Clergy and mental health

 

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Once upon a time, the world was perfect. There was no sin, no evil, no disappointment, no sorrow. That time, my friends, has been long gone.

I sat in my therapists office and let the question stuck in my throat for weeks on end, finally come tumbling out…

“But when will it get easier. I keep waiting for life to be easier.”

I knew life wasn’t made for easy. That even before sin in the world, easy wasn’t the goal.

So, why in the world was easy suddenly my goal?

Maybe because life had been hard, really hard. We had some junk. We had marriage junk, mental health junk, kid behavior junk, family junk. In fact, if there was a form of junk in existence, we probably had some connection with it. Or at least that’s how it felt.

I was ashamed. Deeply ashamed. Pastors were not supposed to have junk. Pastor’s wives were not supposed to have junk. Deaconesses weren’t supposed to have junk. Our families were not supposed to have junk spilling out our back pockets. We were supposed to hold it all together so that we could help other people with their junk. “Above reproach” in the depths of my mind, hidden from even myself, meant keeping it together, being above turmoil, above struggle…above the junk.

Then I opened my eyes.

This world- it’s been filled with junk since the tree in a garden and the fruit that changed everything. I am a part of that world. God, in fact, in John 17:15-17, asks me to hold on tight and walk fully immersed in this world bearing His Truth. Bearing His salvation.

You see, your pastor has some stuff. Every member of our church has some stuff. This is the world we live in, far from perfection, never easy, but full of people walking around bearing His salvation.

Above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2-6) isn’t in being the person without any junk, the pastor without any real life stuff to deal with, whether in himself, in his marriage, in his home, or in his family. It is about how we deal with those things. Do we ask for help? Do we take the time we need to get help? Do we avoid keeping secrets? Are we willing to take the risk to help our marriages and our families and our ministries, by admitting we have some stuff?

The devil loves destruction. Don’t for a minute pretend that he doesn’t want to eat us up and spit us out. He would love nothing more than for a church work family or even a whole congregation to implode because he convinced us to let darkness reign over the struggles of our lives.

1 Timothy 3:5 tells us – “…if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

How does he manage? By asking for help. By admitting that he’s not perfect and making sure he gets the help he needs.

There are certainly instances in which someone can not be a pastor, it isn’t the best choice for him, or the church. And we need to be honest when that is the case, but the majority of the time only good things come from church workers and their families seeing a counselor, getting needed medication, and placing boundaries around their time and energy.

Surprise – your pastor has some stuff, your deaconess has some stuff, your dce has some stuff, your children’s ministry person, your teachers, your youth director…all have stuff.

Let’s build one another up and normalize the act of getting of help, asking for what we need. How much more likely are our parishioners to come for care, confession, and counseling if we, ourselves, utilize what’s available to us?

Life is full of junk – God promises to make all of it beautiful in His time. He restores us with His salvation, not just for a place called heaven, but for His kingdom today. Anything we have, Jesus Christ can handle. Run to Him. Ask Him for help. Let the Church be the place that loves us unconditionally and helps us rise up from the ashes of whatever Satan throws at us.

Need resources or help with something? Send me an email. This is what I do and I’m happy to help. Brothers and sisters, I’m praying as we minister and reach this fallen world together.

Just show up

My friend Rachel started a small book group at a local coffee shop. We met for the first time to talk about Christmas books. It was a random choice and I truly believed it would be just her and me, chatting at the coffee shop, but then something wonderful happened…

People showed up.

I went home excited and came back the next month with my book in tow, But I steeled myself, again ready for a chat session between just her and I. I mean, once was nice, but surely no one would show up a second time??? That would be crazy talk, right?

Then it happened, again. People showed up.

It sounds like such a small thing. Showing up. In this giant universe, me showing up is relatively insignificant, don’t you think? But it isn’t it does matter.

I’m not saying you need to fill your calendars with social engagements and wear yourself down trying to show up for everything and anything. I’ve walked that road. It’s not fun and it’s definitely not doable for long.

In fact, last night, I was the person who didn’t show up. I skipped book group. I needed a moment. My husband needed a moment. My family needed a moment. And that’s ok.

But, I want you to know that showing up really does matter.

I have rarely felt so encouraged as when I left those book groups. It’s that satisfying sense of knowing that someone else thought something mattered as much as you did. Someone valued time with you, with the community that gathered, and the thoughts that were shared. Time has value and when we give it to people, we say,

You matter. You are valued.

Let’s take this conversation to church. Showing up.

Tiny, seemingly insignificant, but the most powerful thing you can do in the Body of Christ.

Show up.

Amazing things happen in the act of showing up.

  • You ignite and grow relationships. You are fed, you are loved, you leave ready to love on others.
  • You say to the person sitting next to you in the pew -“Jesus is worth my time. You, my friend, are worth my time.” Who else in their life is saying that to them? Maybe no one. Don’t ever take that for granted.
  • You encourage your pastor in the very best way. Words of affirmation are nice, gift cards and thank you notes are wonderful, but if you really, really want to encourage your pastor, be there to hear the Word. It tells him that he did not prepare in vain. It shows him that God is at work. It reminds Him that the Word does not return empty and God called him to this work for a real reason and purpose- namely, you.
  • In real relationship, we get life together. Need help with your moving van? Call on the body of Christ! Is someone in your family struggling with mental illness? Call on the body of Christ! Lost your job? Call on the body of Christ! Cancer, weddings, graduations. Life torn to shreds and life flourishing. This is real life together. You do not know what you are missing until you experience it. No one should every go through any of it alone. God created us for more. He created us for one another.

    God has called you to your own arena of showing up. Showing up for your kids, showing up for your spouse, showing up for your neighbors, showing up for your church, showing up in the hard, and showing up in the magnificent.

But just do it, in His grace. Just show up.

Noisy, messy crying

Ecclesiastes Week 4 – 3:4

Day One: Noisy, messy crying (A time to weep)
Day Two: Chuckles, giggling, and other fun things
Day Three: Mourning what is worthy of mourning
Day Four: Keeping the party alive (a time to dance)
Day Five: Why I need to stop crabbing at my children chanting away…


Heart Verse –
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.
                                                John 11:33



Day 1 – Noisy, messy crying (A time to weep)

Several years ago, while my sister was visiting from Iowa, some friends stopped by and we decided to watch a movie. It was the kind of night, where all the stars align and small people go to bed on time and you think, “You know what I could really go for? A blanket, some popcorn, and a good movie.” We sat down to watch the latest new release, “7 Pounds”, with Will Smith. It was a well filmed movie. Good characters, creative plot, interesting dialogue.

And absolutely depressing.

We all watched the movie, completely riveted. When the closing credits began to roll, I woke up from my movie stupor to the sound of sobbing. In about 4 seconds, I realized the sound was coming from me. Wait, no, it’s coming from Dave…and our friend…and our other friend…and my sister. Our living room was filled with dazed and confounded individuals crying their eyes out, noisily. Messy. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. There was also snot running out of noses and slobber rubbed onto shirt sleeves, and sobs bursting out from weird facial convulsions. It was bad. Ugly cry bad.

Days later, I was still analyzing our universally embarassing, no holds bar reaction to this movie. The film was great, but the reality was the topic was disturbing and frustrating and left you longing to help, but nothing could be done. These people were actors on a screen, but all of us had the startling revelation that people think like that. The plot may be fiction, but the mindset encapsulated in the movie is far from it. People misunderstand law and justice and grace so much, that they can miss eternity for want of finding it. It was the truth of our culture spoken in technicolor –
There are many who don’t know Jesus, who need Jesus. They long for healing and rescue from heartbreak. Not a single person on the road of searching in this movie, not one, told the main character what he longed to hear…grace, redemption.

All of us, sitting in that room, noisy crying, were left wondering if we had so utterly failed someone in our own lives. Our cries were prayers for God to fill in the gaps where we are weak. To send His Word into the lives of those around us, when we are silent.

The Hebrew root word for weep, found in Ecclesiastes 3:4 –
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

“Bakah” – is phonetically pronounced bawkaw. Sound familiar? The immediate phrase that came to my mind when I heard it was “to ball.” That’s the way my Dad always referred to the noisy, messy crying when, as little kids, one of us was just completely inconsolable, or “balling our eyes out.” This kind of crying, or weeping, as Ecclesiastes calls it, is a kind of emotional release.

Sometimes we need to cry. We need to move our internal emotions to the external, because they are just so much to bear. Tears and, even more so, weeping give us the ability to express the inexpressible. To unload the messy anxiety and emotion stuck inside us. It does not necessarily have to be a negative experience of difficult emotion. It is about the strength of the emotions contained inside our persons, welling up and over. It is a cry that is mostly between us and God. We cry out in a sacred prayer, hidden in the depths of our sobs,
    “It’s too much, Lord. It’s too much.”

Joseph experienced this kind of emotional overload in Genesis 42:1-24, when his brothers arrive in the midst of the famine. Joseph creates a plan for discernment and handles the situation, from the readers perspective in a well thought out manner.

Then it happens. He overhears his brothers make a confession. One little sentence, that they think he can not understand…

Read Genesis 42:21-24a,
Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph sat in the same prayer, “It’s too much, Lord. It’s too much.”

I’m guessing at this point in the family drama, Joseph is overrun with emotions. Joy and dread and fear and childhood trauma; of a soul hungry for vengeance but whispering grace and restoration.

When it’s all just too much.

In John 11:32-35, we read a tiny piece of the Lazarus story.

 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus wept. He hears the cries of a heart tender with grief and is moved to not just tears, but weeping as well. God himself has wept as we have wept. He has lost friends. He has shared grief. He has had His soul overwhelmed with sorrow, as a man. Will He not hear us when it’s just too much? Yes, He will!

When we feel the need to cry those messy tears, let us do so unashamed. We can present them to Him as an offering:
“Lord, it’s a lot. I lay this burden on You. The one who is fully capable of bearing the load. In my weakness, Your strength. You invite me, saying, ‘Hand it here, child.’ The burden is mine to carry.”

Messy tears, snot pouring out, unattractive sobs escaping…all a part of a life fully lived, abundantly lived in the One who collects my tears and holds me while I weep.
Discussion questions:
Read Revelation 5:1-5. What promise does God hold in these verses for weeping and crying?
When was a time you remember having a messy, noisy cry? Was it warranted?