Garcia’s Chapel talk meets depression head on
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Enrique Lucha
GCU News Bureau
Noe Garcia made it clear right from the start: This was a time to be serious about a serious problem in today’s world.
“As communicators we are taught within the first five minutes of your message, do something that captures your attention,” the pastor of North Phoenix Baptist Church told the Chapel audience Monday at Grand Canyon University Arena.
“… We’re normally taught to be funny, to get everybody engaged and then to go straight into the message. Because of the nature of the topic this morning, I want to start a bit differently.”
This was a radical departure for Garcia, who so smoothly mixes clever one-liners with multi-layered messages. But he wanted to talk frankly about the grip that anxiety and depression have on today’s world – and especially today’s young people.
So he started by quoting what he called “staggering statistics” from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. You can get a full dose of them here. Maybe you know someone who fits into one of those categories … or maybe YOU do.
The most staggering of his stats were that in a recent survey, 39% of college students were reported to have mental health issues, two-thirds of them hadn’t sought help and 20% had contemplated suicide. Worst of all, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students.
Clearly, this was a Chapel talk that desperately needed to be heard – just as all anxiety-ridden students need to be heard.
“I know it’s hard, and I know it feels dark and hopeless and I know it’s overwhelming,” he said, “and I know first-hand that sometimes it feels like it’s just better to escape than to live in darkness and despair every single day. I want to encourage you, to let you know, you are not alone.”
Garcia pointed out all the places where the heroes of the Bible were so filled with despair, they cried out to the Lord to take them away from all of it.
David reflected that anguish in the book of Psalms when he wrote in Chapter 42, Verse 11:
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why are you disturbed within me?
And again in Psalm 38:4:
My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.
While fleeing to Horeb, Elijah said in 1 Corinthians 19:4:
“I have had enough, Lord. Take my life.”
Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
“I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
Even the apostle Paul, so staunch in his ministry, despaired in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.
The definition of “despair” in Greek: To be utterly at a loss without a way, to be utterly destitute of measures or resources, to renounce all hope. In other words, it means feeling overwhelmed.
“Anybody ever felt that way?” Garcia asked.
He certainly has. Garcia again told the story he has shared at Chapel before, of how he tried to take his own life at age 18. When he found Christianity six months later, it wasn’t as if life got easy – just as David and Jonah and Job and Paul didn’t have it easy.
“I thought once I became a Christian, everything was going to get better,” he said, then flashed the wit that is a trademark of his Chapel talks. “I thought I was going to walk down to the park, the ‘Frozen’ song is playing, like, ‘Let It Go,’ squirrels running down my arm.”
Even after he was a pastor – successful, married, children, all the good stuff, depression visited again.
“It really came out of nowhere. Depression never asked me, ‘Can I come into your life? You got any time for me?’ It never said, ‘Hey, listen, if you don’t mind I’m going to stick around for six months. Is this a good time to visit?’”
He recounted all the unhelpful advice he got:
“Just think positive thoughts.”
“What are you depressed about? You have a beautiful wife, beautiful kids, great church …”
“If you believe in the name of Jesus, rebuke it out of your life.”
“Quote Scripture. It will change your thought pattern.”
The frustrating part about God, in Garcia’s view, is that He has the power to change the things that depress us, but He doesn’t.
“What if God doesn’t answer your deepest needs? Is God still enough?” Garcia said. “… Is He still a God worth serving? Or is He only a God worth serving when He answers us like a Santa Claus and gives us what we want?
“See, the problem and the challenge of Christianity sometimes is that there are a lot of people chasing the hands of God and not the heart of God and then wondering why we’re feeling so empty.”
Citing what has happened to him in the last 18 years despite his challenges, Garcia pleaded with his audience to seek help and offered six suggestions:
- Find someone you can talk to about it.
- Find a safe place to share your honest thoughts and feelings.
- Rely daily on God’s grace.
- Pray, even if you don’t feel like it.
- Realize that depression doesn’t define you.
- Fight to victory, not for victory.
“The victory already has been accomplished through Jesus Christ,” he said.
To finish, Garcia asked his listeners to bow their heads and close their eyes, then requested a show of hands of anyone who was feeling deep despair and hopelessness. An alarming number of hands shot up.
Garcia said he trusts God, even when He seems absent, and he urged the audience to do the same:
“Still a battle, He hasn’t answered, I’m still praying … but I trust Him. Will you trust Him?”
There’s no telling how many people, sitting right there in the Arena, Garcia might have saved with his talk.
There’s no telling how many lives this very story could save.
You are not alone.
● Chapel replay.
● Next week’s speaker: Jo Saxton, 3DM
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].