Since returning to my faith many years ago, I have to fight the same recurring problem – I desperately want to see the destination of any particular leg of my journey with God. A dear friend, Ginny, used a very simple exercise to try to teach me that there is a reason that God does not reveal the ultimate goal – that we will lose sight of the joy to be found along the way.
On a night with no moon, she led me out to a spot on the farm she and her husband owned. The grass was tall in this particular spot. She gave me a flashlight and told me my destination was the barn about 100 feet away. “Shine the light on the barn,” she said, “and walk towards it.” I did and within 10 feet I tripped over something. I picked myself up and started again, this time getting about 6 feet. Then she called me back and said, “Okay! You know the general direction, go there but shine the light on the ground in front of you so you can see the next step you will take.” I, of course, made it to the barn safely and vertically. “Keep your eye on the next step, and let God guide you to the destination,” she said as she wisely ended the conversation.
My problem is that, right now, I can see the next step and it’s dark and uninviting – in fact, it’s downright scary.
I knew in early March that, for all intents and purposes, my ministry at the current church was over. Being a tiny church on the verge of closing, they had committed to using their resources to building a congregation that would replace them – to give away their church and assets to a community they no longer knew. The commitment, however, never quite seemed to be there and, after 18 months, the leadership revealed that they had neither the energy nor the will to continue. A meeting revealed they wanted to close down.
Since November, I had been fighting a profound depression that no amount of anti-depressives would touch – we had quadrupled the dosage, but to no avail. Gradually, I became minimally functional – adequate, but just barely – and I was able to perform the essential functions of ministry that required no imagination, initiative or energy. Sunday morning became a chore that exhausted me, as did pastoral care situations. In January, the reason for my lack of response to meds was revealed – I was diagnosed as Bipolar II. (See here for an explanation of BPII) Then started the roller-coaster ride through experimentations to find the right cocktail of meds – an effort still underway.
I continued to function at a minimal level until the meeting in March. At that time, I guess I just stopped fighting – mentally and emotionally I collapsed. I couldn’t even manage to do Sunday morning – could not muster enough self-control to manage my emotions long enough to last an hour. I was, and still am, a train wreck. We are still changing meds in search of the right combination, but I have been told that could take anywhere from months to never. There is no guarantee I will be able to function “normally” again. This was a turning point in my mental health as well as life and ministry generally.
I experience long periods during which I am unable to concentrate, unable to face a live person without crippling fear and anxiety, unable to read or write, unable to control my tears, and even unable to summon the initiative to do simple tasks that I know would make me feel better. These are punctuated with periods – sometimes cruelly brief – during which I have energy, imagination, creativity and passion for writing, fixing, woodworking and reading. While I don’t have times that I am out of touch with reality, which is one defining trait of BPI but not BPII, I almost wish I did. I am constantly aware of the fog that shrouds my mind – it is inescapable.
Ordinarily, when a church negates a call because of either financial issues or, as in the case of this church, lack of will to continue, a six-month severance is given. This is because ministers are not eligible for unemployment benefits. In my case, the “severance” is wrapped up in assistance while I apply for disability coverage throught he denomination. If I do not follow that course of action, I will be without support. As a result of filing disability, the prospects for again functioning as a minister are very remote, even if I can find a cocktail of meds that afford me a “normal” life. While this eventuality is not really involuntary, I feel nonetheless like it has been forced upon me.
This is the next step upon which I am shining the flashlight – for me, it is dark and forboding. I don’t have the courage to even be tempted to lift the light to look further than this next step. But I also find the strength lacking when I consider actually taking the step. I am afraid that the ground in front of me is not solid and that it will envelope me in something from which I will never escape. I have procrastinated as long as I can, so I did make the phone call that begins the process, but unwillingly.
My problem is that I cannot see life beyond this step. I cannot conceive of what that life will look like going forward. I am adrift in a sea with which I am unfamiliar and have no charts to guide me – except God, and I am having trouble listening right now. I am afraid and need your prayers.