Last week I confessed my “off heart” revealed through an “off morning.” Since then, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the happenings of last Thursday morning were a gracious intervention of God. For they led me to take a closer look at an inner problem that if not dealt with may have led to future breakdown. Throughout the remainder of last week, I began to come to terms with just how stressed out I truly was. This was confirmed physically on Monday when I went to the chiropractor, and Dr. Wheeler could not even crack my back because I was, in his words, incredibly tight and tense.
I have a stress problem, and the scariest thing about it is that I didn’t even realize I was in the death grip of stress until my alarm clock malfunctioned and I locked myself out of the church.
How long have I been living like this? And why am I so stressed out?
Those are the questions I’ve been prayerfully pondering, and God has been gracious to begin to peel back the layers of my heart before I killed myself via a stress-induced heart attack.
Life is always full of stresses, and so too is gospel ministry. But being slavishly driven by stress is a different thing entirely. It is something that has arisen in my life in a slow and imperceptible way over the last couple of months as a result of at least four realities: Growing cold in private worship. At no point have I stopped devoting the early morning to the word and prayer, but over the past months my heart has progressively waned in its pursuit of and delight in God. My praying has been less fervent and intimate, and my Bible reading has been less meditative and worshipful. A dryness has crept in, and I believe that winter barrenness is at the root of my stress problem. I haven’t been casting my cares upon the Lord or been transformed through the renewing of my mind like I ought. Placing unrealistic expectations on myself. This has always been a problem for me (I like to imagine I am not bound by creaturely limitations), but I’ve come to see that recently I’ve been particularly susceptible to it. Due to the need to pump out another book, I’ve been attempting to devote an hour to writing in the early morning. But that has meant that I need to get to bed at an hour that is often unrealistically early, given my responsibilities as a husband and father. It has led me to rush the boys to bed and to feel hurried in my time with Tessa. Furthermore, due to the desire to devote more of Saturday to prayer for God’s blessing upon the Lord’s Day, I’ve been attempting to have my sermons written (at least rough drafts) by Friday. Some weeks this is possible, but most weeks it is entirely unrealistic, and it has led me to feel hurried and behind (when, in fact, I’m not). While having goals for what I desire to accomplish each day and week is helpful, I’m realizing I am often overly optimistic in what I believe I am able to accomplish, and then I pessimistically beat myself up when I fail to do it. I need realism! Living as if I am the capital-B builder of Cornerstone. When a family or individual leaves Cornerstone, I place the blame on myself. When a visitor does not return, I automatically assume it is due to my ministry. When a question is asked, I feel like I always must have the answer. When I have a blunder of a sermon (like last Sunday evening), I chastise myself as if it all depends upon my homiletical abilities. These things have always been a struggle, but I’ve failed to be vigilant in waring against them in recent months, operating as if I am the one who is holding our congregation together. I’ve written a book on humility and preached on many occasions about the dangers of a God-complex, but unbeknownst to me, I’ve been operating according to such an idolatrous self-perception all in the name of serving God. The weight of trying to be God is simply too much for a pip-squeak like me to handle. Growing lax in my relation to technology. This is the most minor of the four, but I still believe it is significant. I’ve allowed email and phone to become increasingly omnipresent, instead of keeping them confined to particular places at particular times. It is naive to think that these communication technologies don’t promote stress! So if you are wondering why I’m a bit more slow to respond to your messages this week, it is because I have largely unplugged as I am seeking to regain my sanity and figure out the rightful place of technology in life and ministry. Now perhaps you are wondering why I would share all of this with you. There are three reasons. First, I believe it is good for you to be reminded that your pastor is a frail, sinful, flesh-and-blood man. Second, I need your prayers as I continue to work through this. Third, I heard from a number of you that last week’s email was helpful because you were struggling in a similar way (in fact, it was surprising to me the number of people who made comments like this), and I hope my vulnerability this week will likewise help you along in your personal growth in grace.
At the end of the day, friends, the grand lesson we must be ever learning is that we are creatures who are entirely dependent upon God our Creator and Redeemer. I’m starting to see just how slow I am to learn this lesson of lessons. But God in Christ is so incredibly patient.
Yours in Christ,