As I was writing yesterday's post "Beginning to Get Better," I actually thought that was going to be the final segment in this series. All of a sudden it occurred to me, though, that I was leaving out some important pieces of my journey through pastoral burnout. So, excuse me while I drop a few F-bombs on you: faith, family, and friends. Sometimes it's easiest to overlook the most obvious.
I must confess, my faith took some serious hits over the past few years. How could God let this happen? Does the church really work? Is any of it worth it? Do I really even believe? Those were all questions that floated through my mind all too often. Honestly, I still have a lot of questions, but in many ways my faith is stronger than it was before. While I wouldn't wish this experience on my worst enemy, I think it's possible I could come out of this with an even better perspective on God, faith, and the church.
To be clear, I don't think we ever gave up on God. We were plenty hurt, we got mad (at God and people), there are still some pretty serious scars, but our basic beliefs are intact. And even though we've been frustrated with church at times - we wanted to be more involved, and wanted to be more connected with a group - we were fortunate to find a good church that provided solid biblical teaching. We've been allowed the time to work through our stuff without being doted on for what we could contribute or guilted into some kind of service. Ultimately, I'm glad we stuck with church even though there were plenty of times we felt like giving up.
Certainly my wife made a huge difference in this journey for me. She originally came to faith before I did, and she always seemed to be there just when I needed her during this time. We continued to be near-constant companions and leaned on one another in new and different ways over this last year especially. Even when I sunk into old, bad habits, she never once nagged at me. She let me know she cared, but she also remained silent and trusting at crucial times when I needed it most. I can't imagine having gone through this without her.
My daughter and her family were a huge help too. Carrie is cut from the same mold as me, and she has a canny way of doing or saying just the right thing at just the right time. Drew helped me get the job I have, and he has a way of touching people in his own uniquely quiet and unassuming way. Of course Anna, Bennett and Caleb didn't hurt. One of my biggest disappointments at no longer being a pastor is my grandchildren no longer being able to see that side of me. However, they are still constant reminders of my calling as a husband, father, and grandfather to live out my faith in a real and authentic way.
Isaac and Ricci, even while not being around a lot, actually had a lot to do with my restoration too. Seeing them step out in faith - moving to Atlanta and Isaac going back to school for his MDiv - was a real encouragement to me that it WAS worthwhile. I trust both my kids a great deal, and to see Isaac going in this direction was affirmation and encouragement to stick with it myself. I have been blessed with a great family.
I also have some pretty incredible friends. At first it seemed like I had lost most of them - we had so many friends in the former church who turned their backs on us - sometimes I/we forgot just how many other friends we did have though. We were fortunate to be friends with a number of people outside the church. My occupation didn't matter to them and they provided invaluable support, encouragement, and understanding. I also have a handful of pastor friends who stuck by my side and continued to support and encourage me regardless of my moods and behavior. I hoped for more from those with denominational ties, but... well, you know. Anyway, whether it was the pastors group that let me continue meeting with them, or Bill on the East coast, or people I've never even met like Pastor D and Jim L.... I feel blessed to be their friend. There are also a number of you who sent periodic emails or other types of encouragement. You have no idea how important that was.
I've had plenty of people tell me they don't want anything to do with 'religion' because it's "just a crutch." You know, I don't disagree that it is... but I, for one, NEED a crutch to help me limp along sometimes. I honestly don't know where I would be without the object of my faith, the love and support of my family, and the continued encouragement of my friends. Perhaps the best thing I did during this time of burnout and betrayal was to let my guard down and allow my faith, family, and friends minister to me. I am blessed, indeed.
The first 3 parts:
1. From burnout to...
2. From burnout to... -pt. 2
3. From burnout to... beginning to get better (pt. 3)