Developing Healthy Habits

Leslie Basham: Shona Murray was a homeschooling mom . . . a discouraged homeschooling mom.

Shona Murray: I started off as an idealist, as a perfectionist: “I’m going to educate my children through high school, and then they’ll go to college, and then I’m good and free after that.” But I had reached burnout on that front.

Leslie: She called her husband, David.

Shona: I was crying on the phone. I said, “David, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t! I’m at the end of the road!”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of A Place of Quiet Rest, for Tuesday, January 30, 2018.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If you weren’t able to be with us yesterday for Revive Our Hearts, you need to go back and listen to yesterday’s program or read the transcript at least, because we heard a very honest and tender story from David and Shona Murray’s hearts about walking through burnout and depression—even as a pastor and the wife of a pastor. This is a couple who’ve loved the Lord, but found themselves in some very low places.

You may not be there right now, you may be in a very healthy place right now, but chances are, there are people around you (you may not even realize it), but they are walking through a dark, dark valley. And God has put you in their lives to be a means of grace and a means of encouragement.

David and Shona have written a book together called Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands. That book is available this week for a donation of any amount Revive Our Hearts, and we want to get that in your hands for you to read and then for you to share this into the life of someone in your family or your world who may need this very practical wisdom and help.

So, Shona and David, thank you for not keeping this story to yourselves, for be willing to share your journey for some other pilgrims who need that helping hand.

David Murray: We did keep it to ourselves for too long. That was our instinct, our initial reaction. Looking back on reflection, it was a wrong decision, because it meant we did not get the help that we could have gotten from God’s people and from all the resources God has poured into His Church.

It meant that we carried the burden alone instead of sharing it, as we are commanded to do. There was pride in that I think; there was fear in it. I think it’s just the instinctive human reaction to close up, close in, and keep out. But it was unhelpful.

Nancy: And isn’t it true that, since Genesis chapter 3, our tendency is to hide rather than to move into God and into those relationships. We are afraid; we are proud. You said “pride.” How do you say that with your Scottish accent? 

David: How much are you going to pay me? [He repeats "pride" in his brogue].

Nancy: In case you didn’t catch that, I wanted to make sure everybody got that there was pride, there was fear, maybe just not thinking there could be any help. Those all reasons that we keep quiet.

And then, as God walked you through this journey, it would have been easy to just keep it to yourselves and say, “Nobody needs to know about this; this will just be us.” But God wants to use the things we’ve walked through to be a means of grace to others.

Shona: He does, and that is the glorious thing about the way God works, because you look back on your life at something at like that, and what you think was no use to the Kingdom . . . I would often say, “This is no good to me; it’s of no good to God’s Kingdom.”

And now I can say, “This was good.” Like David said, “It was good for me to be afflicted” (Ps. 119:71). God sees way down the road farther than we do, and we can rejoice and be glad for that.

Nancy: We think that our strengths are what will make us useful, but many times it’s really our weakness that makes us most usable to others.

Shona: It is. When you are vulnerable with others, you find that others are equally able to be vulnerable with you, and together you are humbly accepting that we are human, that we’re not perfect. We’re not pre-Fall. We’re not yet in Heaven.

This world, as God has said, is a veil of tears, valleys, tribulation. But if we can help each other along the way as fellow pilgrims, like Pilgrim’s Progress, then it is a glorious journey—difficulties included, valleys included.

Nancy: Yes, yes. Now, Shona, when you were in the middle of this very dark, deep, difficult valley—back in the early 2000s—were there people around you who really would not have known what you were going through?

Shona: I believe so. My personality tends to be outgoing, energetic, lively. I do remember David began a series on depression. I remember him preaching on God, who is high and holy, dwelling with the humble and the contrite in heart and spirit, as Isaiah talks about.

And one old man came to him one day and said, “David, do you know somebody who’s suffering from depression, because you are coming out with things in the pulpit that would suggest that you know this in-depth.”

Nancy: “You sound like you know what you’re talking about.”

Shona: “You do. You know what you’re talking about.” At that point, David did not feel free to disclose who or what.

David: But I think that was significant, showing that my preaching changed in such a way that people who never came to me before for counseling were starting to come to me for counseling because they obviously detected a new sympathy, a new understanding, a new relatability. And that’s what I’ve seen again and again in counseling for ministers, pastors with burnout, depression: the amount of usefulness that opens up to them is incredible. It’s sometimes almost overwhelming, the number of people who have the freedom to then start coming for help.

Nancy: It’s way different than having a seminary textbook that you’re talking out of. You’re talking out of your own experience, and God wants to use that.

I would say to strugglers who are listening to this right now, dealing with burnout or depression, one of rays of hope may be that out of your experience, God wants to make you more useful.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be useful until you’ve got it all figured out and all fixed, because, as you share in this book, Shona, there are ongoing challenges that you face in some of these issues we’re going to talk about. It’s not all fixed and over until this life is done.

Shona: It’s not. Exactly. And whether you’re a working woman full-time, or a mother at home, or a teenage college student, it makes no difference. If you love the Lord, you are going to face these challenges.

Experience helps, but you know if God spares us, we may have another ten, twenty, thirty—who knows—how many more years in this world? And we will be very different then to what we are now. Every day, every year brings new experience of walking with God.

Nancy: Well, when you were at your very lowest point—or a very low point—you, as a couple, decided to go to your father, Shona, who was a pastor and ask him for some wisdom. And he said something that was a breakthrough—at least for you, David—to say that you’re experiencing spiritual consequences, because you assumed this depression was largely spiritual, but there are physical and emotional components that are factors here, that have entered into this. What happened after he said that? How did you start identifying what some of those were and dealing with those?

Shona: Two things happened during that time. I’d been in it long enough, I felt I was on the edge in terms of even my own survival. At one point I thought, I have to make it through another year for this child to be born.

Nancy: You were expecting your fourth child.

Shona: I was expecting my fourth child. I remember looking at the fetal ultrasound and feeling detached—it was academic. I remember concluding that, “Yes, I need to live and survive, be healthy, until the baby’s born. What happens to me after that does not matter.”

Nancy: And you are a medical doctor, so you knew a lot about the body and physical needs.

Shona: I was, and I did. And that made me realize, my objective side: “You’re in deep trouble, you really are!” I spoke to a colleague. I knew there’s one last thing I can do; I can consider taking medication.

Because I treated many people, I counseled many people, and I knew a good number of these people got better. I didn’t believe I would get better, but I thought, Well, if God puts something in front of you, it’s my responsibility to take the gift He gives. It’s not my job to determine whether this is going to work or not, but I must do what is common sense—sanctified common sense. So I began medication.

Nancy: And David, were you comfortable with that?

David: Yes, we were desperate!

Nancy: Because I know this can be very controversial. 

David: And I was very much against it. As I explained in yesterday’s program, my whole training had been very much, “What’s the sin? There’s the repentance. What’s the sin? There’s the repentance.” And there was no concept of a wider more holistic approach to this that could involve some bodily factors as well, some physical factors.

But, yes, we were desperate, and, again, Shona’s father had said that it’s not the whole answer, as Shona will explain, but it could be part of the answer. So we weren’t looking at this as a silver bullet, but we were looking at this as, “Okay, let’s take the next step and just seek the Lord’s blessing and help and guidance.”

Shona: And it was kind of like a life raft. You’re standing there, and the ship is sinking. You’re on the Titanic, and it’s going down. You have a choice. You can jump onto that life boat, or you can just sink with the ship. I was sinking!

Nancy: You and the baby you were carrying.

Shona: At five o’clock in the morning, I woke up on a particular morning like a bird, startled. I was walking around the house, pacing the house, just filled with utter terror. My heart was pounding; I was sweating. I was almost wishing somebody would have hit me on the head and knocked me unconscious until this was all over—whatever was going on.

So I did that, I began that medication, not really believing it was going to help me. Other people, yes, but not me. Because my problem was spiritual, I thought. It took time for that to be unraveled and for me to understand better that, no, this was primarily mental emotional burnout with a chemical imbalance that had developed.

But there were other things that had to take place, too. At that point I hadn’t yet begun to investigate what I would do in addition to medication, because that’s only one small part of it.

It was significant. It took me away from the brink. Within two to three weeks I was calmer. 

Nancy: It got you stabilized. 

Shona: I was a bit more stabilized. I was able to sleep, at least. I wasn’t waking up in terror in the middle of the night, but I was miles away from a full recovery and being healthy. In all honesty, it took probably three or four years for me to walk through things that we had to learn. We can pass this on to people now and tell you that it’s this, this, and this. It’s sleep, it’s exercise, it’s diet, it’s reducing your load in life, it’s prioritizing, but we didn’t know these things then.

If I’d known all that then, I could have taken steps and been healthier a lot quicker.

Nancy: Or maybe avoided getting to that place, possibly.

Shona: Yeah, but that’s why we’re here today in God’s providence. We want to help other people.

David: People might not have as severe a case as Shona, of being overwhelmed and depression, but it really doesn’t matter. The causes and the remedy are the same to some degree or other.

One thing I’d like to add to Shona’s story: The main thing I remember about the medication was it enabled Shona to have the ability to start processing things mentally, thinking rationally.

The Word of God began to actually have an impact upon her; hearing sermons began to have a blessed effect on her. You know, the mind was now beginning to get back to some level of normality, and there was a calm. And the rest and the sleep, again, was restoring a measure of sanity.

But, as she says, we were then, “Okay, this isn’t it; this is a small step, a helpful step.” It was then we were put onto a Christian psychiatrist. 

Shona: Psychiatrists in the U.K. do a lot of psychology as well. They don’t just prescribe. A lot of it is counseling—a large part of it is counseling. I knew a colleague who had left family practice to go into psychiatry. He was a Christian, loved the gospel of grace, and I knew what he would say will be truth.

I made an appointment to go and see him. We traveled to the mainland of Scotland to do that, and it was revolutionary, because he listened for two hours to my story, and he said some very pointed things.

He said, “You are really hard on yourself!” He was just hearing me downing myself all the time. I hadn’t noticed it, but it was true. He began to show me how much of my conclusions were based on opinions I was forming and to default negative thinking which was targeted against myself, and an inability to process information in a more factual kind of way, in a more objective kind of way.

He pointed us to the whole concept of what’s called CBT: Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Now this is not what people might be more familiar with, psychotherapy. This is actually something every one of us does to a greater or lesser extent every day of our lives.

Nancy: Self-talk.

Shona: Talk to yourself. Some of us are better at it than others. For me, I think I was probably useless at it, or at least I always turned against myself. If something happened down the road, I somehow concluded it was my fault, even though it had nothing to do with me.

That sort of thing, which is not rational. If you sit down and look exactly at the fire down the road, just because I walked past that house that afternoon does not mean I had anything to do with that fire. That’s a little bit extreme, but that sort of thing.

David: I remember him actually telling us we were the umpteenth couple who had come to see him from this church split.

Nancy: Interesting.

David: Yes, so it clearly had . . .

Nancy: . . . been a really hard place you had walked through. 

David: Yes, many had gone through it and been affected in ways we hadn’t realized at the time.

Nancy: They’re just some of the casualties.

Shona: Yes.

David: Exactly, yes. But he put us on to a book, I’m Not Supposed to Feel Like This. It was written by three Christian medical professionals. And that’s what every Christian feels like when you’re feeling depressed: “I’m not supposed to feel like this!”

Nancy: “Christians are supposed to be happy.”

David: Yes, right. And the beauty of this book was it was a Christian version, as it were, of Cognitive Therapy—so, retraining the mind. What I loved about it was, it was based on the Word of God.

Psalm 77 was the main psalm they focused on. But you could go to Psalm 42. You can go to Habakkuk 3, Job 19, whatever. It’s all through the Word of God, how we come to wrong conclusions based on faulty thinking, as the psalmist was doing.

He was seeing things, misinterpreting them, and coming to terrible feelings and conclusions and actions. And then he says, “Enough! Stop! This is based on falsehood. This is based on lies. This is based on misinterpretations. I must think of God and of His Word and of His will and reframe the exact same things. The events and the circumstances haven’t changed, but how you interpret them, that’s got to change. That has a consequent effect on one’s feelings, one’s outlook, one’s behavior, one’s words."

So kind of cognitive—the mental side then affects the emotions and the behavior. That, too, is a big breakthrough for us. So we would sit at home with this book. It’s got self-help pages to fill out and we’d talk through them.

I would come home one evening and Shona would be in tears, “I’m having a terrible day. Everything’s gone wrong, and I’m a useless mother!” So we would sit down and I would be Mr., what is that “Dr. Phil” or something. (laughter) A Christian version, I hope!

And I would say, “Well, look, Shona, what did you get done today? You ironed a hundred shirts, and you cooked three meals, and you phoned a couple of ladies who are widows. You’ve cleaned the house . . .” [Shona would respond in those days]: “Okay, yeah, I did that and I did that and I did that.” It’s very simple, very basic.

Shona: But I would retort, “But the floors are filthy!” or “I burnt the potatoes.” I would always pick the thing where it didn’t go right.

Nancy: Where you failed. 

David: The negatives. 

Shona: I think that’s very common. I think it’s very common with women, with moms. In the workplace, you can be good at what you do, but you make one mistake and, even if your boss compliments you in everything else, all you can think about is that mistake you made. You beat yourself up with it for the rest of the night.

But God does not mean us to be like that, because He’s not like that. At the root of this, I do think, is our wrong view of God. We look at God and we see that He poured out His grace in saving us from sin, but somehow we think that He then expects perfection, but He doesn’t. He knows that we’re fallen; He knows we’re not perfect. He knows we’ll never be able to fulfill our daily targets . . . that most days you will reach a point where you have to stop and leave things undone. But that is part of His sanctifying process in our lives . . . and it’s humbling.

Nancy: Because we’re not God.

Shona: We’re not! And it drives us to Him who is perfection, who is beauty, who is glory, who has everything well-ordered, well-planned out.

Nancy: And to His grace!

Shona: Grace, exactly, and it’s all about embracing grace. God is a God of grace, not just in our conversion, but in every single aspect of our lives. And it is very important that we keep that connection always before us.

David: Yes, even the grace of providing these psalms to counsel us.

Nancy: Right, what a gift!

David: Yes, what a gift! We hear these psychologists discovering this as if they’re brilliant. They’re only two-thousand years behind God. They’re only discovering what God had revealed many thousands of years before, and we have all these resources that are available to us by His grace.

And that’s what I think Shona and I have discovered above all, is just to greatly widen our concept of what grace is. Beyond mere salvation, God has provided grace in many more dimensions and areas of life that we were gratefully discovering.

Nancy: Well, you’ve talked about going to the wells of grace, and you think of a well as a place where you go to get refreshment, water, what your soul needs, what your body needs. So one aspect of God’s grace you talk about is the motivating well of God’s grace. We can be motivated by a lot of things. 

Shona: We can be. We can be motivated by money, prestige, popularity, just our own perfectionism that drives us. But when we’re motivated by God’s grace, we are inspired by what is done.

We want to express thankfulness, gratitude—like you’ve written a book on gratitude, Nancy. That’s the prime motivator: “Thank You, Lord, for what You have done.”

Nancy: So we’re not doing all these things we do because we’re trying to earn God’s favor or win His approval, but He has approved of us. He has given us His grace in Christ, and then our service is a response of thankfulness.

Shona: It is, indeed! You can think of a husband and a wife, or close friends or parents . . . you do things for them, not because you want to win their favor, but just out of gratitude and love to them. And that is how we live life and respond to God.

David: And it changes the whole relationship. It changes it from one of legalism, impossible to please, to just enjoying. Instead of saying, “Approve me, approve me, approve me!” saying, “Thank You, thank You, thank You!”

Nancy: Yes, yes. What about the releasing well of grace? How does that apply here?

David: You know, we’re such controllers by nature.

Nancy: You think?! (laughter)

David: Not you, Nancy! No, not you.

Nancy: Yes, me!

David: We want to be sovereign, perfectly sovereign in every area of our life. If one of our ducks get out of a row, it’s got to be put back in a row. That’s a torture, because that is impossible in this world. And Shona was a perfectionist, and so was I. We’re recovering from our perfectionism.

Shona: And we still have to fight against it.

David: When you actually, again, it’s embracing the sovereignty of God, not just in salvation, but in every area of life so that you’re not just acknowledging He is the sovereign God in the salvation of our souls, but in our children, in our work, in our church. Again, that just releases. No longer am I trying to be the king, but I’m seeing release, release, release. It’s something Shona’s worked very hard at.

Shona: I can think of two examples in particular. Our oldest son, when he was about fifteen, I reached a point where I felt I could no longer educate himself myself—for various reasons. But I felt a failure if I decided that somebody else had to teach him.

Nancy: And listen, there are so many moms listening right now who have been exactly where you are.

Shona: Exactly! I started off as an idealist, as a perfectionist: “I’m going to educate my children through high school, and then they’ll go to college, and then I’m good and free after that.”

But by his fifteenth year, I had reached burnout on that front. I called David up one morning—he was away, out in Canada, in British Columbia. I was crying on the phone, and I said, “David, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t! He has to go to school. I am at the end of the road!”

And the verse that had really helped me that morning was, “She has done what she could.” It's what Jesus said about Mary (see Mark 14:8). I honestly felt I could nothing else. I’d resisted this for a long time, but that morning I gave up the fight. I released this whole issue, handed it over to the Lord, and said, “Lord, I’ve done what I can.”

Nancy: And that’s okay.

Shona: It’s okay. It’s not a disaster. I haven’t failed my children. I haven’t given this child over to whoever. He went to a Christian school after that, and all the worries I had . . . Well, he grew up, and he survived school. He’s twenty-one, and then he joined the military, and I had my next experience of having to release. I always like to know where my kids are at night. I want to know when they come in, even at twenty-one.

David: And go straight to sleep.

Shona: But I tell my boys, “Look, when you come home, would you just tap me on the shoulder, then I know.”

Nancy: Then you can really sleep.

Shona: I can really sleep. Then, if I wake up in the night, I’m not worrying . . . “Are they in alright?” Well, he goes off to boot camp, and there is no communication with home. Initially, there’s no letters.

Nancy: So this is harder on the moms than on the recruits, it sounds like.

Shona: Exactly! There is nothing. So for the first day in my life, I went to sleep that night not knowing, “Is my son alive or dead?” I don’t know what he’s doing, don’t know what he’s eating for breakfast (if they give him any breakfast at all). That was the next three months.

After a tearful first couple of days, I realized, “Trust the Lord with Him. You can’t lift a finger to influence any more at the moment, but you can pray to God, your heavenly Father, who is right there—right now—beside him, who can do everything.”

I just literally felt like a bird released into the air. And the next three months went by without event, and it really taught me the importance of standing back and saying, “I’ve done what I can, and now the Lord . . .” The Lord’s always in complete control, but subjectively. I could do nothing else.

Nancy: Shona and David Murray have written a really helpful, practical book called Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands. And on the next Revive Our Hearts, we’re going to talk about some of the very practical means of grace, some of the very practical strategies to walk in grace in the midst of demands coming at us from every direction.

They’re sharing out of their lives, out of their journey, and I know it’s going to be a huge help to many of our listeners. Be sure and join us for the next Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: Let me tell you how to get a copy of the book Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been telling you about. When you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, you’re helping the podcast come your way each weekday.

To thank you for that support, we’d like to send you this book called Refresh. Ask for it when you make your gift by phone. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Thanks so much for partnering with Revive Our Hearts to share freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.

Do you spend relaxation time at the end of the day with Facebook or Instagram? Dr. Shona Murray says your mind actually isn’t relaxing. She’ll explain more tomorrow, here on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is sharing the truth that sets women free. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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