(Photo courtesy of Facebook)
Q&A: Jefferson Bethke
The fall has been an exciting season for Jeff Bethke. First, taking on more leadership at Family Teams by announcing the Family Plan Calendar. Second, releasing his new book, “To Hell with The Hustle.” Third, stopping by Marked Ministry to have a conversation on mental health, including sharing his own story overcoming depression. Here is what he had to say.
Most people know you as a speaker and author but might not know that you also struggled with depression. You once said in a YouTube video that your depression was birthed from a delusion that the Christian walk was going to be the way others told you it would be, but it was not. You said, “relationships broke, addictions stayed, and the pervasive feeling of loneliness kept gnawing at you.” Many think Christians shouldn’t deal with depression. Others feel perplexed when God doesn’t instantly take it away. These are many common misconceptions when it comes to mental health. Share your thoughts on this in connection to your story.
Jefferson: Great question and one I don’t know I’ve been asked much before! In my early 20’s, I had a few years/seasons of severe depression to the point of feeling no motivation, being in a cloud at all times, and more specifically just wanting to sleep every waking moment because that seemed to be the least painful. Thankfully, the Lord brought me through and taught me a lot, but for some, that is not their story. For some it’s clinical, or life long, or much deeper than what I experienced. I think the hard part of this conversation is we tend to fall over on both sides. Either we only say and talk about the fact that God’s grace is found in therapists, medicine, and more holistic help (which is all true!) or we only talk about depression as a spiritual reality, maybe sometimes with demonic or invisible layers underneath (which is also true!) I think recognizing both of these realities completely is a helpful foot forward.
Tagging onto the prior question, talk about how you found hope when God walked with you through the wilderness of depression?
Jefferson: Too much to answer in a short space but I’d say a myriad of places. Strong, robust vulnerable community where people truly know you, plus a habitual cadence-oriented time with the Lord at His feet, really speaking with Him and hearing from Him every morning. I have a YouTube video about the wilderness and the stars and what I learned in that season on my YouTube channel.
You had said that sometimes “there are only things we can see in the dark.” In that difficult season, what did you discover about God in the dark?
Jefferson: I think God’s character is like a diamond, where when light hits it in just any different way, it’s going to reflect and spread that light differently. I think the season we are walking through is similar in that God reveals Himself in Jesus, but in different ways in different seasons. Specifically, in dark seasons I feel like His voice becomes a soft whisper, and one of a loving tender presence that becomes very real more than almost any other season. And because of that, there is a level of encouragement, even in the hard times that seems to anchor us.
Currently, a high percentage of Millennials and Gen Z are experiencing high feelings of loneliness. Why do you believe “real connection” is so important for young people in an age of social media and technology?
Jefferson: This is primarily because social media is only surface connection. It’s great for keeping in touch and giving us information but it’s not great at making us human. Its’ too fast, too surface-y, too calculated, edited and cropped.
Your new book release is entitled, “To Hell with The Hustle.” You talk about the constant demand contemporary culture places on us to do and be more. However, you say that digital diet and the hunger for more information has left us empty, addicted, and purposeless affecting our mental health. Share about this.
Jefferson: I don’t think we realize just how much information is being thrown at us and how good we are at adapting to it, when it’s corroding our humanness at the deepest levels. The amount of information we see and absorb in just a few days was a lifetime’s worth 500 years ago. It’s exhausting our brains, psyche, and natural mechanisms for connection and humanness.
When it comes to resisting what culture defines as “meaningful” and living intentionally to cultivate good mental health, what are some of your everyday practices?
Jefferson: There are a handful of practices I do daily, but I’d say the two simplest ones that yield great fruit would be a few minutes of reciting prayer (in addition to or usually at the end of reading the Bible or journaling) in the morning. Either the Lord’s Prayer or ones from the Book of Common Prayer. And the other practice that’s meaningful to my life and our family is no phone for the first hour or two of the day. At night, the phone gets turned off and put in a cabinet in my office.
Asking questions in the church formerly has been looked down upon and discouraged. It was also seen as a way we could doubt our faith and steer away from it. How have you seen it do the opposite in strengthening your faith and why do you think educating ourselves when it comes to mental health is so needed?
Jefferson: I think a space to be honest is helpful and biblical. Most of the psalms and words we find in there are extremely raw, vulnerable and coming from such a deep sense of loss, grief, hurt, fear, pain and more. I think letting that be true, while also anchoring ourselves in the Lord and making sure He’s the one hearing those cries from our heart and He’s the one we are turning to is so important!