I have to confess something.... and I doubt it will be a surprise to anyone that really knows me. I do not have it all together... In fact, there are a lot of days that I feel like I'm barely hanging on by a thread. I have talked before about the pressures of being a pastor (of any variety). That pressure, which is often self-imposed, can often feel like living in a glass pressure cooker. Everyone can seemingly see you inside, and you know that at some point the glass is not going to withstand the pressure. The problem is, most of us do not really know how to get out of the "cooker."
Insecurity runs rampant in the pastoral world. Some of us bury it deep, some become passive aggressive, or in the case of one pastor I used to know... just become downright mean. The danger of burying insecurity is that someday, somehow, it will find it's way to the surface again. It may happen through an all-out breakdown of some area of that pastor's life, or simply result in absolute burnout.
For years, I have bought into the "Pastors should have it all together" lie. I have tried to be the man that can be counted on when all others may fail. I have tried to ignore my own emotions and fears to try to appear strong. However, I have to admit that over the past few months, I have crashed... and crashed hard. My long-time struggle was finally given a name when a doctor told me that I was, in fact, dealing with depression and anxiety. Once I came to terms with that fact, many other things began to make sense in my life. Let me explain...
For as long as I can remember, I have felt a restlessness in my spirit. It is a feeling that is hard to describe. Often times, when I have tried to explain it to people, I have been told that I just needed to learn to be "content." Well, that feeling has not gone away...ever. When it comes to the "stuff" in my life, I feel pretty content. I'm okay with the "stuff" God has given me. I had a pastor tell me once that he thought that I just wanted the biggest and greatest youth room, etc. before I could be happy. He was wrong. It is not about stuff at all... It's about a calling...
When I was in 10th grade, I attended a camp called Centrifuge at Inlow Baptist Camp, in Tajique, NM. I will never forget the night that God spoke to me in that open-air log built worship building. He plainly spoke to me about His calling in my life to missions. To be honest, I was scared to death. I just knew He was going to send me to the most remote, scary, cannibal tribe in the heart of Africa. However, I surrendered to that call that night, and finished out camp.
The years started to go by, and I really had no idea what to do with that calling, so I simply tucked it away. During my years of college, God began to develop a love for teenagers in my life, and I worked each summer with youth in camps all over Texas and New Mexico. After I graduated and married Amy, God led us to our first youth ministry job. We have now been serving in that capacity for nearly 16 years now. We have been a part of several churches, and have experienced some amazing highs, and some devastating lows. Through it all, God has remained faithful. And through it all, that restlessness has remained.
In 2005, I began to understand what that restlessness was about. We took a group from our church to Piedras Negras, Mexico for a mission trip. I sat in utter amazement as I heard the pastor of that church tell me about what God was doing through their small congregation. In one of the poorest sections of the city, a church of 80 people were completely supporting and sending out NINE full-time missionaries, both in Mexico, AND the US! God had provided for this group in ways that boggled my mind. From vehicles, to amazing land deals, as well a free house for them to live in. This family and church were completely dependent on the Lord, and God had continued to open up doors for the ministry there.
In late 2010, Amy and I went overseas for the first time. We went to Budapest, Hungary to host a youth camp for the teenage children of our Southern Baptist missionaries who are serving in Europe and northern Asia. The moment I stepped off the plane, I understood my restlessness. God called me away from New Mexico way back in 1991. Why it took me 19 years to finally go, I do not know... but I am very glad that we went. (Kind of feel like Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit, once he was shaken from his comfortable life in the Shire) Since that trip, we have been to the Czech Republic twice, and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Last summer, we were able to take a team from our church here in Austin back to Hungary to do ministry work with a group there that ministers to teenage orphans in NE Hungary. My love for the people of Hungary is huge. The spiritual need there is so great, as are basic physical and emotional needs. I keep a Hungarian flag hanging in my office as a reminder to pray for the people there, and especially the Christians who are doing such a wonderful job in a very unchurched country.
So, how does my love for other countries and missions tie into my opening line about not having it all together? Well, the truth is... I still do not have a clear picture of what God is doing with this restlessness in my heart. We love working with students here in the States, we love being able to share our passion for missions with them. God has clearly put us in youth ministry all these years for a reason. So the thing that I struggle with is how to handle this restlessness in my heart. Trying to figure it all out often becomes exhausting, which feeds right back into my anxiety/depressive tendencies. It keeps me awake sometimes, often leading to prayer (which is obviously a good thing). However, I should point out that it does not rule my days. It is just something that is always there... politely reminding me of that calling.
Why write this? Honestly, it is therapeutic for me to write this all down. Why share it in an open place like the internet? Well, because I know that I am not the only person that goes through these emotions and situations. For too long, I have tried to be that "perfect youth guy" and have failed miserably. I have even disappointed people, even my family, in this quest for perfection. I am here to say that I am not perfect... and I fail often... You may see me and I may not be smiling. Truthfully, I may not be smiling for a very good reason. I do not want to be fake in my relationships with others, neither do I want to be a "downer" to people. I just need you to understand that since I have let go of the "perfect pastor" facade in my life, I am struggling to be a person that simply reflects the heart of God as I live. I am trying to figure out what role God wants missions to play in my life, and how that impacts life here in Texas.
However, the restlessness still remains. When I see just how great the need is in the world... needs such as food, clothing, and the kindness of a person to sit and encourage them, it breaks my heart. I wish I could help them all... but I know that I can not do that by myself. I would be lying if I said I do not get frustrated with Americans sometimes. We have so much, we waste so much time and money on so many things that do not matter. However, I have to realize that for a good portion of my life, I also lived in this blindness to the outside world. My prayer as I finish writing this is that God would stir up His people... no just to give money, but to roll up your sleeves, and go be His hands and feet. God will show you where to go... it may be to the far reaches of the world, or just across the street.