Friday, July 31, 2009
Then my brain got warmed up, and the world felt heavy and dark again. It’s weird because I know there are little lights shining all around me. So many people are praying for us and encouraging me. My son is obviously thinking of awesome things about God. Something that ought to make me ecstatic: today I saw the senior pastor and felt warm and kind toward him as we nodded and said good morning to each other.
But all those lights look tiny and far off, and the darkness seems very near. I feel like I should do something about it, but nothing I do seems to make it better. I suppose this is forced dependence on God.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Depression seems to be like this for me. I fall into a pit where it is dark, and I am on my own, and it’s not clear how I can get out. Then, later I am out of the pit. I don’t know how it happens. It’s like God airlifts me out after a while.
I’m busy down here. It looks like I’m doing almost nothing, but in my head and heart I am wearing myself out. I’m trying to stay away from unhelpful paths of thought. I’m arguing with my own feelings of helplessness or ineffectiveness. There are brief episodes during which I discuss with myself why not being could be preferable to being. I am never at risk of ending my life, but it is terrifying and exhausting to talk myself into wanting to be here. The pro/con list looks sort of like this:
Pro: decades ahead with my husband, three sweet kids who love and need me, a dozen or so other family and friends whom I love, piles and piles of books I still want to read, interesting people I have yet to meet, the runner I am not but still plan to be someday.
Con: my heart hurts.
Logically, the pro list wins by a landslide. But I have a sometimes-constant feeling like an aggravated cat is clawing my heart. The persistence of it can overwhelm logic, especially at night. I’m not sure why it’s worse at night, but it definitely is. In the morning it becomes like background noise and periodically other things can drown it out.
Someone told me that “sadness is a relentless foe.” I depend on the assurance that God is even more relentless.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
"We show love to our enemies by praying for them (Matthew 5:43-48). It seems that God gives us our enemies for just this purpose; He allows them to attack us so that He can use us to pray for them and so secure His blessing for them. When we do that, we most clearly resemble our heavenly Father and copy His dear Son." (Kleinig, 207-208)
"You have heard that is was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)
Monday, July 27, 2009
That has generated more pleasant conversations in a few days than I’ve had all summer. At least five people have thanked me for the postcard and told me how nice it is to get a pat on the back.
God uses funny little things to build me up. I might go buy another stack of postcards and stamps and make this my new friend-making strategy!
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Sunday mornings are a little stressful for me. There’s run-of-the-mill pastor’s wife stress: single parenting kids who need to be clean and neatly dressed and sort of well-behaved early enough to get to worship and the possibility of an unmanned nursery. Under normal circumstances, I can talk myself through these. But there is also a minefield of tiny bombs that could explode in my heart if I get too close.
- An usher who advised my husband to resign.
- A communion assistant who threatened to leave the church and take several families with him because of my husband.
- The congregation president. Anywhere.
- Listening to the sermon with a heart open to God. Separating the content of the senior pastor’s sermons from his actions is a discipline I have not mastered.
- The senior pastor’s wife, who has vented aggressively at both my husband and me, and now pointedly avoids speaking to either of us.
I get that I am called to pray for all these folks, and to nurture a forgiving attitude toward them. I’m trying not to harbor ill-will towards them. But I’m also sensible enough to know that these people are not safe for me.
Fear usually motivates me to lay low and avoid hanging around after the service. That’s a counter-productive strategy, since I also miss out on nurturing new friendships that would be supportive and encouraging.
Today land mine #1 exploded: no nursery volunteer. I took all three kids to the service and made it through about 20 minutes. I came home feeling discouraged, like I was defeated by a challenge that I should be able to handle. I am torn between feeling like this is an unreasonably stressful situation and unhappy Sunday mornings are unavoidable, and feeling like I am not fighting hard enough to find a happy path.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Now I see that was an early indication that my emotional resources were being depleted. After my husband took medical leave, and I spent two weeks hunkered down alone at home with the kids, crying, I have not yet gotten back to “normal”.
A couple of months into his leave, I realized I was an open faucet of caretaking energy. I’d been caring for the children and making crazy efforts to rescue my husband from his steady descent. In the process, I’d pretty well cut myself off from anyone who would pour energy into me.
In the last few months, I’ve learned that limited emotional energy is a standard-issue symptom of depression. I suspect this may be causing confusion among some of the leaders in our congregation. My husband is animated and energetic at work, and certainly on Sunday mornings. His sermons are as creative and thoughtful as ever. They can’t *see* his depression. I wonder if they feel like his medical leave was a kind of vacation.
We sure feel the energy depletion. Yesterday I woke up exhausted, ready to stay in bed. Watching my husband leave for work is a stressful time for me. We don’t commiserate about it, but I know it is hard for him to go and I wish I could protect him. And then it’s just me and the kids.
I decided we ought to go to the grocery store, so I packed away my fatigue and focused on the task. Make a list. Chat with the kids about meal ideas. Pack a bag, discuss the plan for making it through the store with all three kids. I forgot my shopping list, but remembered all the important items and had a pleasant trip with pretty well-behaved kids.
Then we got home, and I was done. I put on a cartoon for them and went to bed for twenty minutes. I could not handle another minute with them right then.
That is maddening for me. I can focus for a little while and go on with what I need to do, but the rope runs out quickly, and then I collapse. This is hard for other people to understand because no one else sees it. Even when I talk to a friend on the phone, I generally sound well because I’m focused on the conversation. But afterwards I will likely sit alone for a few minutes before I can start something else.
I don’t know what to do about this disconnect between what others see and how we feel. People are too polite to ask, and we are too polite to mope around in public. I carry this with me, and try to think of it when I see someone else behaving in a way that seems odd to me. I remind myself that I have no idea what their life is really like.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
A year or two ago, I was at about a junior-high level of spiritual and emotional maturity. Now I seem to be in a crash course on compassion and dependence on God, and I just can’t catch up. There are pop quizzes every few days and I fail most of them. I hear the other students say that surrendering to God is not defeat, it is relief. I show up for class every day, take notes, do my homework, and still I am confused.
I want desperately to be in charge of something. Say what you will about the theology of the cross and the theology of glory – happy self-reliance feels good, and sad, weary ineptitude feels bad. I like to feel good. I am not noble enough to readily embrace pain. I just submit to it when there is absolutely no other option in sight.
My husband is miserable. I am miserable. We feel trapped and helpless. I want nothing more than to fix things for him, to take away his pain. Knowing I am powerless to do that adds to my misery. My role as the pastor’s wife, and the particular complications of this situation, suggest that I may not have any venue to express my hurt and frustration in the context of the congregation. I accrue hurts, set them aside for the sake of my husband’s professional well-being, and do my best to find a peaceful corner at church.
But, darn it!, I reserve the right to stomp into the senior pastor’s office any day now, full of righteous indignation and armed with a list of his failings. I will be demanding and I will be right. And it will make me feel good.
Or maybe reserving the right is a problem. A big one.
Kleinig writes with conscience-stabbing insight about the connection between the Golden Rule and prayer (Luke 7:1-12).
The whole section [of Luke 7] deals with the problem of our attitude toward sin and failure in a Christian community. What should we do about the shortcomings and blunders of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Two approaches are common. … We can use God’s Law to judge and condemn sinners. Jesus warns us that when this happens, we pass judgment on ourselves. … We can be lenient and overlook the fault in the hope that the power of the Holy Gospel will change that person. Jesus warns us that where this is done something holy is desecrated and defiled. He therefore advocates a third way, the way of intercession. The sins of our fellow Christians, their failures and their mistakes, the conflicts and tensions in a Christian community, are all opportunities and occasions for intercession. (201-202)
This does not nurture happy self-reliance. It grows from sad, weary ineptitude that must depend on God’s grace and leave judgment to Him. I want to go back to middle school.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
But there is no time for distance. Whenever I start to feel a little calm and try to rearrange my perspective to something less emotionally driven, we get kicked in the head again.
Today my husband met with the president of the congregation (PoC) to express his pain and frustration about the release of medical information without his knowledge. PoC was entirely unapologetic and without compassion. When my husband suggested that the council might benefit from a brief workshop on depression to help them understand him, PoC indicated that nobody really cares. As long as he can work full-time, they don’t care about anything else (we hear: they don’t care about my husband).
This attitude is consistent with what has been said time and again, indicating that my husband is a functionary. His perspective and his heart do not matter.
How does a church ever get to that position? A pastor is called to guide people in relationship with God, to bring his heart to work every day, and to show Godly compassion in the most challenging times of people’s lives. How would a church leadership group ever arrive at the position that he must simply follow instructions and they need not be concerned with his spiritual or emotional well-being?
I’m very angry. I have been very angry for a long time now. Wiser hearts than mine have encouraged me to give the anger to God, to cry out to Him in my pain. If I trusted them one penny less I would toss that aside as a stupid idea.
I complain to God. I beg Him to get us away from this place. I ask Him to give me compassion for these people and help me turn this anger into sadness for them and the situation we’re all in.
So far, I’m still pretty mad.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I read that someone did an experiment about the effect of encouragement on someone in a difficult situation. People were asked to stand barefoot in a bucket of ice water. Some people did this alone, and some people had an encourager standing next to them and cheering them on. The people with encouragers were able to stay in the ice water much longer than people who did it on their own.
I have a lot of nice friends and family. They say nice things to me. I know that they like me and think I do good and worthwhile things. Generally speaking, I like myself and say kind things to myself. No one would admire me for a disciplined devotional life, but I believe what God tells me about my worth in Christ.
For the first 3+ decades of my existence, this community of encouragement has been sufficient for me. I assume that these people will love and support me, and I know who to call if I need a boost.
But now that I’m in ice water and frostbite is setting in, I’ve become addicted. I’m kind of shy about asking for special attention from anyone. Desperate times have forced me to learn how to ask for pastoral care, ask friends to spend time with me for the express purpose of listening to my wounded heart, and to ask my depleted husband to find a little energy to listen to and care for me.
So far, everyone I ask has seemed glad to help me. Every time I feel overcome with gratitude and humility. Who am I to receive their attention and sympathy?
And now, I’m shedding all dignity online and begging people to help. Each of you is a miracle of support for me. The messages of understanding, encouragement, and appreciation for this writing give me a lift and sense of purpose and hope that nothing else could provide. Thank you. God bless you.
No one asked his permission or notified him of the release of information.
The senior pastor’s wife also has known of his diagnosis all along, because the senior pastor spoke with my husband’s doctor on his cell phone while his wife was in the car.
WTF?!? WHO THINKS THIS IS OK?
Apparently, the church council was sworn to secrecy. How reassuring! A dozen people are walking around church, making important decisions related to my husband’s life, and clandestinely toting his personal information. You may as well just stop me in the hall and say, “I don’t give a s*** about your family.”
Why would a church council ever discuss anything about anybody if they needed to be sworn to secrecy?
It also turns out that some council members suggested that my husband be fired as soon as he went on medical leave. Because that’s legal. And ethical. And, you know, compassionate.
There are so many things about this that make me want to scream and kick and punch everyone. The one I keep returning to is that this affects our entire family. The pre-existing conflict and the exposure of his medical leave already made me feel anxious and unsafe on Sunday mornings. Now I also feel like I cannot trust the leadership of our congregation to treat us with respect.
I have no idea what was accomplished by sharing this information. Maybe it helped them decide not to fire my husband? Perhaps I should say thank you.
I feel like the purpose was to satisfy some voyeuristic, morbid curiosity about our family. As far as I can tell, we have not benefited from any compassionate impulses inspired by awareness of his condition. There’s been almost no indication that any of the council members imagine that we might all be suffering as a result of his illness, or their cavalier attitude toward it. I am hopeless in trying to discern how to protect my family and have a forgiving, compassionate attitude toward these people. It feels like we are at entirely cross purposes.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Several months ago, as the conflict at church intensified, my husband’s health deteriorated such that he had to go on medical leave for severe depression. He entered a short-term hospital program and then, over a few months, gradually returned to a full-time schedule at work. Because church was the vise that crushed him, it was important that he completely separate from it for a time. On the recommendation of his physician, the staff and parishioners were asked not to call or stop by our home.
Of course, mental health problems are very difficult for a lot of people to understand (she generously understated), so it was also important to keep the nature of his disability private. The senior pastor and the congregation president had permission to talk with my husband’s doctor about his health and progress toward returning to work.
During his leave, we did not attend worship at our own church. We visited other churches in the area. For various reasons, I was around the church sometimes on weekdays. It was terribly awkward because people were concerned but did not want to invade our privacy, and so tended not to say anything to me.
I was mortified by the entire situation. I felt completely exposed. We had not been in this congregation for even a year when this happened. Hundreds of people I’d never met knew that my family was falling apart. I was scared for my husband’s well-being, overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for our children and, as it felt, caring for my husband. We received many kind notes from church members, but I did not even recognize most of their names. I had never felt so lonely.
The bright spot in those few weeks was when someone stopped me in the church parking lot, looking sorrowful, “I have no idea what’s going on, but know that we love you and are praying for you.” She hugged me and did not ask any questions. It was perfect. She has since become a dear friend.
The sense of isolation was devastating. I’m not sure I felt it at first. I think I had something like an adrenaline rush. My family needs me! I must hold it together for them! I have no idea who I would ask for help, so I won’t disintegrate or be terrified. We will make it work, and everything will be ok.
A dear friend, also a pastor’s wife, came from out of town to be with us for a few days right at the start. Her presence was so comforting. She seemed to be the only person on earth who understood what a complete mess we were. She left and I spent the next week in tears all day long.
I bounced back and made things work pretty well. I am resourceful and have a sturdy ego. Soon my husband was doing much better and steadily returning to work. We seemed to have survived the worst, and I expected all to improve from there.
Fresh conflict erupted. I sensed danger for my entire family. Church became a reliably unsafe environment for me, home an unrelentingly sad place. My husband was completely drained by coping with the conflict at church and could barely notice me. One evening I cried through a worship service and he said nothing of it. I began to cry uncontrollably, to feel hopeless every day.
I never, NEVER anticipated that being a pastor’s family would lead us to this. Two clinically depressed parents with three kids? Sign us up for the next seminary ad campaign.
Is it surprising that the new ministry position reassigns 50% of my husband's responsibilities? And that his job description has not been revised?
I have heard people say that, although churches cannot fire pastors, they can make a pastor very uncomfortable. I never imagined the number of devices by which this could be accomplished.
The creepiest part is that the committee of laypeople who worked on the job descriptions think this will be helping my husband. The senior pastor has framed their task in a way that makes it sound like a positive move.
How does one scream on a blog? I am about to explode.
If there are any modern-day psalmists reading this, please write a lament for me. I have nothing but tears, and I think saltwater damages computers.
Friday, July 17, 2009
So I’ll try for something with a spark of hopefulness.
Here are some things that help me. I wouldn’t say they always make me happy, but they keep me in the boat with my lifejacket on.
- Talking. Lots and lots of talking. This is hard for me because I am Capable! Competent! Dignified and reserved (repressed?)! I fear being needy or whiny.
- Writing. I seem to be one of those strange birds who, in most contexts, communicate feelings more fully and freely in writing than in face-to-face conversation. That’s how the blog came to be. I didn’t imagine many people would actually read it.
- Leaving the house. Fear of human interaction and lethargy are serious problems. Most things seem better once I’m out the door.
- Leaving town. This is the best. Going out of town, preferably without my children, gives my heart a rest. My stress and sadness have a geographic location.
- Noticing God’s grace. I am apt to feel God has turned away from us. There are so many things I think He should be doing that He is not. I’ve offered my list, but you know how that goes. If I think to look, there is always a sign that He is caring for us. Yesterday was a magnificently crummy day, but my husband and I both received particular notes of encouragement from special folks. Thank You, God.
- Respite care for my kids. I love ‘em, but they are selfish little people. Empathy for Mom is precious but short-lived. Some days start out looking impossible, and then I remember my friend is coming to watch the kids for the morning and instantly I feel like I’ll make it through the day.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Yesterday we heard that they called another pastor. At first I felt no particular disappointment that we must remain or relief that we don’t have to muster the energy to start something new. I felt only concerned for my husband. When I look at him I cry. I am so desperate to rescue him from this soul-crushing situation.
Today, I am exhausted, sad, and so done with cross bearing. In the last few days there have been more horrid conversations with the church leadership. More defensiveness, more blindness to our pain, more rigid rule-following and efforts to shove my husband into a tiny box.
We sound seriously pathetic in prayer. “God, this is too much for us. It feels like this place is going to destroy us. We don’t know what You are doing here. We need You.” Utter dependence feels like a crappy arrangement right now.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
I think a lot of people go to therapy to do what’s known as cognitive reframing – to improve mental health by adjusting the way they look at the world. It’s easy enough to misinterpret, or catastrophize, or take responsibility for things you can’t control, etc.
My therapist tells me that I have good mental hygiene. Apparently the way I interpret what is happening around me, and the way I understand my ability to influence my environment, is healthy. This has not prevented me from falling into a “major depression.”
It’s a little like going to the dentist, being praised for your excellent flossing and brushing habits, and then hearing that you have 10 cavities and raging gingivitis.
I suppose there’s only so much one person can do to cope with intractable misery. And then there’s medication.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
My husband came home today with another tale of woe about church. I believe his introduction to the story was, “I don’t think things could get any weirder.” I think he’s said that several times in the last couple of months, and yet the weirdness persists. I listened with attention and empathy.
I’ve fulfilled my roles of mom and wife well today, and that makes me glad. But under all of that is a strong, steady current of sadness and fatigue. Nothing in particular is on my mind to make me feel this way. It’s just there. It’s as though there are two of me, one is heavy, bolted to the ground. The other is happy and in the moment with people I love.
The happy me is inextricably tied to the heavy me, and that makes everything effortful. I think this might be a symptom of depression, and someday I hope I will have recovered fully and will be capable of feeling carefree. Right now, it feels like I have changed completely. Sometimes I think this weight will be with me every hour of every day from now on.
Monday, July 13, 2009
In the last several months I have felt profoundly sinned against and have become quite angry and resentful about it. That is definitely an interpersonal issue – how to cope with unrelenting assaults and not collapse? – but I finally realized it’s also a spiritual issue. I asked a pastor outside our congregation to advise me. I told him I’ve been struggling with needing to forgive those who’ve sinned against me, and have felt burdened by a keener awareness of my own sinfulness.
We talked about God’s intention for me and my family, about how I might develop a forgiving attitude toward the church leaders who’ve hurt us, trusting God to work through this situation and leaving justice to Him. Then he offered me the opportunity to confess any particularly burdensome sins and receive Christ’s absolution using the formal rite of individual confession.
I told my (Lutheran) girlfriend about it later and she nearly screamed, “What are you Catholic now?”
It sounded promising, but how incredibly awkward. Who wants to enumerate their most shameful failings aloud anywhere, much less in front of another person?
Blessedly, the pastor was very gracious, kind, and sincere about it all. He even showed me the order of confession and absolution from the hymnal and talked me through it before we began. We knelt, he lit candles on an altar with a crucifix and several icons.
Kneeling there, speaking the general written confession aloud, and then having the freedom (freedom?!) to name my burdens was powerful. The pastor offered relevant admonition and reassurance from scripture, and then forgave me by the power of Christ. I am not much given to crying, but I did then. I believe that God forgives me, but the specificity and directness of that ritual was like handing over a load of bricks.
That moment comes often to my mind now, reassuring me that God has forgiven me and keeping me in mind of the desire to do better. In the course of our conversation, the pastor used the phrase “utter dependence on God.” That is a condition I have only recently come to understand as desirable, and for a moment, before that altar, I had a taste of it.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
As general strategies, I suspect that both of these have benefits and drawbacks. Neither is contrary to scripture. An open discussion of how these mission strategies are working/might work in our congregation seems like it could be productive.
BUT…. There has been no open discussion of anything. There has been a lot of anger and blaming. The senior pastor seems to think that knocking on doors and preaching from the street corner are mutually exclusive strategies, and to be unwaveringly confident that God wants all of us on the street corner.
We are a knock-on-doors family. I believe, and many others have affirmed, that my husband has been equipped to knock on doors and draw people into relationships with Christ.
Several street-corner folks have threatened to resign from church work, to leave the church and take others with them, or to divide the congregation if my husband does not stop trying to knock on doors. Several church leaders have continued for months to try and push us out.
It is devastating to be so consistently, aggressively rejected for practicing ministry in the way you believe God has designed you to serve. Sometimes I have thought it might destroy my husband, or me, or crush our family. It has nearly driven him out of the ministry altogether. I have felt abandoned, neglected, and mistrustful of the church.
A pastor recently suggested to me that it takes “an extra measure of faith” to trust God to work through the church when you are so close to its inner workings. There is plenty of sin to go around in here. Trusting God to use all this mess for His purposes is a challenge I’d rather pass up.
Friday, July 10, 2009
But when I'm alone, I'm sad. I mull over the state of our lives, the situation at our church, my loneliness. I have found it very difficult to make friends here, in large part because I do not feel safe at our church.
I realize that caring for my children is a buffer against all this weighty thoughtfulness, and I know it will be good when they come home and I am busy again. But I also (argh! so shameful!) do not miss them. I love them. I think of them. I am glad they are enjoying a visit with their grandparents. And I would not mind if they were invited to stay another week.
I never imagined I would be like this.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Yesterday I was reading Grace Upon Grace by John W. Kleinig. This passage brought tears to my eyes because it is so familiar.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Vicar’s Wife.
To me, that was almost like saying, “Come look at the vicar’s nice robe!” I may as well have been an interesting inanimate object. I was young, timid, and uncertain, so I usually nodded politely and said hello and then stood silently listening to the rest of the conversation. I know I imposed this anonymity on myself.
I’ve graduated to pastor’s wife now. Still I often feel like I’m wearing a hat that is too big and obscures my face.
Lately I’ve had occasion to think about the balance between fulfilling social roles and being genuinely myself. There are all kinds of important social roles with rules we need to follow well enough to get along in communities: parent, sibling, child, worker, student, pastor’s wife. I am a pro at following social norms and fulfilling roles. I can read other people’s expectations and almost unintentionally work to meet those expectations.
On the other hand, I’m a little weak on respecting my own idiosyncrasies. In a high-stress situation, where I perceive conflict between what I think/want/feel and what others expect of me, I’ll generally sacrifice the expression of my own feelings.
I am in a high-stress situation. There is a lot of conflict among the leadership in our congregation, and it has come to be focused on my husband. A dutiful, dignified pastor’s wife, I am loathe to say or do anything that might not fit someone’s (I don’t know whose) notion of The Pastor’s Wife.
The upshot of this is that almost everybody likes me. The drawback is that I feel a little sick every time I go to church and I avoid it as much as I can.
I need to take off this damn hat.