More on Mastery

So, having touched on the thought of “Mystery before Mastery but not without Mastery” you’ve probably already realized some of the downsides if you get this one backwards.

Part of the pressure we face as pastors is “to be an example to all” – which we probably think is biblical… well it sort of is and sort of isn’t. If we have a modern mindset which says performance, efficiency and results are primary, then we equate being an example to “having it all together” – i.e. we need to “master” this life of faith we lead, and be examples of how to “master” the Christian life.

But here’s what I think….. Paul encouraged Timothy to be an example, but qualified it by saying “let your growth be evident to all”. In other words, Timothy was to be an example of growth and following Jesus, not an example of mastery. This allows mystery to come before mastery and takes a whole lot of pressure off Timothy.

Pastors feel like their authority or “platform” or “right to speak into others’ lives” comes from their mastery. But here’s the kicker. We’re no more spiritual than anyone else (we all have the holy spirit living in us), we may be more or less mature than others in certain areas and we may be no less weaker or stronger than anyone else… But we have been called to be an example. In other words, I think God has a call on our lives to be put in a fish bowl, so people can watch us grow and follow Jesus and in doing so are encouraged, inspired and strengthened to growth in their own life.

Getting first things first

My mentor handed me a book by a fellow called Peter McHugh called A Voyage of Mercy. He boasts with tongue in cheek that he is one of the few pastors to break the thousand barrier twice. He lost some two-thirds of his congregation in a split having been accused as being a control freak. In his resulting breakdown he discovered some precious truths… like getting first things first.

Here’s an example that really speaks to me especially after just finishing A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren (more on that another day). Here it is:

Mystery before mastery but not without mastery.

He writes “In general, western Christians have been raised to rely on and believe in logic. We have been taught to think in categories and in neat linear fashion. We prefer to work with known principles and anything unknown is seen to be wrong or possibly dangerous. Consequently our preference is to master life. Mastery is also a way of controlling the way life unfolds. Mastery seeks satisfaction as its goal. It seeks to be safe, certain and comfortable believing that this is the pinnacle of life. In fact it is the place of death.

A performance based mindset will drive towards mastery. The fear and insecurity of performance seeks resolution and takes too much responsibility for the outcome.”

He contends -rightly so, that there is more mystery to this life of faith and following the Lord than anyone with a mastery-mindset can handle. According to Henry Miller “Until we accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.”

So if we are to get first things first in this case. we must hold mystery above mastery, but not without mastery, so it’s both/and but the right way around…

I hope that makes sense… or is it all too mysterious?!

My wife is afraid of me

My wife and I were talking in bed, late last night. The conversation revolved around me being abrupt with her. I think she felt maybe I should be back on anti-depressants. I think I’m coping ok with my responsibilities which is a key indicator. I think she feels that if I am “abrupt” then I don’t respect her or care for her. I think maybe that I am a bit short and that my tolerance is fairly low, but it doesn’t mean I don’t care. I can understand how it can come across that way to her though.

I think it’s hard living with someone who finds it hard to accept your behaviour if you’re suffering from depression. It means you have to spend precious energy on masking, and moderating your behavior, and you can never really relax. Home is just another stage.

Today I received a text from her “I am afraid of u and ur aggression. In your depression I don’t know if u would harm me or the kids. I feel like a shel of a person in ur presence most of the time”. This isn’t a great situation obviously, and not conducive to recovery for either of us. I thought I’d just put it out there, in case it helps give you perspective.

On the solution side of things, I think it’s clear, that spouses of scrapheap pastors can really do with a lot of support. They also need to get their head around what depression means and how it affects their spouses, so they don’t take things personally.

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The Beached Whale

In my state, whales beach regularly. I’ve never been down to see them, but I’ve seen the footage and have a good imagination.

Today I feel like a beached whale (not fat, although I am putting on weight, probably from too much beer). The family’s gone to church leaving me to install some sliding wardrobe drawers in the kids rooms.

Beached whales are still awe-inspiring. So big, sleek, and full of potential. They really are powerful, graceful beings. But they’re immobilized and totally unable to fulfill their potential. Washed up. Wiped out. Beached.

That’s scrapheap pastors for you. In my experience and observation, the ones with the most potential are the ones who find their way to the scrap heap, usually because they are the most ambitious, visionary, hard working, gifted and dangerous. Too dangerous for an enemy who hates the church with a passion.

Night Sweats

Nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat… and I mean bathed. I used to have this happen a couple of times a night for some time… to the point that I’d have to get up and dry off, and flip the bedspread back to dry that off and the sheets. I would wake up dehydrated.

They weren’t always nightmares though. It could be as innocuous as dreaming about playing tennis or disciplining a child or… anything really. But it produced an overwhelming adrenaline response and anxiety in the dream that it became life and death. I would wake up gasping… or my wife would wake me to help me out of it.

I avoided going to bed until I absolutely had to because I knew what awaited me. I knew I would wake in the morning exhausted.

I spoke to my psych about these dreams but she didn’t seem concerned and felt that as treatment continued, these would abate. She was right.

I haven’t had one of these dreams for maybe four weeks. As with any change or improvement, you never notice at the time, it’s only when you look back. I guess maybe we could coin a phrase “Looking back to look forward”s

Mushy Brain

I’ve mentioned before how my brain turned to mush as I burned out. Comprehension skills slowed down, decision making felt like walking on a planet with super-high gravity. My brain is slowly getting better but I still lose lots of things and have no idea where they are…. I found my gumboots in the middle of a field yesterday. I’d been missing them or a week….

I wish I could find my wallet and chainsaw chaps.

I’m kind of used to it now, so it’s not so bad. Interestingly, research has shown that if depression is not diagnosed early (in other words, persistent untreated depression) permanent brain damage can take place.

“By the year 2020, researchers expect depression to become second to heart disease as the leading cause of death worldwide. This is just one of the reasons they are working diligently to find a cure.

For those who suffer from depression, their world is a dark one. For many, that colorless life is unbearable as it persists year after year despite the variety of treatments that are used.

According to researchers, the secret to defeating depression starts with early intervention because the illness can, in fact, cause damage to the brain cells. The longer the depression continues, the longer the recovery time, and the longer it will take the brain cells to heal.”

That is scary, but I’m ok with the fact that my mind may never be as sharp as it used to be. At this stage of my life, I’d rather be strong than smart.

I think I’m getting better

getting better is really slow, in fact so slow, that it’s hard to feel like i’m making any progress at all sometimes. I get a bit sick of being sick, but if I look back, I really am making progress.

I can handle our finances again – pay bills, balance accounts and stay on top of things there. that’s a biggie for me, because at my worst, I would go to the ATM, withdraw cash but never take the receipt or want to look at our balance in case it was bad.

I’m less affected by my wife’s up and downs. I’m a bit decoupled from her emotions which is great. I used to feel that if she was upset, stressed and angry, that it was my fault (and she usually blames me anyway) and I’d blow up. Now I feel more and more that her life is her responsibility not mine. My psych says I am responsible TO her not FOR her. Fine line I know but that helps.

I’ve been off antidepressants for over a month now and haven’t been particularly stressed. I’m probably still a little volatile, but not as bad as 12 months ago when I went off and became suicidal.

So all up, I think there’s a slow improvement. If you’re wondering whether you’re stuck or getting better, just trying looking back and see if there’s a difference.

It’s one year since my serious examination of suicide

I got onto my Facebook this morning and posted the following note. I love how you can get all kinds of perspectives from the rank non-christian and the most saintly of saints. I friend them all because I’m such an obsessive networker.

12 months ago i took a few days off work – ok I buggered off and camped on the shore of a large lake. No-one knew where I was. I disappeared.

I had decided that the best way to deal with my situation was to top myself. The problem was I didn’t want my kids to grow up thinking their dad had bailed on them. I was bailing, I just didn’t want them to have to deal with the thought that they weren’t loved enough for me to stick around.

So the dilemma was, how does one top oneself and make it look accidental? If you’ve never spent much time on that question, then you probably wouldn’t think it’s very hard but I did. And it is. The main problem is you can’t fix up the scene afterwards, because you’re dead. I could give you my best answers, but it might not be good for someone in a similar place to be given ideas.

I couldn’t figure it out, so I came home and continued on doing what I did.

This raises lots of questions.

First, how does a pastor come to that point? Second, how does no-one in the church have any inkling if we truly are a community with deep relationships? Thirdly, what does that say about my ability to hide, and is it good for a pastor or christian to have that ability? Finally, what does it say about our brand of Christianity and faith?


Pearl:
Thankyou for your honesty. I’m reading with continued interest.
Simone:

All good questions. Authentic human relationships are still imperfect, sin and such get in the way. The world says we need (!) our own stuff, number 1 first, where as true community is about a shared experience without exception. With that, I suspect, comes accountability and transparency of emotions etc. I’m not sure it is possible in our western culture. To be honest I don’t think it would be a good idea for a pastor to be completely transparent to a congregation about all feelings and thoughts. Sharing struggles on a one on one may be appropriate, but every single person will hear what you share through their experience and interpret it accordingly, not always to their benefit. Everyone needs someone to regularly debrief with, especially leaders. We have been placed in this society by God at this time in history to minister to this generation, so cannot covet another era or culture their type of community, but continue to do the best we can with what we have where we are at. Suicide is also a spiritual battle. Those with great gifting on their lives are noticeably targeted. You are a great man Jack who has and will continue to accomplish great things. We love you and believe in you, just as and where you are.
Alix:
Our faith is just that – OUR FAITH… there are things ppl will never know about my life and the dark places I’ve been. Many a time I’ve questioned why no-one was able to pick up on things, but i guess now i understand that it was all only obvious to myself & that it was up to me to find help, also not to assume that ppl dont care because how do i know if they arent suffering also. I would hate to think how many times I may have missed seeing others problems. Therefore I’m cautious to jump to conclusions. Ultimately it is God alone that i can rely on & only He is the reason i am where i am today – faults, issues & all.(I know that sounds cliched but it is the truth)
I hope you can find the answers, but i’m always cautious about where I get them from – there are always ppl ready to feed the negative, thinking they are on your side but in reality they are encouraging your negativity so how can they be helping?… sorry, but i dont call that friendship.
To your first question – I believe it’s easy for a pastor to get to that point, these days. For a start – if you’re a pastor, you are basically walking round with a target on your back. You have to constantly fight off the devil, carry the weight & burdens of a lot of ppl on your back & still have to deal with the pressures of every day life. That is a damn tough job.
You know what, you gained a lot of respect as a pastor, whether you realise it or not – so you did something right. Whoah, sorry that kinda turned into a sermon! I just hope you dont feel alone with it all, there are many of us out there.

Jack:

Hey pearl, just thought i’d commemorate the anniversary of my grimmest moment by fessing up…

Simone, I think the pastor should b a window to another world. We really don’t have the authority to be an authority… so we can only offer a window to the christ who lives in us. All christians are called to be windows, but the pastor is one who is called to b a window for the community of believers in some sense. so I guess I’m wondering how good a pastor can be if he pulls down the shutters and hides what is happening in his soul. Then we resort to dishing out pithy pseudo spiritual information – which in the information age is not the greatest idea.

I agree, I’d never stand up and say “hi there folks, I’m suicidal”. Not helpful, but wouldn’t you think that if someone was suicidal and lived in true community that someone would know?…

Every leader should definitely debrief. This is a biggie. Why don’t pastors do it?

Thanx 4 yr affirmation, makes me teary. Haven’t had that for years…. bc of the antidepressants….

Alix, you’re a real thinker. I didn’t get to know you well enough to see that. There are dark places in all our lives that no-one will know about except God, and that’s ok. I’m certainly not blaming anyone, just asking the questions in the hope that the answers will maybe help some pastor somewhere…

I guess yr right about having the target on the back. I always thought the enemy would get me by the good ol David/Bathsheba trick, so i’ve been watching that one, and wouldn’t u know it, he gets me some other way. I think he may have won.

And yeah, I’m so glad I’m not alone. That’s probably why I want to speak up about it… so none of us have to walk our little black dogs alone anymore. Maybe we could have a virtual little black dog beach and go walking together…? šŸ˜›

Abbey:

I’m glad you didn’t. And wherever you are at right now, i’m praying that you are able to meet with God and he is able to heal that part of your life. I hope you never figure something like that out. There is a reason for your life. So much to comment….I would hope so much that you don’t reach that point again.

Wayne:
Jack, I hear and I can relate. I would never say understand, because no matter how similar the stories, each persons pain is different.

Anyway, I also found myself in the same situation, you think about the kids, the wife, you think about the people who will find out and how that will affect them. In the end I came to the conclusion that the best thing to do was to use the car and to put it into something jutting out that was about chest/head height so the airbag would be useless – quick and effective….

Ashley:

Hi Jack, you know what, I’ve been worried about you for quite a while now. Not really sure why but I just had this notion or something. So I wanna say sorry that I didn’t write to you sooner or say hi or pray for you or something. I think what stopped me was that I thought you might not remember who I was and just think I was a loony, but we are siblings in Jesus so it’s too bad! So I’m writing to you now šŸ™‚
So you’ve been feeling down? What’s been going on?
Just to share, I went through a patch of depression in 2004-2005 so I know how it feels (well you don’t feel anything actually, but you know what I mean).
Can I say one thing? You can get through it šŸ™‚
Chuck out stuff you might have learnt from church or counsellors about you making your life happen, and just go back to Jesus. Honour him as King, follow him humbly, thank him for taking away your sin, hold fast to him. This life is temporary but life with Jesus is forever so keep your eyes on him.
Hugs!!!!!! Love A.

Living a strong life

I like the idea of a strong life. Jesus talked about abundant life (at least that’s how it gets translated from aramaic), but the idea of a strong life resonates with me. To me it speaks of a life which is resilient.

There are lots of things we do to weaken our lives. Maybe we aren’t even aware of what weakens us. Conversely there are lots of things we can do to live a strong life, but again, most of us are blithely unaware of those things that make us emotionally strong.

If we are reflective enough, we do eventually figure these things out. That’s one of the advantages of age (or maybe having a mentor who has age on their side).

By way of example (that might trigger some ideas for you), here are some things that weaken me:

high people contact, particularly those who talk too much and have too many issues. Stupid people (I don’t suffer fools). Meetings, administration, management (as opposed to leadership), finances, being over-busy, dealing with conflict (I’m good at it, but it does weaken me), dealing with emotional people, too many people all in the one place (I hate crowds).Ā  Bureaucracy, maintaining the status quo.

Here are the things that strengthen me:

Creativity, research, reading, ideas, thinking, being alone, space, freedom, autonomy, strategy, leadership, close friends, the outdoors, mass communication, innovation, study.

So there you have it. Sometime I’ll tell you how I arrived at understanding the things that weaken and the things that make me stronger.