I realized that I wanted to do something that involved people, and, because I was ‘spiritual’ and ‘curious’ I decided that the church was full of people and that I should get involved
I have a confession to make. I don’t trust people. I don’t know that I ever really trusted anyone. Before the last few months, I’m not even sure I knew what trust was.
I’ve spent most of my adult life (and even most of my adolescent and early adult years) mingling with people. I have always enjoyed people and getting to know them. They fascinate me, provide me with friendship, companionship, and fun. Groups of people are fun to be with, especially when they are doing things that I really enjoy doing. As a small child, I can remember organizing football games in the front yard of our house, each game further destroying the green grass that my father had worked so hard to cultivate. I was ecstatic when I could gather a crowd and orchestrate us ‘accomplishing’ something together. This translated into my adult life. I realized that I wanted to do something that involved people, and, because I was ‘spiritual’ and ‘curious’ I decided that the church was full of people and that I should get involved there. I could ‘help’ people, do God’s work, and orchestrate groups of people that would fulfill a mission. I started where most green pastors right out of bible college start. In Youth Ministry.
It was the summer of 2009 when I decided that our youth ministry needed to grow. I was going to single handedly arm this group with the ‘weapons’ and ‘tools’ to simply go out and ‘win people to Jesus.’ I thought about this activity as one might think about winning a basketball game or overtaking the enemy in a war. It worked. We gathered teenager after teenager and our little group grew. It grew a little at first, and then, to my dismay, we outgrew the room we were in. In those moments, my pride and ego was so far through the roof that every decision that I made was about growth. It was about my own self worth, my own worth to the church, and about making some name for myself. No one told me at that point that Youth Pastors have a hard time making a name for themselves. I did it all under the guise of spirituality and evangelism. Not all of it was ‘fake’ however. I truly did believe that what I was organizing impacted families and teenagers. I believed that I would somehow create a new way to do youth ministry and that all would be solved in the suburbs of Wichita, KS. To this day, I have great relationships with the kids and families that were a part of those early youth ministry days. The best thing that has happened is that those students became adults, and figured out faith for themselves. There was a ‘crisis of faith moment’ that some of them describe and they found God (or didn’t depending on the student). I’m sure some of them look back and see youth group as a great time to get together, hear some funny stories, open the bible, eat and play games. But as I look back on those times, I don’t know that I was focused on truly helping as much as I was focused on orchestrating some sort of action that the group could take. In the end, I could somehow tell myself that I deserved the destructive pattern of selfishness that I would participate in.
While I was doing youth ministry, I somehow got connected with a publishing agency in Kansas City who were writing a curriculum that would go out to Youth Pastors far and wide. And I was invited to do some writing and then some speaking and filming. This was probably at the height of my ‘youth ministry arrogance.’ I remember getting done with the video shoot, the writing, and the publishing part of the curriculum and thinking to myself that I had arrived as a youth pastor and that I would be doing this for the rest of my life. So, I did what any normal 20 something idiot youth pastor does. I started writing a book. I thought, “I know so much and have so much to offer the youth ministry world. I have the right philosophy, theology, education, and experience. And now, others will be able to somehow learn from me.” I got about 4 chapters into the book and was stopped in my tracks. I encountered significant pain, probably the most pain in ministry up to that point that I had absorbed, and it cut my ‘brilliant’ book writing short. Why was I even doing what I did, as a vocation? Did it even matter?
It was one of the most discouraging events that has happened in my life. I won’t go into detail, here in the blog, but have written extensively about the situation in the book I am currently working through (By the way, any brilliance in the book that I am writing has NOTHING to do with me, and everything to do with the pain that my own poor selfishly immorale choices caused). It rocked me. For months, I didn’t move forward. I went through the motions. I collected a church paycheck. I wasn’t sure how I could do youth ministry, if this is how things ended when I invested my life into someone. And it was through that experience that I recognized my inclination to introversion, and then, isolation.
People far smarter than me have done extensive writing about the introvert phenomena. They have determined that it is not that introverts ‘hate everyone’ or ‘cannot be around people.’ It’s simply that introverts become drained when with people for periods of time and are re energized when alone. The opposite is true of extroverts. For those of you who are either (which is all of us, exactly), you know exactly what I am describing to be true. I had not really focused on refueling up to the point of my major disappointment. I took a trip to counseling and the gentlemen that I met with told me that I should probably take some time to really focus on me. I had no idea what that even meant. He told me that I needed a hobby. What? What was a hobby? Work was a hobby. Family was a hobby. I had no hobby. So, I delved into my introversion, and instead of simply refueling by myself for periods of time, I began the destructive pattern of isolation. I didn’t let people in, didn’t invite people to be a part of my life, and rarely offered much of any substance when discussing life on life’s terms with folks from church. I have recently learned that the behavioral mechanism that I was exhibiting is actually a protective vice that people who have been wounded at war often exhibit physically. If someone has their leg mangled in a battle, they will favor that leg and protect it, even when simply playing with their kids at home. Emotionally, I protected my heart, my mind, my behavior, and my patterns. I attempted to be perfect for people, and not give too much that they would know about me, or find out that I wasn’t a perfect pastor.
Isolation is a terrible place. The depths of being alone only grow and become far worse than the day before, and before long, isolation takes over the heart. Introverted and isolated, I began to ‘self care’ which was actually selfish obsession. I wanted me to be happy and that is what mattered. The destructive pattern of Isolation overtook me, and I forgot to dream. I forgot how. I forgot about the future, and even the present and instead, lived solely in the past, in the mistakes I had made, but more importantly all that I had accomplished. It was my way of somehow ‘deserving’ something.
I’m still an introvert today. I’ll never stop being an introvert. But I’ve learned, in a severe and profound way, that I need to let folks in on the emotion I feel. I need to speak out when someone is doing something that bothers me, and I need to be honest and forthright with every answer I give. There is no plan to go back to isolation. There is no plan to return to the hell that is despair and loneliness. Sure, I have lonely moments, as anyone does. But the overwhelming nature of isolation will not, should not, overtake me again. I will share what is happening in my head and heart, with others that I am learning to trust, maybe for the first time ever.