The first time was when our new church was in the middle of its second building project in five years and the economic downturn hit. I was making preparations to quit the ministry, so I spent a week at a place called The Blessing Ranch in Colorado (think intensive outpatient care for pastors) to explore my options with Dr. John Walker. Our church couldn’t afford the fee for me to go, so a dear ministry friend, Tim Harlow, offered to pay my way. I tell people that Dr. John Walker and Tim Harlow saved my ministry.
My second time sitting before a counselor was when I begin a sabbatical here at CCV. At our church we offer our pastoral staff a one-month sabbatical after seven years of full-time service. We consider it an investment in their future ministry. In addition, we require them to go see a licensed counselor for a check up. It was during that season that I saw Dr. Virgina Cadle at Life Counseling. I tell people that if Dr. John Walker and Tim Harlow saved my ministry, Dr. Cadle saved my life. Not “life” in the sense that I was going to commit suicide, but in the sense that I had finally realized the unhealthy ways I was viewing myself, my life, and the God I was serving.
The Three Questions
I was asked three questions during my time in therapy that profoundly impacted me. I thought I would share them with you.
1. Why Are You Here?
Both counselors began our time together with this seemingly innocuous question. Each time I responded, “I have no idea.”
What lies beneath the surface of that profound question is a therapist’s attempt to get us to begin to process the brokenness that we’ve been carrying that we no longer feel we can shoulder. Another way of asking it would be, “What deep wound or profound loss are you no longer able to carry on your own?”
This question inevitably led to the second.
2. What is your core belief about the way the world works?
There’s this group I’ve been listening to a lot lately called Muse. They sing a song called “Madness” that begins,
I, I can’t get these memories out of my mind,
And some kind of madness has started to evolve.
I’m not a counselor, but I’m pretty sure this is what eventually sends people to therapy.
As Dr. Cadle told me, early on we develop a core truth about how the world works, and it is usually wrong. In the vast majority of instances these core beliefs have no basis in (a) the truth of God’s word and/or (b) reality itself.
These truths guide us to adopt unhealthy and debilitating thoughts and behaviors in response. One of the goals of therapy is to penetrate beneath our thoughts and behaviors to expose the core truth that drives us, and to weigh whether or not it has any basis in God’s word. It’s usually the madness of the thoughts and behaviors that have evolved in response to that core truth that drives us to a counselor for help.
Whenever I’m coaching a Senior Pastor that is persistently unhappy, I ask them to identify their core truth.
When Dr. Cadle asked me what my core truth was I answered without hesitation: “We are all utterly and completely alone.”
That took five sessions to unpack. ☺
That second question eventually led to the third.
3. DON’T YOU THINK YOU ARE BEING IRRATIONAL?
I typed that in ALL CAPS because both Dr. Walker and Dr. Cadle yelled that question at me in utter frustration.
The best way I can describe it is they had were bringing in the dynamite to blow up years of faulty thinking about God and myself.
I told them that I felt God was using me as a workhorse to get stuff done in the kingdom, and that he really didn’t like me, but was simply putting up with me, and that his people didn’t give a crap about me personally either, only the services I provided them as a pastor.
I told them that I thought leading and preaching was an awful lot like what Søren Kierkegaard thought a poet’s life was like:
What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music…. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful. – Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life
Then I shared that the worst part about this is that God really didn’t a crap either.
It was at that moment they both slammed their notebooks on their desks and told me I was being irrational.
It was in those situations that it finally dawned on me that my core truth about the way I thought the world worked had truly incarnated itself in my thoughts and behaviors.
Before that I had no clue.
Not a clue.
What have you learned about yourself and the way it affects your ministry?