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When Your Intimacy Mechanism Is Fractured
By H. Robert Rhoden
Looking across the restaurant table into the hurting eyes of one of my best minister friends whose spouse had recently committed suicide, I realized that every counseling skill I knew was going to be challenged. Although we had not seen each other for a couple of years, the normal greetings were obviously sterile. When I asked how he was coping with things he said, “Not very well.” He elaborated with short expressions like, “I don’t want to get up and face the day. I don’t feel like praying. I wonder if I will ever feel like preaching or teaching again. I’m supposed to write a book this year, but my thought patterns are confused and I have no creativity.”
I responded by suggesting he shouldn’t expect too much of himself, His intimacy mechanism was fractured. It is necessary to put a cast around our emotions for a time of healing in the same way we put a cast on a broken bone.
No one expects a person with a broken arm or leg to have normal use of it. When the cast is removed, therapy is often provided to enable full recovery of the limb.
When our intimacy mechanism is fractured, however, we expect to keep on performing. This is especially true in the ministry. We are told to rise above it.
The impact of a grief experience, a long stressful church problem, a family crisis, or the traditional burnout may fracture our intimacy mechanism.
The symptoms may include but may not be limited to the following: 1. Prayer seems hollow. 2. Singing is a chore. 3. Bible reading lacks meaning. 4. Preaching creates more stress. 5. The ministry is mere performance.
The question that emerges is how do we minister with a cast on our emotions? The 23rd Psalm speaks of our Shepherd making us lie down in green pastures, leading us beside quiet waters, and restoring our souls. Moffatt translates restoring our souls, “He revives life in me.”
We can facilitate this reviving process by implementing some basic ministry principles.
Need versus anointing
We are faced with the tyranny of the urgent, and needs are before us 24 hours a day. We believe that we cannot stop ministering because of the need. As a result, we push ourselves beyond the level of our anointing. Jesus did not respond to every need. He ministered out of a sense of anointing rather than being merely controlled by the need. At the pool of Bethesda in John 5 we know there was more than one person who needed healing, but Jesus healed only one. People were always calling for Him to come to minister to the crowds, but He often reminded His disciples that the need would always be there. We read how God “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). Jesus ministered from an anointing, not merely because there was a need.
Doing the natural so God can do the supernatural
It is easy to try to bring about a spiritual result because we see that as the ultimate answer. God requires that we do the natural so that He can do the supernatural. Before Jesus fed the 5,000, He accepted the little boy’s lunch. When the lunch (natural) was brought to Jesus, He did the supernatural (multiplied it). Setting aside some time is a natural thing. It may be that our problem is so severe that we have to go beyond our internal resources and self-help and seek help from someone with trained counseling skills. That may be a natural thing that will open up the way for our merciful God to heal us supernaturally.
Focusing on “what” questions rather than “why” questions
Paul asked, “What, then, shall we say in response to this?” (Romans 8:31). (Note it is a “what” question, not a “why” question.) In verse 37 he proclaims, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” When we don’t have answers to our “why” questions, we focus on “what” questions. What can we do? There is readily an answer for “what” questions. We can know that God is with us in the midst of the most severe trial. We can know that Jesus is at the right hand of God interceding for us and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
Letting go of the past
Paul wrote the Philippians, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (3:13). I must learn to focus on the possibilities of the future rather than to be paralyzed by the past.
In our Fellowship, we do not have a formal arrangement for ministers to have a sabbatical after 7 to 10 years of continuous ministry. Having served for 22 years as a pastor of the same church, I am very aware of the need for a short sabbatical even if longer ones are not feasible.
After 18 years in the same church, I took all the Wednesday nights off for the summer. It was such a restoring experience that I repeated it each summer for the next 3 years. Several times during the year I got away for a couple of days in addition to the regular day off each week and the standard vacation time. Our church had the kind of activities and staff that also freed me from speaking Sunday evenings twice a month.
You may be in a ministry situation that is not conducive to these suggestions. You should, however, talk with your church board and district superintendent about arrangements that could help you to have a time of restoration.
One of my goals as a district superintendent was to explore ways for our pastors who have served 7 to 10 years to take a short sabbatical beyond the usual vacation and holidays (2 to 4 weeks). Perhaps we can arrange for one of our retired ministers to speak at the church and can recommend a place beside the quiet waters and green pastures where the pastor can find restoration.
My minister friend did find his way to restoration. If you have been crippled and tried to keep on performing, remember that the shepherd wants to take you along a path that leads to healing.
H. Robert Rhoden, D.Min., is former district superintendent of the Potomac District.