“Resting in God”

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).* 

September 2009…I had been a solo pastor for 5 years. God’s call upon my heart was still strong, but I was beginning to feel the strain of parish life. That which gave me joy in ministry was requiring greater and greater effort, and loathing was percolating for the things about which I was not passionate and yet were expected of me. Recognizing signs of depression, I increased the frequency of sessions with Don, my counselor. By January 2010 I had digressed into full-blown burn out, and Don was appealing to Consistory (church governing board) on my behalf for an emergency sabbatical. It was approved, and I began in February.

My sabbatical served as a bon voyage for the winding journey that continues presently. (I have come to call it my transformational journey, for I have been significantly changed through it.) As I embarked, I was desperate for clarity. I believed that God was stirring, but the cacophony in my soul was not only raucous but unsettling. I needed to hear God. I needed to find God, and stay and rest a while. I needed to find myself, and I needed healing, healing that only time, spiritual discipline and releasing all to God could provide. To this end, Eric and I were gifted with a 2 week counseling intensive at Quiet Waters, a pastoral restoration ministry in Denver.

On day one Eric and I were already in the counseling room when our therapist arrived.  After exchanging pleasantries, she gently got right to work on me, even before we all settled into our seats.“You’re one hurt puppy,” she said pointedly yet compassionately. I nodded, tears streaming down my face.Eric chuckled and put his arm around me. “Well, that didn’t take long!”  I smiled at him, thankful for his embrace, and wiped my face as I spoke to no one in particular, I don’t even know why I’m crying.  “I do,” retorted our therapist.  “You’re grieving.”  Confusion shadowed my mind and contorted my face.  I am? The concept in itself didn’t surprise me, considering all that had been going on for about a year or so at church.Logically speaking, I grasped the high probability that I was indeed grieving.  But what, specifically?  I honestly didn’t know, and the fact that I didn’t was emblematic.  Discovering the locus of my grief would be the foundational task of my intensive.  The cause, I was soon to learn, was not of my doing.  It was my parental wounds and, as it follows, my ensuing, life-long dysfunctional thinking and behavior patterns that manifested from these wounds.

While I’m still learning about myself and working with God for healing, I am already living life anew. Hallelujah! What follows is what has helped me along my way in no particular order.

Grieve…I had long survived life by stuffing my feelings and working not to acknowledge them. Consequently, the long-suppressed emotions and unhealthy habits were taking their toll. I wished that I could skip over the pain and go straight to acceptance, but no dice. The only way to healing our parental wounds is through the muck. This requires facing your history (often allowing for repressed or suppressed painful memories to resurface), finally permitting yourself to feel and getting all of that rage out in order to thrive while living.

Enlist support and help…As I’ve said, we are most often unaware of our parental wounds and how we function unhealthily out of them. You’ll not only need a professional counselor to guide you and  help you see yourself, but a strong network of family and friends who will support and listen to you each step of your way. A spiritual director would also be a great addition to your team.

Educate yourselfIn addition to gaining self-understanding through counseling, reading books by reputable authors can add to your enlightenment and healing. Healing The Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by Charles Whitfield, Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody and The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller are each well respected and very helpful.

Invite God to fill your parental voids… As I traversed through the grief process, finally experiencing the thick sludge of emotions buried within me, I turned to God more and more as Parent. Whenever I uncovered dearth in my upbringing, I knew that God, the perfect Parent lacked not. Scripture is rich with visual and emotive language, presenting God as both Father and Mother. For me, the vision of the accepting and loving father to the prodigal child has been a Fatherly rock; and the image of Jesus as a nurturing and protecting mother hen, longing to gather Jerusalem’s wayward children under her wings has been a Motherly embrace.

Keep a journal…Writing down my memories, however painful, as been immensely healing for me. Not only does journaling provide an outlet, but it allows me to reread what I’ve written along the way and see what God has been doing and how far I’ve come. If journaling doesn’t work for you, figure out what does and go with it.

Give yourself time…Just as our parental wounds were not created overnight, healing from them will not occur overnight, especially when we consider how long we’ve unknowingly carried them with us. It is imperative to give yourself all of the time and space you need to grieve, process and ultimately forgive. Those surrounding you may think that you’ve been “journeying” long enough. Ignore them and listen to the voice of God within you.

I share with deep gratitude to God, sincere prayer that God will be glorified through my offering and humble hope that this may serve somehow to help you, my sibling pilgrims on this sojourn called faith. I have told you all this so that you may have peace… Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because Jesus has overcome the world (cf. John 16:33, NLT)+.

*Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

+New Living Translation, NLT, and the New Living Translation logo are registered trademarks of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.