For about five years leading up to my walking away from professional ministry and making major life changes, I lived with a constant and growing notion. It never went away but only intensified. I want to write about it. It is painful to look back and remember. There are things that I am not proud of that were a direct result of this perception that I lived with.
At some point during this time period I was diagnosed with a form of depression.
Life really didn’t change. I didn’t know where to go for help. I tried to preach my way out of it, pray my way out of it and even work my way out of it. Eventually I just imploded and found myself reduced to nothingness. My life changed completely. The uninformed would just say I was weak and a failure. The unkind would just say I should have been stronger and shouldn’t have let so many people down. Others wouldn’t say anything they just drifted away in silence.
Sometime early on in the year my life changed forever I doodled on a tablet on my desk at the church office. It was a reminder. It was an expression. It was a pathetic and unfair cry for help because I am not sure who I thought would see it and respond.
I have not been able to throw this scrap of paper away. It was the cry of my heart. It is what I felt in so many areas of my life daily. Ultimately it is what led me to find an unintentional way out. I am not suggesting that this is an excuse for anything I did or didn’t do but it is what I believed and what I felt in my soul. Even in this drawing I was trying to hold on to words from the bible and ironically I have found this promise to be true but I never dreamed it would be on the other side of grace.
I wish I could tell my whole story but I will not for the sake of others. I will say some things because they need to be said. Remember this blog is to help those who come behind me and find themselves in a similar place. Maybe you will read this before and take steps to get healthy or find help.
So here it goes . . . I truly believed I was alone. Some may wonder how you could be the pastor of a great church that never quit growing and yet “mess up.” I have a family heritage that some might look at and wonder, “how could he mess that up?” How could I have let those closest to me (family) down in such a disappointing and hurtful way?
Over the course of a few years I came to believe that church denomination wise I was alone. Churches like ours were not celebrated in the Church of the Nazarene, at least not by most leaders or generational Nazarenes, but were looked on as a threat to the purity of the denomination. In the first seven years I was at this wonderful church not once did I ever hear from the district superintendent to even inquire what was going on. We were growing in a pretty amazing way but not once was this questioned or inquired about. This leader was a friend and I am not throwing him “under the bus,” but it is a fact that I felt alone. When he retired the new leader that replaced him came to visit and review the ministry and in one evening criticized and made accusations about our church that were absurd to say the least. No research was done. No effort made to understand who we were just a heavy handed put down of the vision of our church. This probably stung me more then I allowed myself to admit. Ironically a general church leader had just visited and conduced an official survey a few months before and he at least celebrated what he saw. Since finding myself outside of professional ministry not one effort has been made to reach out from district leadership and that is further proof that the “aloneness” I felt may have not been entirely made up.
I felt alone because due to the conservative way my parents chose to live out their faith there was no way they could come and visit the church that I was leading. The music and the style of service would have been shocking to them and it was too much consequently they never came once in the entire 13 years to share in that ministry. During those thirteen years my mother and father both passed away and the aloneness continued. . .
I felt alone as a leader. To be honest all leaders may feel this which is why someone said, “it is lonely at the top.” As we added staff to the ministry I wished and hoped that the aloneness would go away but in fact it only added to my aloneness. Part of that was generational. I am sure that the way I viewed church and leadership was tough for them to swallow at times. I am sure they wished they could push back more but in my mind I had given them pretty free creative license as leaders. I remember what it was like to be a leader in my thirties and early forties. I had all the answers or so I thought. I judged those around me who were leading and older then me. This knowledge also pushed me to feel very much alone. Not blaming just saying what I was feeling.
Everywhere I looked in my life I became convinced that I was alone. At some point, I even wondered why God wasn’t saving me from myself. Of course this is unfair to think of God since I believe in free will. I made choices. I tried to handle it my own way.
Today I can say that I have found God to be more real then I ever knew Him to be. Maybe I should say that I have found out more about Him then I ever knew before.
Feeling alone, real or perceived, is a horrible feeling and one that I never hope to feel again. I am not alone. I feel loved everyday by God and others. I am told daily that I am loved. I am convinced I am not a loser or a problem. Daily I receive affirmation that I am worthy and should be allowed to live and breathe. There were times I wondered about that.
Again please remember if you read this that the majority of this blog is to help those that come behind me. What I have found out writing this blog over the last year is that many others have experienced similar feelings and responses and they have expressed their appreciation for the writings so I continue to write. Life is not perfect. Families are not perfect. Churches are not perfect. We are all flawed to one degree or another even those of us that are people of faith. Hurting people hurt others. I lived my life hoping to never hurt anyone. I failed. I own it and yet I can’t fix it.
Daily I strive to get closer to God. Daily I try to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Daily I try to love and accept love from others. Daily I am loved. I am not alone. 1434 Always