I was a pastor and I nearly gave up on God. And I am not alone. Many of my fellow pastors and friends from theological school have walked away from it all. Faith for me is like an ever-renewing resource, like a rechargeable battery. It can grow strong and at times it will fade. It is not a light switch that goes on and off, where you either have it or you do not.
Somewhere in 1989, I woke up with the idea that I was going to be a pastor. I think the idea popped into my head when I saw one of my pastors heading into church at the beginning of his day. I didn’t have a dramatic light and I never heard a voice talk to me. I think what appealed to me was their sense of purpose and hope, both of which I lacked at the time.
When I finished Theological College and felt a sense of fear and confidence. I have heard that it’s healthy to feel fear along with confidence. The fear keeps you grounded and humble. I felt ready to take on the world as a minister. As soon as I got my first gig as a youth minister, I felt the pressures, both subtle and overt. You need to be creative and entertaining in how you speak yet humble, sensitive yet a decisive leader, spiritual yet practical, bold and mission minded.
Each week you lead and you speak, but you can begin to feel that you are only as good as your last sermon. At least, that’s how I felt. The pressure of crafting a weekly message, balancing the demands of leading a small church and meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of a congregation seemed draining rather than renewing.
For me, one of the burdens that I faced was that I needed to continuously sort through my own doubt. I felt like I needed to present a confident front, but inside the doubts about my own ability and about God seemed to swirl like a gathering Tsunami. I just could not settle the doubt. I faced seasons of depression that made me further isolate and feel like I was alone. Decisions became daunting.
People loved me, but I was too distant from myself and from others to feel it. At times I wondered if there was even a God or if He was really connecting with me and with the people that I was leading. For me, it felt like pastoral work was about results. Frequently, my sermons felt like they fell flat and I felt like I was floundering.
As a pastor, I did not feel ‘successful.’ My church did not grow, it grew smaller. My sermons were not ringing any bells, not even with me. By every bar, it felt like I was failing as a minister and as a man. I began to over eat on junk food, avoid my family and I felt uncomfortable in my own skin.
I sought out others for support to weather the storm. No matter what I seemed to do, the doubt, the sense of failure did not lift.
So I left. I decided to pack up my family and move away. I felt that I couldn’t be honest about my doubt and my depression. I was supposed to be certain, but I felt cynical.
History is full of people who tried to run away from God. But you can’t outrun God, at least that’s what I found. Moving may have given me space to sort through my doubts, but I continued to question. My faith is not an easy faith. I don’t have good answers for many of the classic questions that people ask. I care more about the person doing the asking than providing a neat answer. I am more interested in their story rather than the answer. I guess that is why I am a better therapist and writer, than I am as a pastor or leader.
For years, I ran away from my sense of failure. I have had seasons where I did not pray or even read the Bible. Faith is not a straight line to God. It is not a DSL cable that lights the way from darkness to light. It is more like having a flashlight that gives enough light for your next step. In our culture, passion, mission, vision and knowing where you are heading is so expected that we ask teenagers to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Saying that faith is like a one-foot flashlight seems like an odd metaphor.
But that is what faith is. It is an affront to having it all figured out.
I have friends who are Athiests and I find myself agreeing with many of their questions. I have learned that faith is not in the answer, but in the willingness to explore along the edges of uncertainty. And sometimes we are surprised when we let go of our answers. For me, I have rediscovered wonder amidst my uncertainty.
People say that faith is a crutch. Okay. I don’t have a great answer to that, except to ask if you were born with shoes on your feet? Way back, the first humans were also not born with shoes on. We had to work at it for a long time, but when we finally figured shoes out they weren’t seen as a crutch to walking barefoot, they helped you to walk further. You may not have any more certainty with shoes or with barefeet, but you can walk a little more confidently. That is what faith is for me.
Faith gives me peace where I may feel doubt, rather than certain answers for hard questions. I have learned to engage the person and their story, rather than try to have answers to their questions. I believe that God is more interested in our stories than our answers.
How is your journey of faith? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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