In 2008, my mental illness progressed to the point that I became unable to work in my profession. I had served as a pastor for over 20 years. It was more than just my job. It was my calling. My vocation. I did not work as a pastor; I was a pastor. I delivered God’s Word week after week to help people, my people, see their stories in God’s story. I led Bible studies at a local addiction treatment center, extending the hope of Christ’s forgiveness for those ready for a new path in life. I prayed with wailing women as they sat beside their dying husbands.
After I resigned from pastoral ministry, I didn’t know what I would do. I tried many things. Weeding. Cleaning furnaces. Roofing. Volunteering at the VA. Building mini-barns. I had no idea what I was doing. I tried to stay busy, but I saw no purpose in it. Each night I would dream about new jobs I would do. Each morning I would wake up and see by the light of day that none would work. Emotionally, physically, financially, and otherwise, the prospect of employment eluded me. And my measure of a man, broadly accepted in our culture, hinged on “What you do for a living?” and “How much do you make?”
I was asked recently if I thought everyone had a calling from God. I do. Each person is called not for special favors, but for a unique mission. One of the heretical notions that has infested our culture is that some callings are of more value than others. The professional football player who puts on a show each Sunday is worth more than the high school coach who inspired him. The CEO of a multi-national corporation is worth more than essential worker who is laid off to increase the profits of the stock brokers. The doctor who oversees an operation is worth more than the nurses and techs who worked alongside her.
Over the past decade, I have reclaimed much God has called me to do. I still connect God’s story with our stories, only instead of once a week from a pulpit, I deliver it twice a week through my blog. I still gather with a group seeking the freedom of faith only instead of freedom from addiction it is a group of faithful friends encouraging and challenging one another to lead more holy and joyful lives. I still pray beside people facing death. Sometimes physical death. Sometimes the death of hope.
Faith in Christ has been my saving grace through the dark and blinding valley of my journey. My faith is not something I’ve achieved, but instead received by God’s amazing love in Jesus Christ. Apart from faith, I would have given up on life, given in to my illness. People have asked me how I could hold onto faith with such a savage illness as bipolar disorder. I respond that I can’t imagine how I could let go of faith and be able to live with my illness. Faith in Christ makes all the difference in the world.