Reflections on a clear Sunday morning

Well it has been almost a year since I have congested the internet with my rambling, so I thought it was about time.

I’m sitting in Steeltown Coffee and Tea in Pittsburg.

At 8am.

On a Sunday.

The second Sunday off that I have had in a row, with six more to follow.

If you didn’t know, I’m on a Ministry Renewal Sabbath, an eight week break from working at Edgewater to focus on rest and renewal while building in healthy patterns of self-care and boundaries. Why? I burned out. Big time. Over the course of 15+ years in ministry I never learned to care for myself, with the result that when things got tough, I got squashed. But I was too focused on surviving to notice. I just thought it was life being difficult. And to be fair, with 2 jobs, graduate school, 2 young and needy boys, and a wife who works, life is difficult. But this was different. Through many conversations with many wise, qualified individuals, I was “diagnosed” with moderate to severe ministry burnout, and it was recommended I take 4-8 weeks off to reset my heart, life, and rhythm of work. I presented this to the leadership team at Edgewater, not expecting much, since it is a big thing to ask! They unanimously voted for the max 8 weeks, including Easter so it wouldn’t be a stressor to me.

8 weeks.

Let me put that in perspective. Previous to this break, the longest break I have had from serving at a church (paid or volunteer) has been 2 weeks, and that only once in nearly 20 years. Usually it’s a week here, a weekend there, and 10 minutes in the shower. If I’m lucky.

But now I’m 2 weeks in, and I’m learning something.

Having space in one’s schedule is dangerous, but in a good way.

Last week something in me snapped, and after a very unpleasant and tense afternoon with my boys I headed for the hills (literally, to Black Diamond Mines, a beautiful regional park in Pittsburg) for a few hours to reflect on what happened.

Black Diamond
This is in Pittsburg?

Turns out, sludge from the bottom of my heart and soul, kept down by the fact that I was always running, decided to loosen. With enough space in my life for reflection, it started bubbling up. Slowly at first, but then overwhelming my mind and heart as I literally felt myself reach the end of my rope. What was bubbling up?

 

Hopelessness.

Insignificance.

Frustration.

Disappointment.

Nasty stuff. Stuff I haven’t really dealt with, since I was always head down moving forward. I’m an optimist by nature, although also a cynic. It’s a weird paradox that usually cancels out resulting in neutral sense of reality.

Last week? Optimism died for a few days.

It was gross.

And I’m left to pick up the pieces of my brain as I walked back down the hill into my car, with a quick stop for sushi on my way back to family. How does one reenter life after such an encounter?

No really, I’m asking…

I needed to share with my wife, who received it as well as anyone could, and then I somehow felt worse for bringing her into my mess. I won’t go into all the details, because you don’t deserve to be crapped on today.

One thing that we agreed is that this stuff obviously needed to come out, as it no doubt was feeding into my burnout subterraneously. And if it is to be dealt with, it requires space to deal with it. And while I am off from church work, I do still have another mentally demanding job, school, 2 young kids, and a wife who works, so space is hard to come by, even when the 20 hours a week of ministry is removed. Part of the goal of these 8 weeks is to build in healthy rhythms and habits in a less time-demanding environment so that when normal life resumes they are there. My amazing wife insisted that the hours I would be working for the church I take to work on this aspect of my life. She really is the greatest gift I have ever received.

So here I sit in Steeltown, 2 weeks in to my break, feeling in someways better and in many ways worse than when I started.

But I am somehow more whole for being broken. It’s a part of my story, and ignoring or denying it will only fracture my Self further.

Space has opened my eyes to the mess that I am, which I kinda knew but hadn’t faced head on. And like anything, unless a problem is dealt with in full, it pokes its head out from time to time to take cheap shots at your sensitive parts.

Why tell you all this?

One, please pray for me and my family, if you’re so inclined. This is hard, and not at all what I thought 8 weeks off from ministry would look like. But it is important that I not stuff it and let it fester.

Two, to ask, do you have space enough to recognize your brokenness? If you don’t you may want to before something snaps. It could be an afternoon walk, an hour of silence, coffee with a friend, or whatever helps you connect with yourself. It’s worth it. You’re worth it.

I can’t remember the last time I felt hopeless, and I hope I never have occasion to feel that again. That kind of darkness is no one’s friend, no matter what Simon and Garfunkel say. If you feel that way, please talk to someone about it. Talk to me if you want. I’m here. And if you’re reading this, chances are I care about you deeply.

Today I’m better, but still shaken.

The optimism has begun to return, and I’m feeling hopeful that this may be the reason for this time. So much for carefree rest and funtimes.

I do get to golf today, which is nice.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on a clear Sunday morning

  1. So happy you recognized your busyness, & then had the courage to do something about it! Ministry is a hard road! Sometimes we can care too much, & it hurts us in the end! Maybe this is what you are learning. I am anxious to know how you feel after your 8wk. sabbatical from ministry work. Bless you Peter Gothold!

  2. Hi Peter,
    Good to read your reflections. As a wise mentor said to me “ Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy”.
    We are all on a journey and some deal with the sludge and others don’t. Dealing with it beings is to a wholeness that reaches beyond our understanding.
    The Peace of Christ be with you.
    Cecilia

  3. Hey Pete,
    Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. It is a scary thing to discover what’s been in you this whole time, especially when it comes out on the ones your love the most. I am sorry it took so long to take that break— that’s a lot of sludge to deal with. I hope you discover a new grace from God in the muck. I guess that’s why Psalm 18’s written the way it was. Don’t give up, don’t distract yourself from it. Ask Parker Palmer said in his book _Let Your Life Speak_ “the only way out is through.” Praying for you all.

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