It was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I gathered a room full of people who I had led for two years, people I felt probably looked up to me, people who trusted me and thought of me as someone to share their struggles with – and now I was about to share my struggle with them. What would it cost me? Their trust? Their friendship? Their respect? My job? After all, this same issue had cost me most, if not all those things before, but perhaps I should back up a little bit.
After Emily’s parents passed away, I did my best to help. Visits to the funeral home, wakes, funerals, houses to sell, meetings with lawyers – it was A LOT – and my wife was a rockstar. Unfortunately, I lasted about three months before my biology began to fail me in ways I had never experienced before. I would awake each morning at 6:17AM (I think… it was the same every morning and it was EARLY) to the kind of anxiety that prohibited me from sitting still. It felt like my skin was crawling and my legs couldn’t stop moving. My chest was tight, and my stomach in knots. I would go for LONG bike rides, go full days without eating, and sitting still became a thing of the past.
To make matters worse, it was like my brain belonged to someone else. My thoughts were not my own. The clinical term is “a foreshortened sense of future” – but the raw version is “you always feel like you’re about to die.” Every conversation, every life occasion turned into an opportunity to consider and dwell on my own mortality, and how my time with those that I loved, and spent doing things I believed in and cared about, would soon be coming to an end. I lived in what felt like a hostage state – unable to focus, concentrate, heck I couldn’t even redirect my own thoughts. They kept coming, and I, it seemed, was powerless to stop them.
For close to two years this continued, trips to the doctor ensued, conversations with friends and co-workers were had, and hard times in a marriage became common place. It was a hard time, I was in a dark place, and life as I had known and imagined it, was falling apart around me.
I had an amazing job at the time. Speaking to over 500 youth each Wednesday night, and leading a ministry of over 150 volunteers – and despite my best efforts to keep up, my co-workers could see that I was struggling – hard. Eventually, as is prone to happen (and in many ways understandable in large organizations), my church felt it was best to move on, to someone who had less baggage and was able to more completely devote themselves to the job at hand. While I understood their position, If I am being honest, it felt like they gave up on me. Like they left me for the wolves. It was kind of like being told, we’ve done all that we can do for you, and now, you’ll have to face this on your own – without the distraction or financial compensation – of the job you’ve invested the last 4 years of your life into. It hurt. I lost friends. I lost confidence. I lost some faith. Most of all, I felt lost.
Eventually, through hard work, therapy, medication, marriage counseling and much more, life came back together, I regained my rhythm, and a new normal occurred. Masters degrees were earned, kids were had, houses were bought. Life was “good” as they say.
Fast forward 6 years or so, and I was facing another bout of life-altering anxiety. Same feelings, same problems, same thoughts. Now, I was leading a church, a youth program, and my own children, who could not possibly understand. And I was in another hole, feeling like I’d never climb out, and I was going to lose it all again.
And here is where we started, with the scariness. I was about to walk into a room filled with volunteers, who had only known me as the goofy, happy, high functioning and driven pastor they had met a few years ago, and explain to them, that behind it all, I was a dark, disgusting and devastated mess. I have always been a sharer – probably to a fault – but now I wasn’t so sure. What would they think? How would they respond? What would the outcome be? I didn’t know, but I knew I couldn’t “fake it” anymore, and so, I shared. I blubbered actually. Cried like my three year old daughter when we tell her it’s time for bed. I admitted my weakness, my shame, my needs, and my shortcomings – and waited for the other proverbial shoe to drop.
I need only tell you now, that most of the people in the room that night, are some of my very closest friends. Some of them work at our church. Most of them attend. They call me pastor, boss, and youth leader – but more importantly – they call me Aaron, a friend. They walked with me EVERY STEP of the way through my “recovery” this time. They supported my wife, and helped with our kids. That night, they put their hands on me and prayed for me, in ways I didn’t think they even could. They suffered WITH me, and in the years since, have allowed me to suffer with THEM as well. They have become integral part of my life – and I love them.
Here’s the point of this entire jumbled mess of a post. Sometimes people suck. I know it’s harsh, but it’s also true. But many, MANY times, people are the way God chooses to get us through. He uses them, He guides them, He works through them. Community can be Christ-like – if only we give them the chance. If I hadn’t chosen to face my fear that night and let those people in on what was going on in my world – our lives would be different, our church would be different, and I would have suffered alone. It’s like a smart guy once said in a letter he wrote to some new Christian friends in the mystical land of Galatia;
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 ESV)
Bottom line – be like Jesus and bear someone else’s burden. Or let someone be Jesus to you, and hand off part of whatever it is that you’re carrying. I know it’s scary – maybe the scariest thing you’ve ever done – but believe me, when we get it right it’s ABSOLUTELY worth it, and works like nothing else can. Find your room full of people – and fight the fight of life the best way you know how – the way God intended us to – together.