The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul…. Psalm 23
Way back in July 2013 I really thought that retirement would be manageable, with little to no problems. Little did I know that the coming year would be filled with all sorts of emotional, physical and psychological distress. I even got to the point where I questioned my own worth. It was as if retirement (and all the STUFF that came shortly after that) made me feel like my whole life had been a waste. It was a VERY difficult year.
So what do we do when, even a pastor, finds himself in such a bad place?
To be very honest I simply could not find my way to a church. I wasn’t ready to face that, deal with that, process all that would go with it. Before we actually retired, Shirley and I joked that we would be going to the “Church of The Holy Comforter.” That is, we would pull the comforter up close on Sunday mornings. What I did do was what I had already started doing, I went to Myers Park UMC, through their streaming worship service each Sunday. Before I retired I would participate in the worship experience at Myers Park on Tuesdays through their Pod Cast.
Dr. James Howell is the senior minister there and I admire him tremendously. He is smart, cutting edge, creative, serious about faith, not sold on himself as the savior of the world, and knows how to lead worship. It is not a performance. It is not James being cute. It is James bearing his soul; doubt, faith and all before those he cares about and serves. Through his honesty, humility and very deep faith, this man of God helps us through the daily struggles of life.
I needed him and his comforting words for a broken soul all throughout that 15 months. What James did was to help heal my brokenness and restore a sense of worth in and through a renewed sense of the grace of a loving, healing God.
The reason I am writing this tonight is to remind us that even someone who has given 40 years of their lives to ministry… to caring for others, who is trained in ministry… if that person (me) can fall to a point of seeing no self worth left, feeling a great big hole in my heart, and a loss of hope… it can happen to you.
In many respects for me this was far worse than a diagnosis of cancer or my heart disease. I believe those things I could handle because I know that God is with me through it all and will be with me on the other side as well. In my heart attack and surgery I always felt close to God and knew that God was with me. This was different. It was as if the Church to which I had given my life had turned its back on me, trusted friends and colleagues didn’t know me any more. All I could hear was “Elvis has left the building.”
In my emptiness I know now that I could have gone to colleagues I have worked with for years in local and conference positions and they would have listened with the soul of a pastor. But I am not really sure what was happening to me… health? Emotions? Depression? While I couldn’t go to a church, every Sunday I was at Myers Park UMC on my computer. Steadily, week after week James started bringing me out of my funk, leading me beside the stilled waters of faith inviting me to drink again from the fountain of faith. He calmed my fears that I may receive the needed rest. He pointed me to the One who was restoring my soul.
It took over a year to be where I am now. Am I healed, restored, whole? No, I don’t believe I am. I still have anger and great disappointment toward those persons who brought me to such a bad place. I don’t think of them. I don’t want to be around them. The bad part for me right now is that I don’t value them and that bothers me. However, I know there will be a day when I will forgive them – I need that for me not for them.
Your journey may be completely different from mine. You may have it all together, smiling all the time with your joy still in tact. If that is you celebrate it everyday… it truly is a gift! If you are facing health issues, family issues, perhaps there is that co-worker walking around with a knife twisting in your back, or an assortment of potholes in your pathway… you may need to know that it just may take time to work through the process. The process itself is filled with ups and downs, steps forward and backward. However, take each step with the thought that today I will hear, see, or feel something that will bring me closer to the recovery I am seeking. Take the time… allow the process to work… don’t give up. You are worth the touch and sacrifice of a loving Father above.
Dear Lord, the first Bible verse I learned as a child was the 23rd Psalm. Its beautiful and comforting words have been with me throughout my life, in doubt and faith, in smiles and tears, in sickness and in health. Sometimes I forget that you are with me and allow the world to do a number on me and my faith. Thank you, Lord, for walking with me through all the valleys of life, holding me close and lifting me up and restoring my soul. In and through Jesus. Amen.
P.S. I will not continue to stay on this topic. I will seek to use life, humor, and daily malfunctions to speak a word of inspiration. Forgive me as I get use to this format and writing again – – expect mistakes???