Concrete Faith: The Daily Office in My Mental Health Crisis

By

I was walking my kids once in their giant double stroller. This thing is a beast. It weighs 35 pounds without them in it. With them, it might be closer to 85. Therefore I have to really use some force while I push this thing. We were taking a leisurely stroll that day, and I was pushing the stroller pretty hard. I suddenly hit a curb, and my one-year-old was in the front seat. He jolted forward and smashed his forehead on the sippy cup holder. Tears and screaming followed (maybe from both of us), but I also had to chuckle. I had to relate; one moment, you’re sitting and relaxing in the sunshine, and then BAM! You have a sippy cup-sized bruise on your temple.

As adults, we still have moments like this. Unfortunately, they are much larger in size, typically a lot more metaphorical, and just a touch more complex. For me, the jolt came when I became aware of my mental health. I have received my own share of bruises throughout this season of my life, but have learned some valuable lessons along the way. 

Sponsored

Emotions: High, then Dry

Coming out of high school, I attended a large nondenominational church and very much enjoyed it. They had a big stage and cool guitars, which I liked because I’m a musician myself. I was especially drawn to how emotionally engaged everyone was. Emotions always ran high when the lights were low, and the music was loud. It was refreshing to see people who actually cared about how faith connected to their lives. Naturally, I wanted to be like them and learned that if I had an emotional experience, then God was with me. I became a follower of Jesus in those years and am grateful for my time there.

In time, I felt God’s call into ministry. I decided I would go to university for ministry and eventually got a job as a youth and worship pastor at a nondenominational church similar to the one I grew up in (but much smaller). I relished meeting new people and serving that community.

Unfortunately, after two years as a worship pastor, I felt that most of my worship sets were emotionally stale and cold. I felt creatively dry. Every time I prayed an impromptu prayer on stage, it was always the same. I would pray simple yet trite phrases like, “Be with us in this moment” and “Take our whole lives.” I would stutter because I was unsure of what to say. It wasn’t that I was spiritually cold toward God. I just couldn’t produce an emotional catharsis for my congregation week to week. I needed to look deeper for better resources to lead the congregation and myself into new ways of thinking about God. What I found, however, was not new, but was much better than what I expected to receive.

The Well-Balanced Diet

I had told a friend of mine about this dilemma, and he suggested The ACNA’s Daily Office app and the “No Fuss, No Frills” Daily Office podcast from Andrew Russell, in which he simply prays the twice daily liturgy from the Office. At first, I was skeptical because my tradition had taught me that written prayers were stale. But I started praying along, and in time grew to enjoy the practice. The language was beautiful, theologically correct, and well-balanced. This was something I did not have previously.

The Daily Office wasn’t boring at all; in fact, it taught me to pray. These prayers include all facets of the spiritual life. They might be angry prayers at God. It might be pure praise. They might include prayers for the conversion of unbelievers. It was like receiving a well-balanced diet for the first time after eating freezer waffles my entire life. I found the resources for the congregation, but more than that, I found spiritual sustenance. It helped me express devotion to God in ways I didn’t know about while also teaching me how to pray.

Chaotic Mental Health

Then came the metaphorical jolt in the stroller. The birth of my second child made me aware of mental health issues that I didn’t know were there. I have always been prone to bouts of depression, but his birth made me realize how much of a problem I had. In fact, I, a father, husband, and ministry leader, had a mental health breakdown due to postpartum depression.

I know what you’re thinking: isn’t postpartum depression for new moms? I learned that paternal postpartum depression is something one in ten new fathers struggle with. It was a very difficult season, and there are resources for men who have mental health issues after a child is born.

During this time, I no longer had control of my emotional state. I had no idea why I felt the way I felt. The mood and emotion that I was trained to rely on for spiritual nourishment were suddenly unpredictable. I started to doubt my faith because I was no longer “feeling” God. I needed a reminder of my faith that was not contingent upon me feeling an emotion because all my emotions were chaotic and sometimes misleading.

A Concrete Faith

The Daily Office was that reminder. It ended up being the only spiritual practice I used during this strange and dark time. It gave the full picture of what we believe in concrete terms. By “concrete,” I mean that it reminds me of what we believe in the most upfront way, emotions aside. I do believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. I do believe in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord. These are things I believe even though my emotions would lead me to feel otherwise. Repeating the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Psalms continues to be of extreme value to me because they solidify my faith.

Before my mental health issues, my faith was only what they call “heart knowledge.” I knew it emotionally but not pragmatically. But my struggle with depression and emotions forced me to think of our faith in terms of “head knowledge.” Because of the Daily Office, I know my faith as fact. Faith is no longer just an emotional experience for me. Emotions go haywire for me because of depression.

Emotions aren’t bad. Jesus felt many emotions; love, joy, anger, sadness. All emotions are from God and are meant to be felt. Some believers go through the motions of faith without expressing any emotion. Some crave the emotional moments from Sunday mornings without really knowing God. Both, while separated, are unhealthy. I’ve come to believe that faith is a combination of concrete knowledge of our faith and God’s character and a carefully checked and balanced heart full of emotion. Anglicanism has helped me see that.

Postpartum depression was the “jolt in the stroller” that made me retool my spiritual practices, and I am filled with gratitude that the Daily Office was shared with me. My faith is literal and real to me now more than ever because of the concrete reminders that the Daily Office gives. Our God is bigger than our mental health issues.


Photo by uve sanchez on Unsplash.

Author

Ben Wiltse

Ben Wiltse (BA, Pastoral Ministry) served as a worship and youth pastor in a rural nondenominational church in the Midwest for five years. He has stepped back from vocational ministry to focus on his family's ministry and his mental health, but he serves his church and seeks to write to glorify God and process emotion.

View more from Ben Wiltse

Comments

Please comment with both clarity and charity!

Subscribe to Comments
Notify of

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments