known sin that would affect your mood (i.e., bitterness, abusing a depressant like alcohol, lying-hiding to make your relationships feel fake, overworking to the point of exhaustion, etc…)?
  2. Are there any false beliefs about God or unrealistic expectations of yourself that you struggle to relinquish?
  3. Are there events, challenges, or changes in your life which would make your level and duration of depression an appropriate emotional response?
  4. If after addressing whatever changes are revealed as necessary in questions one to three, your depression persists then it would be probable that your depression is rooted in your brain-body more than your beliefs-behaviors. Consulting a physician or psychiatrist would be recommended.

You might ask, “But what if I have a family history of depression, does that mean I can/should skip to question four?” My response would be, “Not necessarily.” From our family we get both genes and habits; biology and culture. You are as likely to “inherit” things from your family that would be revealed in questions one to three as you are question four.

You might also ask, “What about suicidal thoughts? If I am feeling desperate, should I still go through all these steps?” My answer would be, “Not at all.” Going to a doctor to get medication for relief from depression is not a sign of weakness or spiritual immaturity; even if it means calling 911 because of your level of despair. Safety should always be the first concern. In intense cases of depression, the relief medication provides can help you think more clearly about the concerns raised in questions one to three.

If I am struggling with depression, what are some basic things I need to do to get some relief?

Begin by sharing your struggle with a trusted Christian friend. We read in I Kings 19:10 how believing that you are alone with this experience magnifies the emotions and false messages of depression. Isolation is a repeated theme in Scripture when it describes the experience of depression (Psalm 88:18). There is nothing like allowing someone to care for you to break the isolation and stigma that often comes with depression.

Regulate your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. Depression will make its home in your lifestyle choices and stay until you kick it out. Diet, exercise, and sleep are not just “healthy choices;” they are the natural way our bodies regulate our brain-chemistry. Long before the availability of SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) people combatted chemical imbalance in these ways—even if they didn’t understand neurology, they knew a healthy diet, cardiovascular exercise, and regular sleep helped them feel better. Even with modern medicine, we should not force medication to sustain a neural-balance that our lifestyle is fighting against.

Read Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch. This is an excellent book that deals with the sin (beliefs-behaviors) and suffering (body-brain and hardships) sides of depression with a gospel-centered approach. This book should allow you to understand your experience of depression better so that you are more free to talk with Christian friends and feel more motivated to make lifestyle changes. In addition to Ed Welch’s book, here are three blogs I believe can be helpful.

  • Medication and Despair – Contains brief Q&A videos from Ed Welch and David Powlison on medication and other resources to help you think through the possible wise use of psychotropic medication.
  • 5 Part Series on Depression and Ministry – Contains to a series of posts on depression created by the Biblical Counseling Coalition for the Gospel Coalition. While it is written for pastors, it is helpful for any Christian who is struggling with depression.
  • When We Believe Suffering’s Lies – Reflects on how the hardships of life introduce damaging messages into our lives. We are most prone to believe lies when the harshness of living in a broken world seems to validate them.

If I have a friend who struggles with depression, how can I be a more effective friend and encourager?

Listen well without assuming your “instinctual explanation” of depression is accurate. We all have a default explanation for emotional experiences. It may come from our own experience, our “common sense,” or a favorite book. But when you listen do not force your friend’s experience into your assumption. Allow whichever of the causes (likely plural; review the list in question one) that best-fit your friend’s experience to be the cause. Just because something “worked for you” doesn’t mean it will work for your friend. Just because something is “right” doesn’t mean it “fits” every experience.

Be content to “walk with” rather than “fix” your friend. It is likely the cause-solution will not be easy. To rush to a premature “answer” is both ineffective and insulting. As you get to know your friend’s experience better and narrow down the causes; you may or may not feel competent or comfortable addressing them. Legalism or performance-driven overworking are easier for most Christians to address than the side effects of a new medication or a hypoactive thyroid. Regardless, remain an actively listening friend even if you encourage your friend to see a counselor or doctor.

Your presence and care have a powerful impact on removing the isolation and stigma associated with depression even if you are not the “advice giver.” Good advice without authentic, personal relationships is limited in its effectiveness. Your role as friend will outlast whatever role a counselor or doctor may play.

It would also be good for you to read some of the resources listed above. Depression is a common experience we all need to be skilled in addressing and these resources will equip you to echo important truths into the life of your friend.

If my struggle with depression persists and I wanted to seek counseling, who would you recommend?

If you are in the RDU area, we have a couple of options to serve you.

  • Summit Counseling Graduate Intern Program – This is free counseling with students completing their masters or doctoral degree in counseling.
  • Bridgehaven Counseling Associates – Bridgehaven provides a context to receive counseling from a full-time, experienced counselor on a donation basis. Bridgehaven offers a high quality of care that is both clinically-informed and consistent with the teaching of The Summit Church.

If you are outside RDU or prefer to pursue other counseling options, here are some helpful guidelines from CCEF on how to find a good counselor.

This was originally published here.