Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thoughts while living in a fog

A friend suggested I write about my journey in life since mom and dad’s passing. I tried…did not go so well. I think it may have helped me some, but nothing I felt was readable. I came to realize it is hard to write…think…lead when you are in a fog. Mentally. That is what it felt like…a thick fog. The kind that if you were driving your car you would feel like you might need to pull over and stop…but where? You cannot stop in the middle of the highway and you are not sure what it looks like on the side of the road. You miss the exit signs because of the fog so you keep moving along. Slowly but moving. Really wanting to get off the highway for a moment…but cannot find your way off. 

Then there is the tired feeling…being exhausted…and yet you still keep moving. Sometimes the tiredness was almost physically painful…you felt like it hurt to move…so you don’t…can anyone say “couch potato”? And we don’t even watch TV! But there was an overwhelming desire…to not move. You live in a fog and you are exhausted. A great combination…especially for a leader to have. Follow me! Where? I am not sure…the fog is thick. Follow me! Where…you are not even moving. Well, it should be easy to keep up then. Soon I will move…soon.

The guilt you end up feeling when you know you are supposed to be leading others and you cannot find strength to lead yourself is off the charts. Romans seven takes new life during this time…what I want to do I don’t do…and what I don’t want to do…that is what I do. I think pastors suffer guilt in an area like this more than other leaders…but everyone goes through similar things…I am  not trying to say mine is worse than yours…just different. If I was leading a business the fog and exhaustion would still have been real…and I would have had to go to work every day. I know. I think as a spiritual leader it becomes difficult when you think everyone is depending on you to be there and to be strong. 

During this time we had at least one family leave our fellowship…people do leave. They did not talk with us but through to the grapevine we heard they did not like the “new direction” the church was going in. I must admit it caught me off guard…I did not even think we were moving and now I find out we have changed direction. Maybe in the fog we were moving. I did not think so. Sooo they leave…and no matter how you cut it…I take the blame. It must be me…what else could it be? This is the struggle…should I have pulled off the road…taken some time away…to be able to let the fog lift? Would that have made a difference? The life of a regular guy…in leadership. 

The strange thing is I thought I was prepared for my parents dying. Really, I did. Mom had been kind of gone for over three years and my dad, the strongest guy I have ever known, was slipping away pretty quickly. I wrote about how they died, dad passing away pretty quickly and then when mom found out he was gone she died within twenty four hours, some of her last words being, “I’m coming dad, I’m coming.” Gone. One week end and both parents gone…I do think the trauma of it all was deeper than I thought at first. Getting the news mom was gone while at my dad’s showing was strange and difficult for sure. Watching my daughter in agony over losing her best friend and not being there with her was awful…and my sister. Awful. Kind of wanted to get angry with mom….really mom…you could not wait another couple of days? But she couldn’t…and I don’t blame her. 

Anyway I thought I was prepared…not so much. Well, I was and I was not…who could be really? So the fog settles in…and you go through the holidays, your first holiday season without your parents. Emotions all over the map. I was able to step back from preaching at the church. Other leaders stepped up and helped out. Then we move into the New Year…and into one of the worst winters on record. Snow…cold…really cold…lots of snow…every Saturday and Sunday. For many this means nothing…for a pastor it means a lot. I would get calls, texts and e mails, “Are we having church?” It had not even began snowing yet…do we or don’t we? Should we or shouldn’t we? We did. But this all added to the fog…thinking about attendance…finances…etc. Dark cloudy days…so cold you did not want to go outside anyway…even if you were not in a fog and tired. 

One of the things that really helped get me through these dark days was definitely God inspired. We begin the New Year as a church family on a 21 day fast, just focusing in the Lord. During this time we send out daily devotions that, in the past, I and a team of writers would contribute writings to be sent out in e-mail form. This year I felt like the Lord wanted me to do the writing and I was not really sure why. We have some very talented people. Now I see it was as much to encourage me as it was to lead the people. At the end of the 21 days I kept writing, short, simple devotions built on God’s word. I did cut it down to five days a week not writing on the week ends. It has had a two fold effect. One it has kept me in a devotional state of mind…each morning, me sitting with the scriptures seeking out what the Spirit is wanting to say…to me…to others. Most are really sparse. I felt like this was not a teaching time, a time to make a point theologically, but a time for connection. With God. So it has kept me connected deeply and quietly when I felt like I could not see two inches in front of my face. So even on Sundays I could speak out of an overflow of my heart not a deficit. Not re-hashing old messages just to get by. 

The second effect is that even in my foggy state of mind I could still pastor my friends. I could share my devotions with others…and let them in on this journey with me. I know everyone does not get the e-mails or even if they do will read them but many do. I get feedback that lets me know they are connecting…even from people who are not part of this body but have visited or see them on Facebook. God moves in mysterious ways…and by this simple discipline of writing a devotion the fog has begun to lift. I have my prayer people praying for me…I have family support…and I know God still moves in and around me. Nice. Without this writing I would have slipped into a deeper depression I think…I would have lost my early morning time with God. I would have. But instead of me trying harder God moved closer…much better. I could come get a drink and then share it with friends. It has been a good thing…a real good thing.

You know, as a pastor in a fog, no one hits a pause button on life…saying we will wait for you to get out of the fog before we tell you the wheels have come off our marriage. Or we are moving…or leaving…not you it is us. People don’t stop having hard things happen to them…family members dying…losing jobs…getting sick. Life still happens. No one says, “ I bet Bill is still struggling with grief…maybe that is why we seem to be moving in a new direction.” Nope…just good bye…well not even that. Just gone in 60 seconds. I know people leave the church…every day…I can tell myself that. Does not help much. 

If this sounds like I am feeling sorry for myself, I am not really. I can introduce you to many friends who have had much harder things than this happen to them. Much harder. It is not that. I just want to say I think, well I know, the fog is lifting. It does lift. It tries to come back but it cannot stay as long as it would like. Energy comes back too, though I have never been an over energized person anyway;) 

I am coming out of the fog and I know when I do come out I will be a different person, pastor. I love it where Jesus says, “The Father is always working.” He is always working…on me and you. He is not working in me because He is disappointed in me or I am such a mess He is embarrassed by me. He works in me because He loves me…deeply. One last thought and i know this is much longer than I like to write. Worship. Worship helped me along the way. To be able to worship with friends on Sunday was life giving. God met me over and over again in worship. The fog lifted as I worshipped. It might come back…not during worship. It may have been selfish of me at times but I would let worship go on and on because I could be in His presence again. Like in the mornings but different. I think because many of my friends were there with me…and it was safe. 

Anyway there some thoughts form a regular guy…