“I thought that devoting my life to God so early was going to make me happy for the rest of my life.” Brian was a 22 year pastor, and had started three different church-plants in the 17 years following his 5 year stint doing world-wide missions. In Bible College, he prayed a lot about what path God had in store for him, and he decided that he would work his fingers to the bone to fulfill God’s plan for his life, if that’s what God called him to do.
Then one night at 3am in the basement office of his lower-middle class home, his chest began to tighten. His mind started to race. Out of nowhere, suicidal thoughts filled his consciousness. He started to sweat. He laid on the floor for a few moments thinking it would make the sensations go away, but they did not. He called his wife, who was asleep upstairs, from his cell phone because he was afraid to move.
Forty-five minutes later he was in the emergency room with an EKG attached to his chest. The doctor, standing over him, proclaimed that he was not having a heart attack. “A heart-attack”, Brian thought. “Since when should I have been worried about a heart attack?” Not only was Brian a healthy eater, but he ran at least 20 miles per week.
When Brian’s wife stepped out for a moment, the cardiologist asked Brian, “Have you had some stress in your life recently?” At first, Brian denied it. But then he got mad and told the doctor, “You don’t know what it’s like to have so many people counting on you! I need to take care of my flock because that’s what God has called me to do.”
The next day, Brian found himself taking Xanax. It was nice to feel the relief from worry for a few hours. But it clouded his judgement, and he couldn’t imagine taking it once per day as the doctor had prescribed. He was the picture of health, and an avid runner, after all!
“I called my associate pastor at our up-and-coming church plant. Our congregation was growing by around 5 new attendees each week, and I wanted to make sure that there was an awesome and well put together service each week. But I was terrified to get up in front of my flock. With my voice shaking, I asked him if he could take my sermon and deliver it on Sunday. Having only missed 2 of my sermons in the past 9 months, I was afraid of the outcome.”
“Eight minutes later (I know because I was staring at the clock), I got a call from one of our senior congregation members and elder candidates. We were getting big enough that we were preparing to install our first elder group. It is an important step for any new church, and I was so proud that we were finally getting to that point. I will never forget what Bart asked me.
“‘How are you doing, Brian?’ I must have heard that question a thousand times in my life, and I know what I had always answered before: Fine. But this time I answered, ‘I don’t know.’ Bart asked me if he could pray for me, and in a second I cried out and began to weep, unable to give an answer.”
Bart was a burly construction worker, and about as big as they come. But he couldn’t hold back the tears for his pastor. Three hours later, Brian had run the gamut of his emotions. He had told Bart how angry he was with God for giving him so much responsibility without much help. Being the sole supporter for SO many people’s lives and problems was too much. He had been through this twice before, and it was always stressful. He remembered that, at one point in the conversation, Bart asked him, “Brian, what is God’s plan for your life?” Brian admitted that he didn’t know.
Bart invited Brian to write an email to him. “Don’t worry about what you say,” Bart said, “I just want you to write.” Brian sat on it for a few days, not sure how to start. He finally sat down with his laptop and started to write. Pages of continual thought came flowing out of the keystrokes. Years of anxiety towards his work was revealed in his narrative. He couldn’t understand how God could have abandoned him to be a slave to so much stress, and all in His name. He realized that he wasn’t angry with God, but angry with himself. And he didn’t like what he had become.
“My drive to further God’s kingdom had fueled my desire to build something in His name. I had tried to love my flock as best as I knew how, but I had nothing left to give. I realized that my perfect endeavor didn’t make me perfect, it only revealed my need for God’s eternal love. I was glad that Bart had asked me to email him.”
When Brian was finally done writing, his wife and kids had already finished dinner and were on the way out for a walk. Brian bypassed the food on the table and ran straight out the door for a walk up the street with his family. It was the most calming time that he could remember for years. He was grateful for the sunny, 55 degree evening walk with the people he loved the most. He wasn’t thinking at all about the problems of his growing church. He hugged his family.
“Now a few years later, I never miss a weekly email to my friend Bart. His work has since moved him away, so I’m grateful that we started corresponding first in email, because it feels natural now. Bart keeps his comments to a minimum. It’s healing to leave my concerns in his capable and loving hands. Through my time writing and praying, I realized that my view of God’s plan for my life is different than His plan for me. He simply wants to love me and have me love Him back. I now truly allow myself to feel broken and loved FOR my brokenness. And the love that I’m able to give my congregation now is not from the shallow bucket of my own ambition, but instead from the endless fruits of my own insufficiency made perfect through God’s perfect love in me.
“The other day Bart was in town and visited our Sunday service. He put his arm around me and just said, ‘Brian, it seems like you are doing better.’”
“I am doing better,” I replied.