Sheila Walsh is a Bible teacher and best-selling author with over 5 million books sold. Her international ministry has reached millions of women by combining honesty, vulnerability, and humor with the transforming power of God’s Word. Sheila candidly shares some of the joys and heartache of her early family life and how she struggled to prove herself worthy of God’s love.
A Prison to Set You Free: Sheila Walsh’s Journey Through Depression – Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 31
Narrator: Hello! We appreciate you listening to the Jesus Calling podcast today, featuring Shelia Walsh. If you are enjoying these personal stories of faith each week, would you consider leaving us a review on iTunes? Your reviews go a long way towards expanding our audience to reach even more people with these inspirational messages. Once you are done listening to this podcast, simply go to iTunes and add your review to the Jesus Calling podcast. All of us here at the Experience Jesus Calling podcast want to thank you for listening. Now on to today’s podcast:
Sheila Walsh: I sat beside a mum literally in the dirt outside a hut in Angola who’s buried two children, but I noticed that she had the word “Jesus” written on her forehead. The minute I began to ask her through a translator: “Tell me, what difference does Jesus make to a mum who’s had to bury two children because they drank water that was filthy?” Her face, not just her face, her eyes lit up, and she began to recite in her language, which was translated, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.”
Narrator: Welcome to the Experience Jesus Calling podcast. Sheila Walsh is a Bible teacher and best-selling author with over 5 million books sold. Her international ministry has reached millions of women by combining honesty, vulnerability, and humor with the transforming power of God’s Word. Sheila candidly shares some of the joys and heartache of her early family life in Scotland.
Sheila: My name is Sheila Walsh. I’m a wife, a mom of one son. I’m a Bible teacher. I work in television at Life Today. I think the thing I love most about that is that I get to tell people about some of the real areas of need around the world. We put water wells in African countries. We feed children. I work with anti-sex-trafficking.
You can probably tell by my accent that I might live in Dallas, Texas, but I was born on the west coast of Scotland, to a family who loved Jesus, which would not be unusual in America, but in Scotland to have a mum and dad who not only went to church but actually had a real relationship with Christ, was very unusual. Less than 2% of our population even go to church. In many ways, it was a wonderful start in life, although our life took a very sad turn when I was about five.
Losing Everything and Relying on Faith
My father had a massive brain aneurysm, which affected him in all sorts of ways. He was paralyzed down the left side. He lost his ability to speak. The brain injury eventually impacted his personality, which really cast quite a dark shadow over all of our family.
My mother was the primary caretaker until my father’s behavior became too violent to have him in the home, and then he was taken off to a local psychiatric hospital where he eventually took his own life when he was 34 years old.
We lost our home, we lost our car when my father died. We went from being a kind of normal family to being the poor kids in school. We were the ones who got free school meals and free school uniforms. But my mum’s faith was woven into every day.
I knew that the Word of God was what sustained my mum in the darkest moments. I knew that prayer was huge to her. I knew that she couldn’t have navigated raising the three of us without understanding that Christ was with us and that God had promised to be a husband to the widow and a Father to the fatherless.
A Sense of Shame and Understanding God
I was a real tomboy, very much my dad’s girl. Yet the last time I ever saw my father there was such a look of hatred in his eyes, and I couldn’t process as a child what I’d done to make my own father hate me. So I grew up with what I would call a profound sense of shame. Not feeling so much that I’d done something wrong, but feeling at some core level that I was something wrong.
I think sometimes that God takes you to a prison to set you free.
I remember being told that not only would Christ be my Savior; and I’d make Him my Lord, but that God was my heavenly father. Something in me interpreted that as having one more chance to get it right: whatever my earthly dad saw in me, my Heavenly Father never would. So I think much of my early relationship as a young believer was based on trying desperately hard to never disappoint God.
It took me years to be able to grasp any understanding at all of what had happened. I think that what I did for most of my life was, I just buried the pain.
The cellar of my soul was very crowded. Anything that I couldn’t process I just pushed further down, and I think ultimately that led to depression, to all sorts of real struggle, and yet my antidote to that was, “Well, I’ll just work harder. I’ll just do more. I’ll try harder.” I went to seminary in London when I was 19, intending to be a missionary in India because I honestly couldn’t think of anything I would like to do less. So I felt like that somehow was proving to God that I would do whatever to gain His approval.
The Calling to Christian Music Ministry
After I graduated from seminary, I joined a Youth For Christ music group. We traveled around Europe for a year.
I remember my very first Billy Graham Crusade that I was invited to sing at. I believe it was in Wembley Stadium in London, which is huge. Although I knew, of course, of Dr. Billy Graham … I mean, he’s a legend in the faith. … I had never actually been at a crusade.
The person who intrigued me most of all was Ruth Graham because I met her in the greenroom before. She was very kind and sweet and said “hi,” but I kept looking for her on the platform and she wasn’t there. At the end, I said to Bev, “Where was Ruth?” and he said, “Oh, she likes to kind of wander around in the crowd. She likes to be out where the people are and to pray for them.” I didn’t know in that first crusade that she would become one of my dearest friends and mentors in life.
Then when I came back to the United Kingdom, I worked with a gentleman called Graham Kendrick, who was a great worship leader. He wrote songs like “Shine Jesus, Shine.”
He was the one who said, “Listen, Sheila, God has given you a gift,” and he wrote my very first songs that became my first album. I was doing a concert in London, and Billy Ray Hearn, who was head of Sparrow Records happened to be in London and heard me and invited me to open for one of his artists, a guy called Phil Keaggy, in the States. Then I was eventually signed to Sparrow Records. That really began my contemporary Christian music ministry.
When Life Comes Crashing Down
I came to America, and eventually, I ended up being the cohost of The 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network with Dr. Pat Robertson. After five years of doing that, my life really crashed one morning. I think there’s an expiration date on how long you can keep that cellar door closed. One day on live national television, I literally just fell apart. A guest, I’d asked my first question, and she didn’t answer my question.
Instead, she just turned to me and said, “Sheila, you ask us every day how we’re all doing, but how are you doing?” There was something in the kindness in her question and in her eyes that was really like the first brick out of the wall, and I started to cry and couldn’t stop. I ended up going from being cohost of The 700 Club in the morning, and by that evening I was in the locked ward of the psychiatric hospital ‘round about the same age as my father. I think sometimes that God takes you to a prison to set you free. I think that’s how radical His love is, and it was the beginning of my healing, not the end of my life.
It was something that was very brutal and yet it was really profoundly beautiful to think that Christ’s love for me was so profound that He would penetrate my veneer. I mean, everyone else thought everything was fine, and yet that He would pursue me through that to show me that His love for me was not based on anything I brought to the table. In fact, one of the most significant moments was in my last week at the psych hospital where I was sent with a young nurse to a small, I believe, Episcopalian church in Washington D. C.
Feeling Dead Inside: Learning to Call on the Name of Jesus
I remember sitting with the sun coming through the stained glass windows and feeling kind of profoundly lost because if you’ve based your whole life on performance, it’s hard to know; “Where do I go now?” I don’t remember much about the message that morning, other than I remember that the pastor at the end said that “Some of you in here feel as if you’re dead inside.”
God’s love for me was never about anything I did; it was always about what Christ had already done.
“You almost can begin to hear them heap the earth on top of your casket,” but he said, “I just want you to know that Jesus is here, and you don’t have to get yourself out of the hole. You simply have to call on His name and He will reach in and grab hold of you.” At the end of that service, I literally ran to the front of the altar and lay face down in front of the cross. The words that came back to me were words that my grandmother used to sing when I was just a little girl. It was from the hymn “Rock of Ages,” but it was these two lines: “Nothing in my hands I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling.”
It was in that moment that I finally had this understanding for the first time that I’m not the good news; Jesus is. God’s love for me was never about anything I did; it was always about what Christ had already done. It was really a turning point for me.
All I knew was that I did not want to go back to life as normal. “I want to go back to the beginnings of my faith. I actually want to go back to seminary,” and that’s what I did.
What Do I Have to Offer?
I had no desire to ever be on a public platform again. My desire to go back to seminary was purely for my own soul. I mean, I just wanted to understand my faith in a deeper way. It was while I was in seminary that I met my husband. We were married. I was 38, and we really had no thought of any kind of ministry. In fact, as I turned 39, I became pregnant, and I thought this was just the greatest gift because, marrying later in life, I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to have a child.
When I discovered that I was pregnant, I was absolutely over the moon. Then I suddenly got this phone call from a guy called Steve Arterburn. I knew Steve. I’d interviewed him on The 700 Club. He was head of a ministry called New Life. New Life Live had a radio show. He said, “Listen, I’ve put together this conference with four women,” and he named … I knew three of them. He said, “We’ve done two events so far, and they seem to have gone pretty well. Would you be interested in joining?”
I said, “Steve, I’m like 25 weeks pregnant. I can hardly make it across the kitchen, never mind the airport,” and I said, “I really don’t think that that’s something for me.” He said, “Well, would you pray about it?” So I did. My husband, Barry and I both felt this drawing to something, but I still thought, “What do I have to offer?” I didn’t think there was anything in my story that would be helpful, but Steve said, “Would you at least come and meet with the other women?”
I said, “Sure,” so I went and had coffee with them. I listened as Barbara Johnson talked about what it’s like to identify your youngest son sent home from Vietnam in a body bag, but he’s laid face down in a rice paddy for four days so you don’t recognize your own child. I listened to Patsy Clairmont talk about how she’d spent so many years smoking three packs of cigarettes a day; housebound with agoraphobia. I suddenly thought, “I might fit in here,” because the thing that was clear to me was that none of these women were the hero of their own stories. Christ was the hero of everything.
Women of Faith and Jesus Calling
I think one of the most profound moments for me in probably my first two years of Women of Faith: an understanding the power of the truth of our stories to impact other people because so often there’s so much shame that’s associated with some kinds of stories. We’re not here to grasp this salvation and redemption to ourselves. We’re here to be broken bread and poured out wine for one another.
I believe that in every generation God puts His hand on certain people in certain situations and on certain projects. They just have this sense of holiness, of something holy that God has owned.
That’s how I felt the first time that I read Jesus Calling, so much so that I think I bought 12 copies. I sent one to my mom in Scotland. I sent one to my sister. I sent one to my closest friends because I just wanted them to experience the same depth of intimacy and understanding that I had.
My very first copy of Jesus Calling was a Christmas gift from a friend. Every year that’s her gift to me: she’ll find a book that has profoundly impacted her life in the year before. I’ll never forget the year that she gave me Jesus Calling. Her name is Ney, Ney Bailey.
She worked with Campus Crusade for years. She’s a legend in China. She said, “I just want you to know that this year I’ve felt drawn so much closer to Christ through this book, and I want you to have it.” My experience absolutely mimicked Ney’s. It became such a treasure to me to feel this sense of just this intimacy with Christ.
The Most Profoundly Grateful Gift: Nothing Separates You From the Love of God
It’s interesting because often I’ll read it through again year after year and last year on my birthday, which is July the 5th; let me read you just a little bit from that one. It says:
“Draw near to Me with a thankful heart, aware that your cup is overflowing with blessings. Gratitude enables you to perceive Me more clearly and to rejoice in our love relationship. Nothing can separate you from My loving presence. That’s the basis of your security. Whenever you start to feel anxious, remind yourself your security rests in Me alone and I am totally trustworthy.”
I think the thing I love about that so much is it’s coming from…Romans chapter 8 is probably my favorite chapter in all of Scripture. I mean, it begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation.
I love the last two verses where it says:
“For I’m convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I think that is just the most profoundly grateful gift. No matter what’s going on in my life, when I remember that, that nothing today or tomorrow, nothing above me or below me will ever be able to separate me from the love of God that’s in Christ Jesus, then I can say it is well with my soul.”
Five Minutes with Jesus
Narrator: When Sheila’s world seemed to be crumbling around her, God carried her into a new season. With God’s help, Sheila shares how she continued to blossom as a writer and a speaker, and how she gives back to others who have experienced similar experiences with depression.
Sheila: I never thought of myself as a writer. Well, no that’s not true. I’ve never thought of myself as an author because I think an author writes a book knowing it’ll be published. I’ve always thought of myself more as a writer because I write about things I want to understand. For me, it’s a process. I’m never an expert at what I’m writing about; I’m hungry to know more.
The idea of writing the very first “Five Minutes With Jesus” came from a conversation I had in a women’s prison. I have such a heart for female prisoners. There’s so many women in prison that should not be in prison. There’s so many women who are there because of things that have happened in their life that really they had very little to do with and maybe bad choices that were made in a moment.
There’s a prison in Billings, Montana. They have a faith-based area in the prison, and I could spend a lot of time with the women there. It was a conversation I had one night with a small group of women prisoners because I wanted to know, “Listen, what can I send you? What resources can I give you?”
One of them said, “Is there anything you could send us that we could just read and it wouldn’t be that much, but we could maybe read it and we could maybe talk about it, but it wouldn’t be like a whole chapter?” I said, “Absolutely. I will work on it,” and I began to work on the first “Five Minutes with Jesus” because I thought, “I want to put something into their hands that they could pick up, if they just have a little bit of time.
The Gift of This One Day
I feel as if I’m rediscovering the gift, the spiritual disciplines of solitude, of meditation, of quiet, of gratitude, just so many of the things that I find at this stage and age in my life, particularly with how crazy things are in our world.
It just seems as if everything has been turned up a notch. There’s so much more anger in our nation, so much more division. What I really poured into this, was this understanding of “We have been gifted with this one day.” To me, Christianity, the Word of God either works no matter where you are or we’re building on something that is not true. If we just pull a Scripture out that only seems to work if you live in Dallas, Texas, then we have misunderstood the depth of Scripture.
When Paul wrote to the church and the first letter in particular to the Thessalonians, he clearly has such an affection for the people in that church. In the first letter, he says to them, “I determine not just to share with you the gospel, but our very soul,” and that has really been my mandate for ministry: to share the power of the Word of God and the power of my own story.
Narrator: Sheila’s new book, 5 Minutes with Jesus: Quiet Time for Your Soul, is available to order on Amazon.com.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.