If my relationship status on facebook pertained to my relationship with God, it would no doubt read : complicated.
ONE year ago, after years and years of deconstructing and struggling with whether I still believed in God, Jesus and the tenants of Christianity, I decided to put my foot down and do what felt like the only thing left to do in order to finally be free of the weight I had been carrying for the better part of the last 12-15 years. I declared that I no longer believed, that I was walking away and that I could no longer hold to Christianity as I knew it.
In the months leading up to that I wrestled deeply. It simply did not ring true anymore. Even as I looked back I could hardly find any positives. I knew there had been many but I couldn’t feel them anymore. Or maybe my heart did not want to. I needed to shed it all, put it all behind and move on. I needed people to stop thinking I was something I was not. I needed to believe that even my years as a pastor were more a result of cultural conditioning than something my heart could have at one point desired. How could I have desired something that for so long had become nothing more than a burden.
I didn’t quite understand what was going on. What I did know was that my years as a pastor had been a constant struggle and that my current beliefs just didn’t quite line up anymore. I was tired, discouraged, depleted, frustrated and, quite frankly, somewhat lost. It shouldn’t have been that complicated. Either you want it or you don’t. Either you wanted it or you didn’t. Either you believe it or you don’t. But for me, it wasn’t that simple. I was torn for years and years.
I remember so many times, hundreds and hundreds of times, sitting at my desk when I was a pastor and thinking that I was not good enough and that I didn’t really have what it took. Imposter syndrome on steroids. I remember constantly feeling alone and that if only I had a bigger team, a better team, or a different kind of ministry, more energy, more motivation, a good mentor, etc …. then it would be better. I had mentors but I kept them at arms length. I tried different things and it changed nothing. As the pastoring years went by I got more and more tired. I felt guilty about that because it seemed I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I should and could. It became difficult to distinguish between the honest reconstructing of my beliefs and the deep sense of despair that was overtaking me. During all those years I would go back and forth between belief and non-belief.
Finally, when the church planting ministry we had embarked on during the final years came to an abrupt and confusing end, I saw an opportunity to get out of pastoring completely. I simply couldn’t see myself as worthy to continue anymore and I was exhausted and empty. I felt complicated, immature and, if all that wasn’t enough, I had just been tossed to the side of the road like garbage by men I had come to trust. Here was my chance to move on, get a job and get on with my life. I took it. What I believed and how I felt about my ability to be a pastor didn’t matter any more. It was irrelevant and I was “free”.
So I thought.
When I was hired for my first post-ministry job, I also said yes to helping out, part-time, a small church nearby. They needed someone to help lead them, think through their vision and mission as well as preach on Sundays. I told them I could do those things but that was it. To not expect or ask for more. They agreed and I had what I think were my most joyful and peaceful months of ministry. After about 20 months I quit and focused more and more on my other job which ended up consuming me.
This post is taking us places I did not plan on going, but here we are. Why am I writing all of this? Well, it’s complicated.
One reason is that as much as I thought I could, and quite frankly wanted to, I can’t quite shake it off. This walking away idea isn’t working for me.
The main reason I’ve been reflecting back on all of this is that I was recently diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Shocker. My wife had seen it for years now but I did not want to believe it so I pressed on in this never ending cycle of belief and unbelief and so on and so forth. But in November it finally caught up to me and I realized that something was wrong and I needed to do something about it. That’s when I began the journey of anti-depressants and therapy. Two things I never thought I would need. December kept getting worst until finally in January I hit a wall. I recognized that this was also the same pattern I had been struggling with for so long. It had cost me and confused me for years and years. I was stuck. I could no longer move, couldn’t get any work done, couldn’t focus, couldn’t think, couldn’t remember simple things from meetings the day before. It was like losing my mind. I was afraid.
Maybe you can identify. That’s why I’m going ahead and sharing this post. You’re not alone. For those of you who are closer to me, maybe this can help you understand and answer some of your questions.
So in January I had to stop everything and begin a more serious journey of healing. At first I thought the healing was about my anxiety (at that point I still refused to acknowledge the depression but I did eventually). Then as the weeks went by I was able to rest, watch all the episodes of Supergirl, and as my med’s kicked in I also began to see healing/restoration in other areas. Mainly, my soul.
I could see more clearly what had been a big part of the problem for so long; why I had so often felt lost, alone and insufficient. Once the initial wave of regret passed, I finally found some measure of understanding and peace as to why I had struggled so much during my years as a pastor and why my faith had become so complex. It wasn’t just because I had shifted in my understanding of the gospel and christian beliefs. It was, in large part, because I had been suffering from depression and anxiety. Finally it made sense. I was now able to remember and feel the good times from the past, including from pastoring and trusting God.
Bottom line, I guess I still do believe in God. Not in a ‘I’m certain of it’ kind of way but my soul still longs for it to be true (you know, like a thirsty deer kinda thing). I still do believe in the good news of grace, forgiveness and the renewal of all things. Not in a 4 spiritual laws, you’re in or you’re out, kind of way but in a simple “ya, something’s off in our humanity and as amazing as our increasing scientific knowledge might be, it doesn’t answer everything” kind of way. I don’t have the headspace to complicate it more than that.
As I continue to heal my own mind and soul and as I continue to process and figure out what the heck I should be doing, one thing remains constant; I want to journey with you and be an encouragement to you through my writing, podcasting (French Terrain Neutre) and interactions. I don’t have it all figured out and probably never will. That’s ok. Just don’t take my medication away because I really need it right now 🙂
Good quote that I posted on my facebook today :
I am not sure I do accept God, or how God has been traditionally defined or understood. That’s one prong of my dilemma. But the other is that … I find myself unable to tear up the ticket of my membership in one of the communities that worships the God I don’t think I believe in – the Christian Church.Holloway, Richard. Stories We Tell Ourselves (p. 15). Canongate Books. Kindle Edition.
Grace and peace.
5 thoughts on “I do, I do not, I do, I do not, I do”
I can relate to a good portion of what you have shared here regarding ministry life and its burdens. I am sorry for the pain and confusion that you have experienced over such a length of time. It stings me most to read of your deep sense of loneliness. May healing come to you.
Hey Brad, thanks for stopping by and for your words of encouragement. I appreciate it.
Georges, you’re a very good writer. You express yourself well. Thank you for being vulnerable, sharing your struggle, and what is hopefully a new page in the story. Thank you. Forgive me for not being a better friend during some of those days.
Thanks Andy. I love writing and have always wanted to do so more. I’m hoping I will be able to moving forward! You know, you actually did reach out a few times and we did talk about getting together for coffee or me coming to visit what was your new office at that time. I knew you were available to chat but I didn’t always follow up and that’s on me.