Category Archives: Mental Health

Call To Me…

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” –Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)

Last month I had the chance to sit in on one of the adult Sunday School classes here in my new church setting. The discussion was already underway, so I just listened and discovered they were talking about Romans and someone had drawn a comparison to something in Ezekiel. The idea raised was pretty interesting so I decided to look it up later on. But when I actually made it to some alone time that evening, I accidentally opened up to Jeremiah, chapter 33 to be specific. And verse three (quoted above) just captured my heart and mind!

And that quick, I “heard” God offering me that same opportunity he had given to the prophet some six centuries  before Jesus’ birth.

Jeremiah had been arrested and confined in Jerusalem during the time that the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzur had besieged the city. Jeremiah heard God’s calls for the nation to repent, and he faithfully shared those divine messages, but they fell on deaf ears. Furthermore, the leadership of his nation, King Zedekiah, wasn’t listening to sound counsel, nor was he turning to God to repent and do things God’s way. Jeremiah had to have  moments of doubt and wondering and grief and sorrow over what he could see was coming for his beloved land.

Now-a-days we are half-way around the world and over two and a half millenia have passed since Jeremiah’s day. I have days when I wonder what’s going to become of this land I love so much. Nobody seems to want to hear the call to repentance that God still extends to all. The leadership in our political parties and in official government positions seem intent at times to not only reject God’s ways, as laid out in the Bible, to actively promote the violating of any “rule” God might have laid down. Some of us have been wondering where this is all going to end… especially in light of what seems like hopeless choices for the election of various officials throughout our governmental system… or even our church organizations, allegedly “the people of God” and yet seemingly intent on turning our back on anything God has asked of us… at least if it involves repentance from sin.

This verse, as it JUMPED OUT at me that night, reminded me that my first responsibility in those moments of wondering about the future, or my country, or even my church, is not to cry out in frustration or to vow to vote for this one or that one or to try to come up with my own plans to “keep the peace.” Rather, Jeremiah 33:3, reminds me that my PRIMARY responsibility as I look around at all that’s happening is to…

… simply call out to God.

“Call to me and I will answer…”

And that quickly, the anxiety begins to lift a little and Jesus’ inviting words flood back into my memory:

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”   —Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Jeremiah, even though he was facing overwhelming odds and great certainty that everything was falling apart, could call out to God and lay down his burdens before his lord. As I look at the uncertainty of my life, my nation, my health, my church denomination, my wife and children’s futures, my finances, even my own mental health… I can call out to my God and lay out all my burdens before Him… and give those burdens to him! He’ll take on those burdens and give me rest… and hope… and peace… even in a world that seems like its going to pot.

Oh yes, Lord! Remind me again and again that there is NO reason for me to carry all my cares, concerns, and burdens alone. Remind me to CALL to you and then lay these other things down to you as I simply draw closer to You, to learn from you and hear You. And I can then trust You to answer me and show me Your ways… even though I cannot see them from here. AMEN!

 

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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Eschatology, Mental Health, Methodist, prayer, Response

Running Through The Thistles

On Palm Sunday, our District Superintendent, Allan Brooks, announced that I will be appointed to the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA, (Greene County) in the Washington District, effective July 1, 2016. That’s left me, and my whole family, as well as the church congregation, thinking and planning for a time of transition.

One of the key lessons in this area, for me, came in the late ‘90s as I prepared to say goodbye to my first charge. My superintendent at the time gave me a small booklet called Running Through The Thistles by Roy M. Oswald.

While focused on a pastor’s departure from a congregation, Oswald actually starts with a story from his own childhood. He and two older boys would walk to school (back in the one-room schoolhouse days) barefooted. But there was a short cut through a field that took out a lot of travel. But there was a catch: you had to go through a briar patch if you went that way. Otherwise, it was no savings of time.

Oswald relates that they would usually just simply go around the long way to and from school. However, a few times, when the fish seemed to almost call to them and nothing stood in their way of going fishing once they got home, they would decide to take the shortcut through those thistles. He then explains how they would gather their courage, and then run as fast as they could until they got through those thistles.

The problem, he writes years later, was that once they hurried and got through them, was that they had to then sit down in the field and one by one, painstakingly, remove each and every prickly thistle… and it actually took longer than if they had simply gone around the barbed barrier.

His point in relation to departing pastors is that there are two choices of how a pastor says goodbye to a church and a church bids a pastor farewell. One is to do the hard work of celebrating relationships, reconciliations, and forgiveness; much like Oswald’s  long way to school.

The other is to hurry and just ‘get outta there’ as fast as you can. That’s like running through the thistles. When we try to separate ourselves from the experience so that it ‘goes faster’, we actually leave a legacy of pain and hurt, distrust and hesitancy. Thus, when we meet the people in the next church or try to welcome the next pastor that comes, we’ll start with the same issues and concerns we thought we had left behind. We’ll be years trying to pull out the thistles, and those thistles will influence every relationship in the context of church from then on.

So, I choose to take the long way out. I want to celebrate the ministry we’ve been able to do together and grieve for the ones we’ve had to say goodbye to during our time together. Already, there are some who have tears in their eyes as we talk about what’s yet to come. Others, not so much.

And for the sake of both groups, and for me and my family as well, this is STILL a time to seek reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, and restoration. After all, we’ve been praying in worship for some five years together asking that God forgive us only as much as we have forgiven others. (“forgive us… as we forgive…”). When we feel offended or hurt, our response is like a requisition asking God to treat us the same way whenever we fail, mess up, and sin. And God has been listening all these years.

So how about it? Let’s take the longer, healthier path as I draw closer to my departure in June. Let’s make sure that there is nothing left for us to have to deal with years from now. Let’s talk together, let’s pray together, let’s forgive one another, let’s celebrate what we were able to do together in ministry… Because this isn’t the last time we see each other. Every single one of us is just one missed heartbeat away from eternity. And as ones who believe in Jesus, our plan is to spend all of eternity together with each other in his presence. Let’s get any unfinished business taken care of here, now.

The Staff-Parish Relations Committee will be working on celebrations for us as we prepare to leave and for the Stump family when they arrive later on. Meanwhile, because of Annual Conference and the move ahead, my last Sunday in the pulpit will be June 5th. Please plan now on joining us in worship that day.

(to view this as it appears in the Clarks Mills UnitedMethodist Church newsletter… click below.)

N2016-04

“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all…” (Romans 1:8a, NKJV)

 

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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Mental Health, Methodist, Newsletter, Response

The Missing Door

In the introduction of Michael Card’s book The Hidden Face of God, there is a revealing story of Vincent van Gogh, the famous artist of the 19th Century.
Van Gogh had once felt called to the ministry, but had never been able to pass the theological entrance exams. Instead, van Gogh opted for a more incarnational ministry… among the coal miners in a small town in Belgium.
Bit by bit, over a three-month period, Card writes, van Gogh served God by reaching out to these poorest of the poor. In fact, he followed Jesus’ admonition to the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Paycheck by paycheck, as van Gogh saw more and more need, he gave away just about everything.
Card then writes “So completely did he reflect the sacrificial simplicity of Jesus that he became known as ‘the Christ of the coal mines.’”
“But those in the church who had authority over him did not feel this extravagance was appropriate, and he was eventually dismissed. It was a failure that hounded him for the rest of his life,” Card writes.
Throughout the rest of his life, even as he discovered a ‘ministry’ of expressing himself through art, van Gogh struggled with a sense of failure… even though we now recognize he was a genius! He felt like a reject… and felt the church was the one who had rejected him. He no longer felt he could turn to the church for strength or support… and became estranged from the Lord of the Church as well… Jesus Himself becomes a stranger to this one who had once emulated him so completely.
Card then draws attention to the last church painting van Gogh ever made, not long before his death: the Church at Auvers. Card writes:

“What many art critics have commented on is not the swimming colors but the ominous lack of a doorway leading into the church. Vincent painted a church that no one could get into. Having tried all his life to work hard enough to ‘get in,’ it appears that he could not imagine, in this last image of the church, a door that might allow him, with his enormous load of pain, to enter in…. Together with the scarcity of references to Jesus in his last letters, the absence of the door in the painting reveals his most fundamental fear: that there is no way into the church and, even more agonizing, that there is no One waiting on the other side of the missing door.” (pp. 12-13)

Vincent van Gogh died on July 27, 1890, as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds from a suicide attempt two days earlier. His brother, Theo, was with him when he died, and reported Vincent’s last words were, translated: “the sadness will last forever.”

How many times do we, today’s church, share our opinions and our thoughts about the way someone else is doing their job in serving Christ? How many of those times are we alienating those very ones who love Christ and are trying to serve him? How many end up like Vincent van Gogh… carrying an overwhelming load of pain and feeling abandoned by Christ and the Church?
No small wonder that the author of Hebrews writes: “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)
Not everyone will agree with the way everyone else does stuff… not even in the church. But we can make sure that constantly show God’s love and compassion by encouraging one another… so that no one ever sees us as a church without a door.
Who can you encourage today?
(This was my pastor’s letter for the August 2008 edition of our church’s newsletter: The Sound of the Trumpet)

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Filed under Church Leadership, Death, Grief, Mental Health, Newsletter, Reflection

Feeling Blue…

News of an area pastor committing suicide has reached us and it feels like my world has been rocked… again.

While I knew this particular pastor, I didn’t really know his situation, nor his struggles… whatever they might have been. I simply knew who he was and appreciated his smile and laughter on the few times he and his wife would join our breakfast group a couple of churches ago. But then I moved, and he retired, and, like so many other pastors, I sort of lost touch.

And I have spent the past eight hours since I heard the news just thinking and meditating, praying and just feeling down… sad… depressed.

While I don’t know his issues, I know mine. And, as the saying goes, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with a severe depression. The therapist I went to called me “high functioning” which I guess meant that you couldn’t really tell from the outside just how depressed I really was. He talked about how people with scores like mine on the Beck Depression Inventory usually find themselves in the hospital ward just to make sure they don’t commit suicide.

I haven’t considered suicide as an option, not back then and not now. There were times when I hurt inside enough that I could understand Jonah’s words when he said, “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than live!” I wouldn’t kill myself… but thought how nice it would be if God decreed that it was my time to go and ‘poof’ I didn’t have to deal with the ‘stuff’ anymore.

There were issues from my childhood, relationships that had never been healed, decisions (and lack of decisions) from college times that have followed me, and then, change and loss… and as a pastor I experience A LOT of change (after all, we move for a living, right!) and there have been A LOT of losses. Loss of financial stability, loss of hope, loss of dreams, loss of friends, loss of stability. And a lot of funerals. Mostly for parishioners, but there have been some family members in there… my Grandpa Mix, Gay’s dad Max, and her Grandma Beryl. And a miscarriage just a year before our son was born. And now-a-days, I understand much better the grief experienced with loss of health as I have gotten my first couple of tastes of arthritis, kidney stones, high blood pressure, gout, and recently, the cancer scare.

There are times when I feel SO alone out here in the hinterlands of rural America. I miss the comraderie and fellowship of having a group of us pastors that got together every week for breakfast. Sometimes it was more of a complaint session, but we could laugh about the messups and discuss what we might be able to do differently in this or that situation. And we weren’t “Rev. This” or “Pastor That.”

That’s why it’s been so important to deliberately seek out friends. People who aren’t reliant on me for their spiritual care. Even when I don’t feel like it, I know that there are times that I need to go to some activity just so that I don’t become too introverted and inward focused. Especially in times when things seem to go wrong with the other Christians one finds in the church… when it’s Christians who seem to be attacking or condemning or complaining. In the same way that our parishioners need to have encouragement, so do us pastors.

Part of my thinking and meditating this afternoon and evening is how far have I come? I feel better (as in better than I used to feel… not that I feel ‘all better’). How have I gotten there? Because I suspect that I’m not the only pastor out there to experience the ‘blues’ or outright depression.

I think the number one thing I did that helped me begin to heal was to find someone who took me seriously that maybe I had something going on. Out of fairness, my wife had said I was depressed and needed to see a counselor for several years, but the defense mechanisms were well oiled that I couldn’t hear her. It wasn’t until my physician, my medical doctor, gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant that I was finally able to start the process.

And even then, I was looking at the need to lose weight, and recognized that I probably needed help to step away from the comfort-food/stress-eating times. He prescibed a low dose of prozac as a way of ‘taking the edge off’ in order to allow me the chance to walk through some of the issues.

It helped… some. It helped me enough to let me see that I was dealing with A LOT of unresolved issues that were weighing heavily on me… not because any of them were super-huge dilemmas, but rather because there was such a vast array of undealt with emotions and unresolved concerns that the sheer volume of them threatened to drown me in a sea of grief.

And it took ALL of my defense mechanisms to ‘stay afloat.’ Thus the comfort foods, etc. (and A LOT of extra weight gain).

That low dose of anti-depressant allowed me to realize that I needed to deal with the ‘stuff’ so I began seeing a counselor, mine happens to be a Christian psychologist, but there are many fine counselors who aren’t Christian and many who come from a community counseling or sociology background rather than the psychology end.

With his help to unpack all the stuff in the closet of my mind and emotional storage center, I have been able to rethink through things that I hadn’t dealt with since I was a kid, or a teen, or a mixed up (often inebriated) college kid… only this time to think them through with an adult perspective and adult coping skills. Those events and feelings and stuff are still there… and always will be… It’s just that before I started this process, it was like they were haunting me and waiting for me from behind some hidden closet door in my mind. Now, after working through this process with medication and a counselor, those thoughts and feelings and memories are being sorted and rearranged and reevaluated and stored in a more orderly, understandable way… Rather than vague memories that haunt and hinder my growth, these rearranged and ordered thoughts and feelings can now serve as tools that help me find strength of character as I face the still unknown future.

Somewhere in the process, with the help of the counselor and the medicine, I began to be able to focus mentally enough again to be able to return to reading. And that, at least for me, has made a world of difference.

Some of the most helpful books have been:

  • Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal With Destructive Conflict, Kenneth C. Haugk, Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 1988
  • Becoming a Healthier Pastor: Family Systems Theory and the Pastor’s Own Family (Creative Pastoral Care and Counseling Series), Ronald W. Richardson, Augsburg Fortress Publishers: 2004
  • Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack, G. Lloyd Rediger, Westminster John Knox Press: 1997
  • Coping With Depression, Siang-Yang Tan & John Ortberg, Baker Books: 2004
  • Pastors in Pain, Gary D. Preston, Baker Books: 2005
  • The Wounded Minister: Healing from and Preventing Personal Attacks, Guy Greenfield, Baker Books: 2001
  • The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, Henri Nouwen, Image (reissue): 1979
  • The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way, Gary Chapman, Moody: 1999
  • They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century, Lynn Anderson, Howard Books: 2002
  • Walking Through The Valley: Understanding and Emerging from Clergy Depression, Robert L. Randall, Abingdon Press: 1998.

Of course, there have been other books… some light easy to read books and some theological wonders… along with some C.S. Lewis and some J.R.R. Tolkein. But these were the biggies.

I have had to have my medication increased several times… I’m a big guy and it took a lot. I had to see my counselor pretty often there for awhile. But now, two and a half years later, along with some other healthier choices and a very understanding district superintendent that I’ve been able to be very honest with, I see my counselor only once in a while and am on the very lowest possible medicine dosage again.

Ultimately, it’s my wife that’s probably helped me the most… despite the times when I have all of the defenses going, thinking I’m being self-protective, it’s usually my wife that alerts me when I’m starting to bottle things up and keep my feelings inside… and that’s when I start to get ‘sicker’ with this depression. When she says she doesn’t know what’s going on inside of me, it’s a red flag that I’ve been keeping it all in too much.

I am not completely healed. I still need a lot of healing and help. But as long as I don’t isolate and allow myself to try and be some kind of a lone ranger, there’s hope ahead for me.

And I don’t believe I’m alone in the pastoral ranks in this realm either. Catch the words of Charles Wesley’s song from 1749 about the Methodist pastors who would come together in conference once a year…

1. And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!
2. Preserved by power divine to full salvation here, again in Jesus’ praise we join, and in his sight appear.
3. What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within,since we assembled last!
4. Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above.
5. Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power, which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more.
6. Let us take up the cross till we the crown obtain, and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain.
http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/hymns/umh553.stm

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Filed under Grief, Journaling, Mental Health