Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fake It 'Til You Make It...

Are you familiar with the term, "Fake it until you make it"?  It is the art of trying to convince people that you really know how to do something, that you are in complete control, or that everything is fine until you actually figure out how to do that something...or your problems go away  We all do it, right?  We try to keep others believing that we have it all together, that we know what we are doing all of the time, and that even our problems are just minor specks on the windshield of our life.  We carefully craft our twitter, facebook, and even our blogs to portray our lives as successful, happy, and exciting.  Our society in America...and even the church, have bought right into this "Fake it until you make it" mentality.

I have to confess that I have been as guilty of this as anyone.  I have stated previously in my blog postings that as a pastor of 16 years, I do not have it all together.  I struggle with self-doubt (a LOT), pride, envy, anger, and fear of failure...just to name a few.  As a pastor, I have times in my life that I do not understand what God is doing in my life, as well as periods of spiritual drought.  Often times, these two things at the exact same time.  It is hard to explain, and so during these times of drought, I often resort to the "Fake it" principal.  No, I do not desire to be "fake," however in an attempt to cover my own problems and confusion, I tend to carry on with business as usual with those around me.  I am not diluted enough to think that people do not see through this at times, but honestly...I believe the lie that people expect their ministers to have all the answers, and to have it together... So, this cycle gets repeated often.  I would venture to guess that, based on experience, most of us are not very good at being real.  I am not even good at being real with myself!

Over the past few months, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I have some issues that I need to deal with.  Depression is simply one of the things that I need help in conquering.  Being honest with myself and others should be at the top of that list, as well.  I must confess that I often tell people that I'm doing okay, even when I'm not...simply to spare them the details.  That is a pattern of lying that I do not want, and deeply apologize for.  I am not great with finances, I can get stressed out easily when something unexpected comes, and sometimes find myself doubting my own abilities as a communicator of the Gospel of Jesus.  Obviously, I have more issues than that, but I want people to understand that when I talk about being "real"...I'm not just saying that.  When people get to know me...the REAL me...I want them to understand that I am as flawed of an individual as anyone else out there.

I know that this may seem like a bit of a "Debbie Downer" posting.  However, I want you to understand that I am fully convinced that God can take imperfect, odd people, and use them for His glory.  We see evidence of this in the life of David, of the Apostle Paul, Peter, Moses, and many others in the Bible.  In every one of these stories, we see great men of God...imperfect men... being used by God Himself to further His kingdom.  God even goes as far as calling King David a man after His own heart. adulterer and a murderer...was still a man used by God.  Peter denied knowing Jesus on the eve of His crucifixion, Paul killed Christians, Moses was disobedient to God...and yet God still chose to use these flawed, imperfect men to show His power and love to a world that really does need God.

I have to believe that God will continue this trend, even in my own life.  While I am scarred, flawed, and imperfect, I have to trust that God is moving me closer to His presence, in spite of my own efforts to derail things.  I do not want to be fake at all...  I want people to know that what they see is what they get.  When others interact with me, I want them to see what God can do with a life that is devoid of pride, selfishness, and above all... being fake.   To do this, I must continually remind myself that the status quo of this world...even in church... is not what God wants.  He just wants our hearts, and our devotion.  These two verses are some of my favorite reminders of what I need to strive for.  I hope they will speak to you, as well.

"And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."  -- Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

Stay real, my friends...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Scorched Earth... Slow Healing

Over the past few weeks, I have faced a lot of battles.  Most of those battles are silent, personal battles.  The actual diagnosis of depression just gave a name to the face of something I have struggled with for several years.  Over the past few weeks, I have heard from a large number of friends from all over the world regarding my initial blog about depression.  There are so many of us out there that are fighting these silent battles every day.  I am thankful for the fact that I no longer feel alone in this fight.

One of the biggest lies that we often believe is that no one else understands, that no one else cares, or wants to know about how hard we struggle at times.  I mean, it's easy to believe.  How often do those that we care about want to hear about the same struggle that we shared with them yesterday, or last week?  We don't want to be a burden on anyone.  So I, like many others, chose to keep it to myself for far too long.  For me to heal, that has to change.

My dealings with depression started in about 2007, when some folks that I trusted greatly in our church, turned on myself and our pastor.  The following months were confusing, dark, and extremely frustrating.  Thankfully, we came through that event without any career damage, but the emotional effects of that encounter were pretty deep.  Flash forward about 18 months, and I had moved into a new church ministry job in the same city.  During this time, I experienced some extremely great highs in ministry...and something new that I had not experienced before. For reasons that I still do not understand, the pastor that I worked with began a series of mental and verbal abuses that became relentless.  This went on for several months, and I had no idea how to handle it.  From the outside, everything probably looked fine.  Our youth ministry was flourishing, the church was in good condition financially and numerically, but the dark side of this church that I was seeing that was quite damaging to me.  This abuse went on for months, and became more and more frequent.  To this day, I still have no idea what brought it on, and believe me, I asked on multiple occasions.  Sadly, like the saying goes, "If you hear a lie enough times, it begins to sound like truth" these words of untruth became real to me.  Logically, I KNEW these words were false... but in times like this, ministry work can become very confusing.  How do you follow the spiritual lead of a person when this kind of stuff is going on?  It affected my view of ministry, of the church, even my view of church people. My view of ministry and the church were shaken to their core, but my faith in Jesus has never wavered.  Praise Jesus for that...

After 10 months at that church, an abusive encounter occurred in front of the entire staff, and at that point, I knew that things were not going to get better.  I chose to resign, and walk away before things got any worse.  There were things that were done and said in that last meeting and the weeks after I left that honestly still make no sense to me. I was deeply wounded...worse than I ever had been before...on multiple levels.  My pride was obviously splintered, but the deeper issue was that my very spirit had been shattered over the course of those 18 months.  My will to get out of bed, or even eat a meal were gone.  I had zero...and I mean ZERO desire to ever work in a church again.  I was so worn down and exhausted from the struggle that for the first time, depression reared it's ugly head in my life.

There were many days spent locked up in my house. I only wanted to see my family, and tried keep myself occupied.  I was unemployed, angry, battered and bruised...and not healing quickly.  It was during these days that the most terrifying part of depression hit me...thoughts of suicide.  I will never forget when those thoughts began to come.  Don't get me wrong, I KNEW they were coming from satan, but he was relentless.  Wave agter wave of attacks would come. It was brutal. I never actually thought about carrying these thoughts out, but experiencing this brought shame into my heart.  It was just one more thing that seemed to be crashing down on me.  However, the Lord saw fit to bring a couple of friends alongside me that had walked this road before.  My friend, Nick Watts, walked with me through the entire time that this abuse was going on, and through  the aftermath.  He, along with a very encouraging letter from another friend, Jason Bishop, were anchors for me during all of this.  Thankfully, the thoughts began to subside after much prayer, Bible study, and time with my family and friends. Praise God for those men...

That was five years ago.  God has brought me through a lot since then.  He restored me to ministry, moved me to a new city, and has opened new ministry experiences overseas that have been amazing.  He even enabled me to forgive that pastor, and the others involved in that mess.  I praise God for that.  However, the story does not end there.  The emotional and spiritual pain has not been erased.  Just when I think I am past all of it, something will occur to bring those thoughts and feelings all back again, usually something at church.  Thus, my dealings with depression tend to crop up every few months.  Usually after God has done something amazing in our lives is when it hits the hardest.  This summer, we had the best summer of ministry that we have ever been a part of.  We saw many kids give their life to the Lord, had an amazing mission trip to Hungary, two amazing interns, and saw God move in mighty ways. so many of the people we read about in the Bible...after the amazing times often come the dark times.

That is where I am today.  I am now on some medication to help take the edge off of the emotional side of things, and I am speaking with a counselor that a good friend in ministry introduced me to.  No, I am not past this yet...but with God's help, I am making progress.  I am learning to trust people again, particularly people in church.  Sharing parts of my story in this blog have been hugely helpful in trying to put some of these feelings to rest.  I just pray that in doing so, that the Lord may use this blog to help others out there know that they are not alone in a struggle like this.  Thank you for your prayers...please let me know how I can pray for you.... :)