Back But Not The Same

I started this blog on April 7, 2019. I was not at rest. A month earlier, I had resigned as Lead Pastor of a church in San Antonio, Texas. I didn’t resign because things were bad. Things were going super well. I didn’t resign because I didn’t want to be the pastor of that church. I loved my church family, and God’s kingdom was being expressed in beautiful ways there. I didn’t resign because of some kind of moral failure…I hadn’t done anything morally wrong.

But I did resign because I had fallen–and I had fallen hard. It’s often called “burn-out.” The term seems mild for what was happening internally, but it’s the only name I could give to it at the time.

April 7, 2019 was my last Sunday in Texas. When that service ended, I closed the church down for the last time, had lunch with my family, and drove to Galveston for three weeks of solitude. When I drove away from my post at the church and from my family, I felt like I was driving away from everything that made me anything. I wondered how in the world I had gotten to that point. It was the scariest feeling.

After 21 fun, energetic and successful years of ministry, I was driving through Texas on I-10–feeling completely alone, with no work to define myself by, and without the comfort of family. After three days of complete disorientation, I started this blog. In retrospect, I did it because I didn’t know how to be alone. Looking back now, reading between the lines of those first few posts, I realize that I had already “let the cat out of the bag.” It wasn’t a blog that was beginning. It was a transformation. A re-birth.

I had no idea what was coming.

SHORTEST BLOG EVER. This blog lasted all of two weeks, and my last post was on Easter Sunday 2019. By that time, 21 years of self-reliance had caught up with me. It was bad. Really bad. I stayed in a condo owned by the South Texas District Church of the Nazarene. That condo became the place where the trajectory of my inner life changed; I am forever grateful for the gift of that space. It became a place of wrestling…with God, and with myself.

Let’s be clear: God wasn’t picking a fight with me…but because of what I had come to see in the mirror, I couldn’t help but wrestle with God. What God says about me and what I was saying about myself weren’t matching up. It was dark. I stopped posting – there’s no way I would have had anyone else look over my shoulder into that darkness. I lost my words. I lost my prayers.

I’ve never cried so much, so deep, so hard in all of my life. For hours on end, day after day. I was emptying myself of “something.” There were two prayers and one quote that I could speak. The two prayers were the “Our Father”, and a version of the Jesus prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, according to your steadfast love.” This was the quote:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone is enough.

Teresa of Avila

My entire life, I have feared being alone. And for the very first time in my life, it was just me and God. God’s way of helping me in my darkest moment was to take me toward my greatest fear. But Teresa of Avila was right…God alone was enough. Over the following weeks, transformation startedand continues. One year later, I’m in awe of the Holy Spirit. I’m standing again. But now, instead of standing on my strength, I feel “propped up” by His.

Next to my closest friends, one of the bright spots of my journey as been a guy named Terry who mentored me through that season and continues to be there for me. I will forever be indebted to Terry for his love, his acceptance, his willingness to confront me, his honesty, and his determination that I realize the peace of learning to let go.

I’m just now able to start making sense of the cyclone that was “sabbatical”. I want to find ways to begin talking about it, but every time I think I’m ready to do so, I lose heart, and feel insecure about making any summary statements about it. The truth is that even a year out from my sabbatical, I am very much still healing from burnout.

THE PLAN WAS…during Lent 2020, to begin writing about all of this as the Holy Spirit helps me to make sense of it all, for my own good, and for the good of those who travel through a “dark night of the soul” themselves. AND THEN WE ENTERED A PANDEMIC…pastoral ministry took a hard turn, and old tendencies started to make a resurgence. Pastoring during the quarantine caused me to wonder how far I’ve actually come from burnout.

I think I’m ready to begin formulating some blog posts to work through things. But don’t hold your breath…it will come when it comes.

DISCLAIMER. This blog might not be comfortable for readers with a more avoidant approach to life. If you’re not comfortable with questions, you might open a new browser window. If you’ve got God in a neatly packaged box, this would definitely be your stop on the line.

But the only way to understand me now – my words, my sermons, my gray hairs (in my goatee), the crows feet on my eyes, my smile, my hope, my discontent with church as church has been “because that’s the way we do it,” my belief in the capacity of the Holy Spirit to do “immeasurably and abundantly more than we could ever ask or think” – is to know the road I’ve been traveling. My hunch is that it’s a more common road than any of us want to admit; my hope is that, as I am able to give voice to some things, it will give some of you the words that you need at this point in your life.

So I’m back…but I’m not the same.

At the beginning of Summer 2020, I’m once again pastoring an incredibly beautiful congregation of people in Lilburn, Georgia that I love deeply, and who love me and my family. Again, I’m experiencing a beautiful expression of the Body of Christ. In fact, the church that I shepherd now made my sabbatical possible. The Holy Spirit brought Harvest Community Church into my life for such a time as this…and I honestly believe that this journey was just as much for them as it was for me. I’d keep my eyes on HCC if I were you – God is up to something new there – and it’s name is not Brad.

I chose the image of a record player for this post; I listen to records now. I love to hear the friction of the needle rubbing the record, because it’s that friction that can produce the most beautiful music. I understand that now.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21, NRSV)