Two years ago, Brett Smith wanted to die, a place he’d descended to several times.
His life had been marked by alcoholism and depression. He’d battled panic attacks and anxiety for most of his life, but in the previous months had seen his affliction crescendo into a torturous existence.
On a typical day, Brett would show up to work and hole himself up in his office. All day long he felt a paralyzing emptiness and just hoped no one would notice that he never seemed to get anything done. His lunch hours were spent alone, at home in tears.
Brett had been sober for years, thanks in part to Alcoholics Anonymous, but still found peace elusive. Brett had made sobriety an idol, believing that if he was sober, everything else in his life would fall into place. When this turned out to be untrue, he didn’t know where to turn next. He thought that in order to be truly sober, he couldn’t rely on any substances, including the medication psychiatrists recommended for his anxiety and depression.
“Though I knew it wasn’t true, my functional belief was that if I put God first, everything would work out how I wanted it to.”
Knowing there had to be a better answer, Brett sought out others who had fought off alcoholism and found Christ. He stumbled upon Recovering Redemption, the book co-written by Matt Chandler and Michael Snetzer.
Brett sent a hopeful email to Snetzer, a pastor who had also battled alcoholism, and got a phone call a couple of days later.
“He started mentoring me, started deprogramming me. He had walked the same path I had walked,” Brett said. “I started to come alive and really started to love the Lord.”
Slowly, Christ began to replace his idol of sobriety. Brett began dating a God-fearing woman and was connected to a Bible-based community, an experience he found much different from the varying pictures of God and religion espoused by Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet, even after meeting Christ, Brett continued to struggle.
“Though I knew it wasn’t true, my functional belief was that if I put God first, everything would work out how I wanted it to,” Brett said.
“I was in the Word every day, walking with Godly men, confessing sins, journaling, you name it. The Christian walk checklist, I was checking every box. But I was getting worse and worse and worse.”
Lying on his bed, screaming through tears, it was obvious that everything was not okay. He went so far as to ask God to do what he couldn’t—end his life. Fearing he’d eventually be driven to harm himself, Brett checked himself into a mental health facility.
“My best thinking and approach to life—even as a sober and ‘successful’ Christian—still landed me in a psych ward,” Brett reflected.
“God used biblical counseling to show me my sin and idolatry in a way I’d never seen it before while simultaneously strengthening my hope in Christ.”
His girlfriend, sister-in-law and pastor prayed over him as he prepared to walk into the facility. He was on his own as he entered the doors and a large, male nurse began taking down Brett’s information to admit him.
The nurse seemed to consider Brett as nothing more than his last task at the end of a long work day.
Brett tearfully answered all the generic questions. Almost 10 minutes in, he heard one that he knew wasn’t on the script.
“What’s your faith?” the nurse asked.
“I told him I was a Christian. His whole demeanor had changed,” Brett said. “The room felt different. At first I didn’t know what was going on, but God was speaking through him by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The nurse spent the next half hour preaching truth into Brett’s heart. The nurse reiterated truth to Brett he’d heard in a sermon days earlier: God had the power to take away his anxiety and depression, but He could also use Brett’s depression and anxiety for His glory.
How He might do this was a difficult question, but it sent Brett’s mind racing in a new way—a good way. During his week-long stay at the facility, he felt a push to speak the truth about his Savior during group sessions. Some of his counselors and fellow patients didn’t want him to talk so much about the “God of the Bible,” but others were encouraged by his boldness and the truth he felt compelled to share. Now, Brett could see that his refusal to take medication was the result of his fear, pride and ignorance. “That wall was down,” Brett said. “I was ready to do whatever they told me to do. The two or three days before [being admitted] were the darkest I’d ever been. If suicide was a 10, I was at a 9.9.”
The world Brett encountered when he left the facility was unrecognizable from the one he had seen when he entered. He was taking medicine to help with his anxiety and depression, and he began receiving biblical counseling from Snetzer via FaceTime.
“God used biblical counseling to show me my sin and idolatry in a way I’d never seen it before while simultaneously strengthening my hope in Christ,” he said.
Eventually, he made the trip from his home in Arizona to Dallas to visit Snetzer at The Village Church.
“I don’t even breathe apart from his sustaining grace.”
While spending time there and learning more about the church at Village 101, Brett found himself at a lunch with several of the church’s campus interns.
It spawned an idea.
What if he quit his job and pursued full-time ministry?
With Snetzer’s encouragement, Brett did exactly that, and he has spent the last year interning with the Groups Ministry at The Village Church’s Plano campus.
Brett marvels that God has kept him alive despite how he’s shaken his fist at Him and encouraged others to do the same. “For 28 years I lived in outright rebellion,” he said.
“I don’t even breathe apart from his sustaining grace,” he said. “When I say that today, I understand it far more than I did when I would say it three or four years ago.”
Today, Brett is sober, focused on a life spent in ministry. When his internship ends, he plans to attend Boyce College and Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, in preparation for pastoral ministry. He hopes to help others with the struggles he battles every day.
“I know God doesn’t owe me anything,” Brett said. “He is blessing me, and He does delight in me and encourages me and disciplines me when needed.”
His job and a life idolizing sobriety are behind him. But the battle to stay sober, as well as the battle against anxiety and depression, is still being fought within him.
Those battles may never end, but Brett now has help and hope. He is seeking to use his weakness to glorify his Savior.