I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with depression and anger, and my name is Hess. I was blessed to grow up in a great family, but one thing I did not learn was how to open up to those closest to me. As a result, I was a “stuffer” and “conflict-avoider” early on. I thought the life goal for Christians was to please God and people. And if I got angry, I stuffed it.
My first bout with depression came when I was 20 years old, when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. Accompanied by painful cramping, bleeding, and uncontrollable diarrhea (providing me with many humbling experiences!), I had to be hospitalized for six weeks after Christmas of my junior year. During the third week in the hospital, that depression started settling in while I kept track on the bottom of a Kleenex box the number of times I barely made it to the bathroom each day.
I prayed many times a day, asking God for healing. But the healing never came. As a 20-year-old, I came to understand CR Principle 1 vividly; I am not God, and I am powerless— period! Jesus said, “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him” (Matthew 5:3 NLT). With numerous blood transfusions and the loss of 30 pounds, I experienced what unmanageable meant.
By June, I had decided to have surgery.
When the colon is removed, the disease is gone with UC—you’re healed. It’s called an ileostomy—the best option for me at the time. Some fear it is a life-debilitating surgery, but it was incredibly life-giving for me. In fact, six weeks later, I was disease-free and able to go water skiing.
Before I finished college, I decided to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control and pursue full-time ministry. So, I finished seminary in 1980 and moved to Little Rock, AR, where I met my amazing wife, Julie.
Julie and I have been married for 40 years.
And marriage has been a good challenge for us! We are opposites in some positive ways but too much alike in some not-so-positive ways. For example, neither of us is good at managing finances, which became a major source of conflict. And our natural communication styles didn’t help either. We are both “conflict avoiders.” And whereas I would get angry and very passive-aggressively stuff it, she grew up learning to sweep everything under the rug and pretend it wasn’t there. Well, I stuffed, and she swept… for a long time.
Within three years, Julie lost her oldest brother in a car accident, her father to a heart attack, and her mother to a lung disease. As all that happened, Julie got lost in a fog of grief. Our marriage also got stuck in that fog. And, I’m embarrassed to admit, instead of moving toward her, which she so much needed me to do, and what Christ would have done, I moved away from her in anger.
I reacted to the “fog” by withdrawing and stuffing.
Not long after the “fog” arrived, another storm was brewing at the office. Two individuals on staff started working to undermine my leadership and eventually began clandestinely plotting to split away and start their own church. Their betrayal felt like a deep stab in the back, and, worst of all, it damaged our church.
It was during this period that I became very depressed—clinically depressed. I had taken anti-depressants off and on, but they were not helping at this point.
Add the fog in our marriage to the staff and church problems, and I had my own “perfect” storm (remember that film/book?). I was in a bad place and on the verge of complete burnout. Depression was my constant companion, and the anger I was stuffing by this time was enormous. I started spiraling, feeling like I was being sucked into a deathly dark vortex and completely helpless to do anything about it.
I longed for the healing I’d seen so many of our people find through the ministry of CR.
So, knowing I’d feel safer with peers, I invited a group of local pastors to join me, and we began to walk through the twelve steps together. The group was my lifeline amid that huge storm as I openly examined and confessed my faults to God and to my fellow pastors (CR Principle 4).
As we continued, Principle 6 was critical: Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others. The Holy Spirit broke through one morning in particular when I realized that no matter what God would ever ask me to forgive, it could never come close to all God had forgiven me for.
How could I ever choose to withhold from anyone else what he had so freely given to me? Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (NLT). I also discovered that the more I forgive, the less I have anger and depression. Funny how that works!
But what about our marriage? Eventually, Julie completed her own CR 12-step study, and God used that to change her life and heal her grief—and the fog finally lifted. Up to that point, I am embarrassed again to say that I had, for the most part, stubbornly refused to work the recovery principles in our marriage and had remained withdrawn much more often than not.
Finally, the day came when I made amends to Julie, and she was with me not long after.
We’ve still had our bumps and bruises along the way, but gratefully, our relationship is better today than ever, primarily because of God’s work through CR.
And that very first pastor’s 12-step study was the beginning of what ultimately evolved into what is called CPR, Celebrate Pastors in Recovery. Thanks for letting me share!
If you would like to learn how to start your own Celebrate Recovery ministry, to contact your Celebrate Recovery Rep, please visit: https://crgroups.info/. To get involved in an already existing Celebrate Recovery ministry near you, please visit: https://locator.crgroups.info/.
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