2008 was the toughest year of my life, my marriage and my ministry. I am not going to tell you all the details of that year but let me give you an overview.
I was busy serving in a Church I had started 8 years before. The Church was growing and was quickly approaching its largest attendance ever as we were having nearly 300 people in worship each week. I was trying to lead staff and the first decision I made that year was to fire one of them. It was an ugly process. He was a friend, but he was also a lousy youth minister. The difficult result was that we had less leaders with more people.
I quickly began to work all the time. 300 people demand a lot of time. I was preaching each week, leading the staff, trying to develop leaders, writing policy manuals, taking over the youth ministry and performing 1 or 2 weddings each week. Most days were marathons that started at 8:00 am and ended sometime around 8:00 pm. In an effort to save time I dropped my daily Bible reading and prayer time.
The hours away from home took their toll. I was quickly becoming a stranger to my wife. I felt very distant from her and have never felt more alone. My boys were starting to grow up and taking on more activities. The hours got tighter and the exhaustion accelerated.
It didn’t take long and I was on a downward spiral I couldn’t pull out of. My decisions became very poor. I was following God’s guidance less and less. I was now driven by success and the love of people other than my family. Everyone liked the Sunday morning version of me, but they didn’t know what was going on behind the scene. By fall I was not spending time with God or with my family, I was trying to succeed while bailing water from my sinking boat.
I had a series of conversations with my leaders who had lost most of their trust in me with each passing week. I was searching for help and no one heard my cries. Finally the decision was made to resign my position. The leaders agreed it was a good move and gave me a three-month paid sabbatical to help me heal.
The downward spiral continued. The big question was, “What do I do now?” I had lost myself in my quest for ministry success and now I had no ministry. Depression overtook me. Dark thoughts pervaded my mind. I was not sure where God wanted me or if he even wanted me.
The country was experiencing a recession at the time and no jobs were to be found anywhere. Then life hit rock bottom. I accepted a job making $8 an hour at a telemarketing firm. Never being good at confrontation made the job very difficult for me. One Thursday a person on the other end of the phone started cussing at me and I cracked. I went to the bathroom and cried. I left for lunch and called my wife and cried. My pride was gone and my life made no sense.
That night I made a decision. I need to get back on track with God. The next Monday I took my Bible, a notebook and a pen to work with me. I began taking every small break between calls to read. I started writing my prayers out on paper in my notebook. I began working extra hours on Monday through Thursday so that I could take Friday off with my family.
Soon a better job opened up at a local factory. I was put in charge of the warehouse and started getting exercise as I walked around the plant all day. While walking I would take time to pray or sing. At lunch I listened to sermons or the Bible on tape. Suddenly I was feeling better emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.
At this point in one of my prayers I felt the nudge of God to search for a ministry in Alaska. I looked online and there were two Churches searching. I sent off my resume and within a month I was on a plane to preach a trial sermon. Within three months I was back in ministry and life made sense again.
This time I vowed to do it differently. I would start each day with prayer and bible reading. I would take time off each week. I would say “no” more than “yes” to outside speaking engagements including weddings and funerals. I would make my spiritual life and my family life a priority and my ministry would no longer take every minute.
Fast forward a few years to today. The changes I made have stuck and have even gotten stronger. Right now, I have never been happier and felt more blessed.
It has been 8 years since the wheels fell off. I am still haunted by some of the decisions and words made during that season. I wish I could change the past. I can’t. But God has forgiven me. My family has forgiven me. My past is now just my past. A sad chapter in my life that I am not proud to talk about.
I tell you this story for a couple of reasons.
One, sometimes God has to break us down before he can build us back up properly. It is a painful journey. I don’t know that I would have changed had I not hit the bottom so hard.
Two, if you are in this process of transformation. My heart breaks for you. I have been there. I also want you to know that the end result is better than I imagined. I don’t mean that I have finished changing or have gotten everything right. I mean am thankful for the person I am today. Through God’s grace a better life is possible. I am living proof.