I was probably about ten years old the day I walked around the side of my grandma and grandpa’s house with my twin brother. We often played around the farm and nothing was off limits even when it was off limits. I heard a faint meow seemingly coming from under their porch. Very faint, almost indistinguishable. We looked around as thoroughly as we could but simply couldn’t find a kitten.
The meow continued for several minutes with us unable to zero in on where it was coming from. Without thinking I randomly looked down a drain tile sticking out of the ground next to the house usually holding a down spout from the eves.
In the darkness of that pipe I saw what I thought was a tail, the tail of a kitten. I cupped my hands over the pipe to block out the direct sunlight so that I could get a better look. Sure enough, it was a kitten’s tail. I put my ear down to the opening of the tile to gain confirmation that it was indeed a kitten. I could hear it distinctly now…It was a kitten, face down in the drain.
My other brother came around the corner about that time and between the three of us, we worked to get the little feline out. We thought about using a stick or maybe going to the barn and getting one of grandpa’s shovels but dismissed those ideas. We probably worked at it for twenty minutes or so, each of us trying to reach the distressed kitten with no success.
I can remember thinking I would try one last time and reaching into the tile, I felt the kitten’s tail brush my hand. I reached down and grabbed her tail and pulled her out.
She looked like she’d been in there for a while. Wet and thin, her fur was matted and she stumbled around shakily when I put her on the ground. We dried her off and got her some milk which she lapped up energetically.
We took care of her for several days but to be honest I don’t remember if she fully recovered or not. Living on a farm, we had lots of cats come and go. I would say there was always at least five cats around the barns at all times. But, the one thing I remember is that little kitten followed me everywhere for several days. It seemed like she thought I was her momma. She had a connection to me because I saved her life.
There was a time in my life when I felt like I was facedown in a drain pipe. No light in front of me and what little light there was I felt was behind me. I sort of gave up on my profession, my family and my relationship with God.
If you would have asked anyone how they thought I was doing they would have said, “I think he’s fine” but I was dead inside. I had just become a really good actor. I knew the things to say and do that would keep up the façade. My inner world was a mess. It became a five year struggle.
I don’t want to go into the details of it really, just take my word for it…it was a place of darkness and pain. I never got into any heavy sin like pornography or drugs or anything like that. It was a place of fear and discouragement. It was all inside. My inner world deteriorated and got worse and worse.
I quit reading my Bible. I hated going to the office and going to church. It had become a place of pain for me. I pretty much deserted my staff and stopped spending time with people. It was miserable. No one knew what I was going through. I preached to hundreds of people every week and no one knew. I led many things in the community and the church and kept it all undercover.
I was living in a place of darkness that is hard to explain. My inner life was dark and misplaced. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t know I was in a tunnel. It was just a broken place. An empty place.
Living a life of ministry is difficult to put into words. Your mindset is always ministry. You can’t clock out. You’re clocked in 24 hours a day. You don’t get any real emotional rest. That’s why burnout in the ministry is a very real thing.
Then there’s the rejection and loneliness. Most people don’t think of it this way, they just go to church and if they change churches it’s no big deal. But to a Pastor it is a rejection. It is something that you learn to live with but it eventually takes a toll. It’s like cracking your knuckles. If you do it once it has no effect but if you do it for 20 years it starts to effect your joints in a negative way. Or like a man putting his wallet in his back pocket and sitting on it. If you do that once or twice it has very little effect, but if you do it for 40 years in misaligns your hips and causes much pain.
That’s the way ministry is, it takes a toll. You feel like you’ve done something wrong constantly. You constantly deal with guilt and condemnation because you never pray enough or study enough. You never visit people enough. That force and other things is what drove me into the dark place.
How did I get out? I continued throughout that time with my small group. My small group was made up of 7 guys that met on Monday mornings at the coffee shop to study a book or a book of the Bible. We met for several years. I drew much strength from those guys. My mind continued to get renewed even through the darkest times.
My family connection is very important to me. I kept in close contact with my kids and grandkids. This might seem menial to you but family gives life. They helped me have a reason to move forward. I could go to their games and events and draw life from them.
I also maintained a consistency with my disciplines even though I very rarely “felt“ like it. I read my Bible and prayed pretty much every day. I didn’t spend a lot of time with it but I did maintain my connection with God.
There are a couple of people that I got together with and still do that knew my struggles and helped walk me through them. They continually prayed for me.
So…to sum up what I did to break out of darkness. I stayed connected to the people in my life that energized me. I still stayed connected to God, knowing that He wasn’t the problem but the answer. The scripture says, “I will be with him in times of trouble.” I know that this seems simplistic but, I’ve found that most truth is very simple to apply.
God is a delivering God. It might take some time, but He will deliver you. Stay connected to the solid things in your life. Don’t change directions just because you “feel” empty. Most of the time that is an indication to hold steady. Take it one day at a time and put one foot in front of the other. You will come out on the other side.