At the age of 20 I was a newlywed in a new state, looking for a new start. I had moved 1,000 miles to marry my husband, so no one at my new church knew about my past, which included a broken family and two suicide attempts. No one knew about the depression and bulimia that lingered, because no one asked.
Please understand: my then-church was full of lovely Christians, people who loved to help others. But sadly, most of our ministries were geared toward Christians who were hurting physically or financially, or for sinners who needed saving. There simply existed no programs for broken people who had been sinned against; nowhere for me to unpack the devastation my parents’ divorce had left in my heart and in my life.
For the next five years I pleaded to a silent God to take my depression away. Finally, when I was 25, He did.
In my second year of teaching high school English, I asked my students (and myself) what one habit they (and I) could form that would make the biggest difference in their lives.1 For me, the habit was to read Scripture every day.
After three weeks of reading God’s Word every morning, I heard the Lord speak hope to me. For the first time in my adult life I didn’t feel depressed. For the first time ever I wanted to share Christ because I finally knew His Word had power over depression.
But there was a problem: Even though I had found some healing, my depression was only a secondary problem. I was still a broken person; I still needed freedom from my broken past.
So I told the Lord that if He would provide some ministry, some knowledge, something to help heal me from my past, I would use it to help others.
Shortly afterward, a pastor named Paul Coneff, founder of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries, came to my church to start a prayer and discipleship group. Attracted to his focus on the heart, I joined immediately. Over the next year I benefited from four acts of discipleship I didn’t even know I craved.
For the next four months our small group prayed with each other and learned how to pray for others. As time wore on, I marveled at how Christ’s Spirit was reflected among us. Not only were we trained to pray for others about their hurt places—we also prayed about ours.
2.A Safe Place to Talk
Depending on whose night it was to receive prayer, we took turns sharing our stories while the rest of the group just listened. There was no condemnation for past sins or current struggles; we created a safe place for our pain to come out so the Lord, the Wonderful Counselor, could deal with it.
3.A Relevant Jesus
The Jesus we learned about was the suffering Messiah of Isaiah 53, who not only saved people from sin, but also saved people from suffering.2 Using Scriptures such as Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:14-16, we understood how to relate the negative beliefs and experiences we had gone through to the hardships Jesus suffered. We took seriously and literally the fact that Jesus suffered “in every way” we did, including being lonely, abandoned, betrayed, abused, and tempted, especially in the hours leading up to His death on the cross.3
Because Jesus suffered as we had, yet remained connected to His heavenly Father, we gained hope that we too could overcome our struggles through Jesus.
Besides meeting my suffering Messiah, the most powerful aspect of our small group was hearing the stories of my group members: their stories helped me feel less alone. Honestly sharing our struggles (and later our victories) was a powerful step toward wholeness.
Just as the woman at the well (John 4) met Jesus and immediately went to tell others, we encountered Jesus; and that created in us the desire to spread the good news. And we did!
After our training concluded, I started sharing my testimony at lunch dates with girlfriends, through writing, and with two successive prayer groups I co-led. Over the course of the next year, because of my openness, many women opened up to me, and I gained more friends than I could keep up with. Finally, I found some safe and sacred places—living rooms, prayer circles, blogs—where I could be real about my struggles and get help.
Christianity at large is still hurting, and still has a long way to go before we can truly fulfill Christ’s mission to heal those who are brokenhearted and to set captives free.
But I haven’t lost hope. My own story is proof that hurting Christians can change into whole, healthy people open to conversation and honest prayer. Then we can become Christ followers who reach other broken people, one messy act of discipleship at a time.
Lindsey Gendke is a writer, wife, teacher, and mom who doesn’t mind sharing that she used to be depressed. Read her blog at lindseygendke.com.