It was a Monday evening, and I was driving with my family. My mind was a blur. Every ounce of focus and concentration was gone.
Inside, I kept saying: “Pull it together, Paul! It’s not that big of a deal. What is wrong with you?” Then the tears started flowing uncontrollably, and they wouldn’t stop until I had cried myself to sleep several hours later.
Little did I know that I was just beginning to feel the effects of a full-blown breakdown.
My Spiral Downward.
Six months before, I was preaching three services every Sunday. I had recently become a police chaplain with our local department. Our church had just opened a coffeehouse in the center of the city, and it was bustling with ministry activity.
I also had started a master of divinity program at a local seminary. And did I mention I was married, with two preschool-age sons?
In hindsight, I know the Holy Spirit was working to get my attention. The first class of my master’s program was on addiction, and Jesus spoke loud and clear to me: I want to deal with your work addiction and perfectionism! I was clueless, however, about what that meant, and I failed to seek out the meaning.
Then a particularly frantic season began for me. A family member was in crisis, and I dove in to help. In the midst of that, a 17-year-old teen, whom I had baptized just months earlier, was diagnosed with leukemia. I often spent hours a day with him during his last four months as he fought for life.
After his memorial events, I was exhausted. I took a one-month self-imposed sabbatical, believing that would get me out from under the stress I’d been carrying. Not even close. After just one weekend back, I encountered that fateful Monday night.
A wise counselor told me that I didn’t get here overnight, and I wasn’t getting out of this overnight, either. So began a long process of God putting the pieces back together. His way. Following are some of the key things I learned during my journey.
Four Lessons I Learned
1. God speaks through our bodies and emotions. Imagine my discouragement when diagnosed with clinical depression. Now, envision my hope when I learned that depression is actually a gift from God—it’s a circuit breaker that forces the body to slow down before it starts blowing gaskets. Viewed with the Spirit’s discernment, this painful process can take us to places we would otherwise never go.
2. My spiritual maturity will never outgrow my emotional health. Figuring out why work addiction and perfectionism were issues in my life freed me to grow emotionally in ways for which my spirit was thirsting. God created us with emotions we must learn to express in healthy and life-giving ways that will release our spiritual maturity instead of stunting it.
3. I have my own God-given pace at which I am meant to live life. God designed each of us uniquely. Some people can thrive living life at a fast pace, others cannot. And that’s OK. Even Jesus knew when He needed to withdraw from the crowds; He knew His pace. Live yours!
4. Physical and emotional health go hand-in-hand with spiritual leadership. If your blood pressure is high, there’s a reason for it. If you can’t sleep well, that’s going to catch up with you. If your focus and concentration have run dry, or you find yourself shedding tears for no reason, those are real issues that you shouldn’t simply chalk up to spiritual warfare.
Being a healthy leader means walking in health in all areas of life, not just spiritually. Don’t wait until you have a full-blown breakdown. If you need help, reach out for it today.
7/18/2014 01:21:10 am
Thank you Paul for sharing your story. You are like a lighthouse to help guide others away from a shipwrecked faith and ministry.
7/18/2014 11:47:33 am
7/18/2014 03:30:39 pm
Thank you Paul for your honesty and for helping others to be honest with themselves. You were a wonderful Pastor during my years at New Heart. I'm very grateful to have learned from you. And very grateful that you're able to talk about this. I too was diagnosed with clinical depression and have had to walk this long road back but yes, it's a gift. I am healthier now than I've ever been (well emotionally anyway). God has showed me my pace, given me new eyes to appreciate life and has taught me to trust Him in ways that I never thought I could. Every day I take His hand and ask Him to lead me. It's good. :) Love you guys and miss you!
7/18/2014 05:20:54 pm
Thank you Donna! Love & miss you too!
7/22/2014 01:10:17 pm
7/19/2014 09:20:11 am
Paul! Congratulations on being, I am pretty sure, our first guest post! Oh wait, no, second! Greg Atkinson was our first on May 9 of this year. Anyway - THANK YOU for sharing your struggle. There aren't too many pastors over 30 who could not identify with elements of your story. If we take to heart your advice, maybe some of us will be able to avoid a total collapse. I love pastorforlife.com!
7/22/2014 01:11:15 pm
It's an honor Jeff! Thanks for the opportunity! I'm all about more pastors NOT collapsing!
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