By Joshua Straub, Ph.D.
God created the world with a cosmic rhythm of sunsets and sunrises that become days, weeks, months, and years.
He made humans no differently. Consider the cadence of your heartbeat. The flowing sounds of blood through your veins. Those physical rhythms alone keep your body fully alive.
But He also created rhythms to keep us alive emotionally and spiritually. By the rising and setting of the sun, He created us to live within a weekly seven-day rhythm.
He also created a day of rest for us within that seven-day rhythm so that we stay spiritually alive (Mark 2:27-28).
Without rhythm and rest, we confuse ourselves as “human doings,” and forget that we were created to be human “beings.” A lack of rhythm will corrupt every aspect of personhood, beginning with relationships.
Enter the coronavirus pandemic, a global crisis that lands in our backyard, bringing natural rhythms of Sunday service, community groups, Bible studies, counseling sessions, and social gatherings to a screeching halt.
Even for the most mentally and spiritually fit among us, the interruptions can bring about feelings of depression, fear, and confusion.
But what about those you lead who bravely battle depression, even without social distancing? People who rely on relationships and social rhythm just to get out of bed in the morning?
Men and women in your congregation losing jobs? Changes in rhythm because kids are out of school? People who relied on school to feed their kids? Those near retirement age who see their savings taking a deep dive?
Church, this is our time to show up, especially for those who hurt right now. As the church, we need to value personhood by honoring the rhythms of relationship. Social distancing doesn’t have to equate to social isolation.
And as church leaders, we get to be on the front lines of showing the world the beauty of personhood.
Here are four ways to walk alongside those battling depression that may be exacerbated by the pandemic and social isolation.
As leaders, it’s often instinctual to want to fix someone or something when we first encounter a “problem.” Slowing down to listen feels counterproductive.
However, I believe James 1:19 may arguably be the most sanctifying verse in all of Scripture. As leaders, we too often think we know the answer.
So rather than being quick to listen to the needs of others, we quickly speak and offer advice that comes across to the hurting individual as dismissive or uncaring.
People are not “problems” to be solved. People are souls with an inherent need to be heard and understood. And for those with depression, feeling valued as human is the foundation of trust, and trust is the catalyst to influence.
So be quick to listen in this season of uncertainty. Use social media, Instagram stories, email campaigns, and virtual Zoom meetings from community group leaders to assess the struggles and where they need help.
Use key leaders in your church, like pastoral counselors, to stay connected to the most vulnerable.
This is your time to invest in the souls of those you have the privilege of leading each and every week, to show them you care about whatever it is causing the depression.
And though you or your leaders may not fully understand the depths of depression, listening to someone who is will be your best teacher.
It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: You learn and they have someone who genuinely cares.
2. Keep church rhythms
In other words, don’t suspend relationships. Those you lead thrive on the rhythms you have already created. If your church doesn’t live stream, use Facebook Live to meet on Sunday mornings.
Subscribe to video software like Zoom to keep meetings like Celebrate Recovery, community groups, and Grief Share open.
Utilize private Facebook groups to keep conversation going throughout the week for those who need to be checking in, especially with their small group leaders or pastoral counselor.
Every week, our church sends our kids their weekly lesson via email and my son meets with his first grade class via Zoom with the kids ministry director.
They understand the daily rhythm established by Moses to teach our kids the commands and love of God and have continued providing parents the support to do just that (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
The human soul needs rhythm, especially those who keep going by only looking at the next event or meeting that will simply get them out of bed. Give them the hope of those continued relationships and listening ears.
3. Prioritize counseling sessions
Right now, more than ever, there are people in your congregation losing money from job loss, retirement funds, and the need to stay home for the children.
Marriages once held together by busyness now falling apart because of idleness. Men and women who had hope and purpose, now feeling lost with nothing to do and uncertainty about the future.
If you have a pastoral counseling team, make it a priority to have congregants sign up for virtual sessions.
If your church doesn’t offer that infrastructure, have a list of therapeutic options for people to get signed up. There are a wealth of virtual, text, and tele-counseling apps and services.
Focus on the Family, for example, has a group of licensed therapists who hold free consultations and then help get that individual connected to an ongoing counselor.
4. Promote emotional resilience
Use your church social channels to keep reminding your congregation about the power of simple rhythms.
You can create graphics, emails, and even a small group initiative to disseminate accountability throughout the church to practice healthy rhythms.
Here are some ways to help those battling depression to build resilience—or their emotional immune system—one day at a time.
- Take a shower and get dressed upon waking up
- Don’t stay in pajamas all day
- Brush your teeth
- Limit time watching the news to 15 minutes a day
- Connect on social media that feeds relationships and faith
- Disengage from social media that feeds fear
- Eat healthy foods
- Avoid junk food
- Call or virtually meet with a friend over coffee
- Attend virtual prayer groups / Bible studies
- Get outside (hiking, walks, biking, bonfire)
- Exercise 30 minutes
- Spend time reading a book
Some of these seem super basic. But for those battling depression, daily rhythms of self-care fuel hope.
So does serving others.
For those battling depression that you have the privilege of serving, enlist them to help you serve others if they can.
Perhaps they can deliver groceries to the door of the elderly, write encouraging letters or emails to medical workers in your church on the front lines, or help single parents juggling financial pressure or a house full of kids.
Those battling depression need hope. And hope is found in rhythm.
As church leaders, keep in mind, we weren’t created to serve the rhythms, but for the rhythms to serve us.
In this season, value personhood by creatively establishing the virtual rhythms that honor relationship.
The souls you lead depend on it.
JOSHUA STRAUB, Ph.D. (@joshuastraub) is the marriage and family strategist for Lifeway and a professor of child development.