Chad, Keith, and Tommy Nelson discuss Tommy's experience walking through depression and anxiety after an extended, unbelievably heavy teaching load.
Intro (Keith): Welcome to the Kanakuk Institute Podcast, where we continue to equip leaders with biblical skills for a lifetime of ministry.
Chad (00:13): And welcome back in to the Kanakuk Institute Podcast. With me, as always, is the president of the Institute, Mister Keith Chancey, and we have a special guest today, Keith, with us. Introduce us to who we’ve got in studio.
Keith (00:25): Oh boy, we have got the pastor of Denton Bible Church, Tom Nelson, and I promise you right you, you guys are in for a treat, because I love this man, have been around him for, you know, over 20 years plus, I’ve watch him teach around the world, and his ability to handle accurately the Word of truth is amazing. So today, we’re in for a real treat, will you give it up for Tom Nelson.
Tommy (00:46): Good to be here. How can I help you? Let me know.
Chad (00:50): So Tom, you’ve been here with the KI students this week, teaching through the book of Ecclesiastes, I think most of our alumni, you’ve been here almost all twenty years.
Tommy (00:59): You know, just about three years I think I missed there right in mid-2000’s, but yeah, I’ve been here. I’ve watched them all come up.
Chad (01:09): So I think, maybe our students probably know this, but just for back story a little bit, would you mind just telling everybody your journey to faith and how you got to where you’re at today?
Tommy (01:19): Right, I was from Waco, and I grew up in a nice little Methodist church, liberal though it was, but it was nice and ordered. And very early on, I knew I wanted my life to do something whenever I was dead, I just didn’t know how to do it, so I figured I would have to get famous, kind of like Roy Hobbs, you know, the natural. I’d be the best you’d ever seen. And so, I was pretty good in baseball, but my, for some reason, my love was football, I guess because it was kind of the right of passage. And so I was, I worked continually at that skill as a quarterback. Had a minimum of ability, but just worked it and worked it and worked it until I got a scholarship to the University of North Texas my senior year, and between the time I was eighteen and twenty-two, God destroyed me, basically. He had plans for my life, and that plan did not include me at the wheel of my life, and so he destroyed it. And so I ended up injured, got crossed my quarterback coach, and basically got out of my house and found out that I was a child. I didn’t have any maturity. Once I got away from Mama, that I was doing what every other college kid was doing. I was just a slave to sin. And when I think back on it, I never stopped to repent, I never stopped to pray. I never feared death, I never feared crossing the double line. I put myself in so many positions where I could have died and gone to hell, and the fear of God never came in me. So when I read in Romans about, “there is no fear of God before their eyes,” I mean, that’s me. I was just a real nice kid that happened to be a fool. And my junior year, a navigator came into my room and talked to my roommate about the gospel, and I heard over his shoulder. And he asked my roommate if he was going to heaven and he said, “Yes.” And he said, “What are you? Are you a Baptist, are you a Methodist, are you a Hindu, are you a Muslim?” He said, “I’m a Christian.” And he asked him a question. He said, “And what is a Christian?” And my roommate gave him the answer that I would have given. I said, “A Christian, somebody that keeps the 10 commandments.” And I said, “Yeah, good job Rex.” That was his name. and the guys just looked at him. He said, “You think a Christian is somebody that keeps the 10 commandments? Now he could have said to Rex, my roommate, “Name them,” and Rex would have been in trouble, or he could have said, “Find them in a Bible,” and he would have been in trouble. But he said this to him, he said, “you keep them?” And the, it was silent. Somehow, the idea that he would say, “yes,” was offensive even to him. And I sat silent too. I was just listening over his shoulder. And he said something that after he said it, I was never the same. He said, “Rex, the ten commandments weren’t given primarily to live by, but to show us that we couldn’t live by them. That we were guilty. And that’s why after the ten commandments you have the book of Leviticus with sacrifice. Someone has to die. And the Jews had Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. And the Passover, somebody had to die for them to get out of Egypt.” And he said that. He said, “The ten commandments are to show us our sin; to lead us to Christ,” and it was like the entire universe was bathed in light. I now saw it, but I didn’t do it, because I knew that I couldn’t have me in that front seat and Christ in that front seat. Asking Jesus into my life was no problem. That was like having a new genie, alright? But I knew that I had to go on the cross. I had to die. That that guy, Jerry Cook, that navigator made that clear. The both of you cannot run this thing. You’ve got to step down. I’ve been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live. And I didn’t want to do that until about a month later. Long story short, God just broke me down, and now I didn’t want my life. I didn’t like my life, I didn’t desire my life, nothing was a greater joy to me than to mount a cross and be done with it, and I did. And I was like C.S. Lewis’ book, Surprised by Joy. I was surprised that there was joy. The Bible opened up to me. I have never recovered from the Bible. The fact that God has made known the eternal mind and his purpose in History, and he has done it in a way that I can study and know, in language. That has amazed me. And so, I began to pray, I began to trust God. And I wasn’t sinless, but I sinned, and I felt worse. I now wasn’t just skirting around a rule. It was a person I offended, and then God broke me up from my girlfriend. We were heading different directions. And then he let me, I tried out for my fifth year at North Texas when we got Hayden Fry and he cut me because I was a fifth-year senior. So I was out of football. I was out of a girlfriend. I knew I didn’t want to go into coaching. Number one I probably wouldn’t have been any good, but number two that just wasn’t my heart and I didn’t know what it was until, as a student teacher in Louisville High School, I began to speak to FCA groups. And I found out, this is what I want to do, is to go out, free of charge, and just get someone to listen and tell them the story of redemption. And it was like Jesus said, “I write these things that your joy may be made full.” My joy was full. If I get a time that I can share the gospel, once a day with a convenience store worker, it’s like my day is made. I have done something that is eternal, putting that word into people. So that became my joy was to study, and to walk with, and to proclaim Jesus Christ. I married a girl that had the same ideas, and we had kids that on a good day, somewhat, to a degree, they have the same idea, and we have grandkids that have come to know the Lord, and so that, and my friends, I’ve got new sets of friends. And so, you know, just the joy and the delight of knowing and walking with God.
Keith (07:46): Tommy, you know, you have just given us a great picture of what salvation looks like and thank you for sharing that through your life. You know you mentioned something at the very beginning. You said, you know what, I missed coming to the Institute for a couple of years, and I remember that time in your life, because the reason you weren’t able to come, because God wasn’t through refining you yet. You went through a really difficult time.
Tommy (08:08): Yep, I had gotten a schedule that was ridiculous, and I did it willingly because I loved it. And it’s possible to burn yourself out doing what you love. I didn’t you could. But I would teach three times on Sunday, and then Monday at six, I would teach again, the young guns group. And then Tuesday at 5:30 I’d teach them again. Then I’d go do a 200-man study in Louisville at 7:00. Then I’d teach them again Wednesday morning at 6:00. Then I’d go do a 200-man study at Denton Bible. And then Thursday at 6:00, I would teach my staff, and then Friday I would teach young guns again, and then I would do a faculty study. And then I would leave sometime Sunday, or Saturday and I would head off to do another Song of Solomon conference, speak 6 times, come back and start Sunday and do it all over again. And I did that continually for, gosh, for from the 90’s on until two-thousand and about six, and I just literally ran out of gas. I just hit a wall that I physically had no strength in me. And then soon the physical no strength kind of evolved into a spiritual depression and anxiety. And I just remember sitting there and saying to myself, “Danged if I have not got depression and anxiety.” And I just sat there and said, “So this is what it’s like.” I had wandered into somebody else’s life. And, you know, if you had said to me, “Look, we’re going to get this rid of you and you’re going to be back to work, but we’re going to have to take off your leg,” I would have said, “Take it.” Because as I was, there was no hope. I was so sidelined. And then slowly and surely, some people came into my life that had some good advice and I came through it and survived it and grew through it. Before that I thought I was the Song of Solomon guy. I was the sex guy. Now I’m the depression guy. So now it’s like the story of my life. And so, I was able to write a book on it, to speak on it, to help a lot of people. And in the American culture, we manufacture anxiety like the common cold. And so, if I go to a church and just speak about having it, somebody’s going to grab me afterwards and say, “Can we talk?”
Keith (10:42): Tommy you know, you said something very important to all of us as a listening audience out there because I guarantee there’s a lot out there going, “We’re going through some depression, some anxiety.” Tommy, can you give us, maybe, three helpful hints of how you came through that?
Tommy (10:57): One thing I did was I shut down my schedule and I started protecting my mornings and protecting my evenings. If I scheduled something, I would schedule it just maybe one a day, and I began to go back teaching slow and sure. Now I teach a Bible study on Thursday, I teach my staff on Thursday, the young guns group on Thursday, and a group called the Gap kids on Wednesday. So I still teach about 4 times during the week. But that’s a far cry from what else I was teaching, 13 times a week. And also, I make sure that every day, I go have fun. And every day, I spend time reading, and just enjoying my reading. And I protect my nights. I protect my nights. I just have had to learn how to rest. Like God said to Elijah, you know, “Eat, sleep, the journey is too great for you.” And I had to learn how just to kick back, and I went to speak at Dallas Seminary about the same thing. I had about two rows of guys 10 deep wanting to talk. Pastors are terrible about this. Christian workers are terrible. Because we do what we do because we love what we do, and we think if we can do more of it, it will be better. And you’ve got to be careful about your output exceeding your intake. And your upkeep becomes your downfall.
Keith (12:18): You know Tom, I’ve known you for a long time and one of the things that you’ve really emphasized in my life as a young man, is you emphasized the value of prayer. And you, I mean I would see you just say, “Hey, I’ve got to leave.” And you’d grab your little notebook, and you’d say, “I’m going to a tree.”
Tommy (12:34): Yes. I would go out into the parking lot, be in the back of my Bronco, leaning on the steering wheel. And so, everyday, if at all possible, me and God get away, and I write down. I’ve got you in my book, Karen in my book. I’ve got Cameron and Callie and everybody and now little Gracie, what’s her name?
Keith (12:54): Chancey Grace
Tommy (12:55): Chancey Grace, I’ve got little her in my book. I’ve got the Institute in my book, I’ve got Joe White in my book, I’ve got everybody in my book that I pray for. And so just through the years, I’ll come back to them and just pray for those people. And that became the lifeline of my life, was the Bible and prayer. That just carried me on through it. And eating a lot of rocky road ice cream.
Keith (13:15): Yeah, you do that well.
Tommy (13:16): Lifting weights every day, taking a job every day, and watching Andy Griffith.
Keith (13:21): You know Tommy, one of the things that I really appreciate you saying because you talked about when you went through your depression that it is a spiritual problem, but you also said that you sometimes do need to take some medication, and that’s ok.
Tommy (13:34): Yep, and I did, and, you know, I didn’t know what to do with how I felt until my wife went to our internist and said, “He’s feeling this.” And Manny went to a friend of his that, believe it or not, was a Hindu psychiatrist from India, and he gave him my symptoms. And the fellow looked at Manny and he said, “He’s Garden variety.” He said, “I talk to him seven times a day.” He said, “I’ll tell you who he is.” And he just told who I was just by the profile. He said, “this is who he is,” And Manny said, “That’s him.” He said, “He has depleted himself of Serotonin, that lets your brain be serene and work together. And he’s depleted because He’s running on pure adrenaline, and it curtails serotonin, and he’s dried out. He’s like an engine that has run out of oil, and he’s seized up. He said, “You tell him to take and SSRI, a serotonin specific reuptake inhibitor.” It’s called Lexapro. And he said, “Nothing’s going to, he’s not going to feel anything for about four weeks as it’s slowly and surely going to build back his serotonin, and then the clouds are going to lift.” And he says, “He needs to get his sleep.” Because I was not able to sleep. He said, “The easiest thing science can do is to make somebody sleep.” He said, “We can make an elephant sleep.” So he said, “Have him take this,” it was called Lorazepam, “and that will let him get a very relaxed sleep. Don’t worry about getting addicted, don’t worry about getting dependent, you’re not. Just take it.” And so, at that point, I would have taken anything they told me. If they’d said take buzzard whatever, I would have took it. And so, I took a little table, and it looked like an Excedrin. And about four weeks later, I was sitting at a table with my wife, we were eating together, and I just looked at her and I said, “I’m me.” She said, “What do you mean?” I said, “It just lifted.” Like driving in the fog whenever the sun burns through and all of a sudden, the fog lifts. All of a sudden, it lifted. And it was just, the only word I could explain is the word delicious. And I just sat there. You don’t realize how marvelous it is simply to have an absence of pain. Just to feel normal. And so I just sat there, in the enjoyment, and I felt like I was like a cell phone that had hit the cell tower. I didn’t want to move and lose my connection. But slowly and surely, it would go away and come back again, and it was like jumping off a car, and I was back to where I was. And I got in trouble about five times because I wanted to get off – all men want to get off of medicine. So I tried to get off of it, and my doctor said to me, he said, “About thirty-seven percent of the people that need to get on an SSRI, be it Lexapro, or be it Zoloft, or whatever.” He said, “about thirty-seven percent need to stay on it.” And so I found out I was one of those. So, for a bare minimal, you know, generic, you can get it for very simple amount of money. And so I just take it like an aspirin. And I don’t know what it does, but I’m me.
Keith (16:48): Tommy, you have come through a lot through all this time of anxiety and depression. You know, watching you be a man of prayer, going to the Word, learning how to balance your schedule, and learning how to even take medication. I notice during this time that you also, I mean, you and I we were at Denton Bible, we would run a year, about fifteen hundred miles each year. I mean, we were running all the time. And you’ve had to slow down because you weren’t able to keep that pace anymore. And I remember you going, “I hate that I can’t do that” but the thing that I’ve been so impressed with you is that it wasn’t that you’ve quit working out, but you’ve modified it to where you’re at.
Tommy (17:30): I got to where I could – I would always go to the gym and lift, and one of the best things you can do for anxiety is physical exercise, and to get your sleep, and then to cut back on stuff that is abnormal stressors, which is hard to do in America. But I got to where if I couldn’t go run, then I would go walk. And so I would walk for an hour a day and just enjoy it. I would get some of those deals you plug in your ears and you punch it in and there’s music, I forget what it’s called. But uh, is that a iPhone, iPad
Keith (18:01): Earbuds
Tommy (18:02): And so I’d put it on and listen to, you know, sixty’s music, and listen to gospel music, and just walk and enjoy it, and I got to where I could enjoy a walk. You know? But yeah, I had to change my schedule.
Chad (18:20): That’s good, Tom, thank you for taking the time, and for our alumni, you know, they’re out there, they’re doing ministry, they’re probably facing a lot of the things you were just talking about. One alumni, just mention Tom’s book, a great resource. Walking on water when you feel like you’re drowning. Great resource.
Tommy (18:37): Yeah, me and another Kanakuk guy wrote it. Steve Levitt. Steve and I wrote it together because we both struggled with it. I think we made like twenty or thirty dollars off of it.
Chad (18:47): And for you alumni that haven’t been here recently, Steve actually comes and teaches at the institute as well, and so we’ll continue to provide those resources, but we’d really encourage you, we’ll put this on our website at kanakukinstitute.com/resources, but we’ll put the link to Tom’s book there on Amazon. Really highly encourage you to check it out, and also there’s other resources of Tom speaking on YouTube and other places on this particular topic, which we know you’re facing, not only in your own life, potentially, but also in the ministry you’re carrying out every day. And so, Tom thank you for taking the time, Keith, as always, thanks for being with us, we’ll catch you next time here on the Kanakuk Institute Podcast.