That’s not typically the first thing you think of when suffering – at least, I know it wasn’t for me. Sometimes our suffering overwhelms us and we can’t think of anything else. Sometimes we just prefer to wallow in our self-pity, questions, and sadness. But, more about that in a moment.
To begin, I want to thank Jeff for inviting me to write for his blog. I’ve known and loved Jeff and his wife and family since we attended preaching school together. I’ve wanted to start my own Christian-centered blog for a few years. I had a name picked out and a list of all the things I was going to include and write about, but I couldn’t get started and I couldn’t figure out why. Now, I know why. It has to do with the difficulties I’ve been knowingly facing for a year and unknowingly all my life. But, I don’t want to start with the specifics. We’ve got time, if the Lord wills, to do that in the future. I just want to thank Jeff for the opportunity to do something that I might not be able to do otherwise. Thanks, Jeff!! Love you Brother!
Like Jeff, I’m a preacher…or was a preacher…or want to preach again (there’s a significant struggle in and of itself) but I can’t preach full-time, at least not right now…and possibly never again. All I wanted to do was be a servant. I never cared to preach for a large congregation. I just wanted to see the church grow and be healthy. I never wanted a fat salary. I just wanted to serve and strengthen. But, after a couple years of full-time preaching for a small congregation, I began to have significant anxiety problems, in fact, debilitating anxiety problems – often, I couldn’t leave my home and even then didn’t want to leave my bed. In the early fall of 2014, I reached the point that I had daily anxiety attacks, sometimes multiple times a day, along with other substantial health and mental problems. I progressed to the point that I even thought I was certainly going to die. (Now, anxiety wasn’t the underlying issue, but again we’ll talk more about that at a later time.) So, I made the difficult decision to resign from my work and spent a few months under a doctor’s care trying to get better. By December 2014, I was feeling better and had a congregation interested in me working with them that seemed like a good fit with my problems. So, I tried…it didn’t work. The second week I had severe anxiety problems again. By the 6th week, a number of other major physical and mental problems had returned. My doctor put me on restriction again…no speaking. My family and I continued to worship with that congregation hoping that I might get better, but February and March came with no change. Then, March 15th I had the first anxiety attack that I had experienced in about 5 months. Reality was setting in. I was beginning to deal with the difficulty of admitting that I couldn’t preach, although I loved to preach, although I wanted to preach – depression started.
That Sunday evening a preacher friend of mine, Dean Miller, came to speak. I’ve known Dean many years. He was one of the co-directors at the high school week of church camp when I was a teen. I appreciate and love him very much. He’s been a great encourager to me as a youth and as a preacher, in both example and word. The title of his sermon that night was, “What we ought to do when we’re overwhelmed,” from Psalm 31. Now, Dean is not simply some idealistic, ivory-tower philosopher foreign to real suffering. In 2013, he lost his sweet wife, Ruth Ann. For years, he witnessed the terrible effects of Parkinson’s Disease on the body of his college sweetheart. During his sermon, he talked about his own overwhelming struggle, watching his wife’s suffering and death and his own experience with becoming a widower. Then, he made a statement, a realization that he had come to in the midst of his struggle, coupled with a bold challenge to prove him wrong, a statement that academically I knew to be true but that I also needed to hear. He said, “We are always more blessed than burdened.” For a long time, I hadn’t felt that way but I knew it. Just the fact alone that God offers us sinful human beings salvation through his son, Jesus Christ, is evidence enough. But, when our health fails or our loved ones die, we don’t tend to see it that way. We see the end of life, the loss of family, the death of hopes and dreams. We see limitations and hardships. We see pain and anguish. We see what we want but can’t have.
Despite all of that though, we really are more blessed than we are burdened. For me, although I can’t preach and now face various daily challenges that don’t seem to want to go away, I have my family. I can work a manual labor job that I like. I can preach occasionally (although I suffer for it). I can write for my friend’s blog and possibly help other sufferers (Thank you Jeff), etc. The list could go on and on. “Count your many blessings” comes to mind. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days anymore when I struggle with anxiety or depression. That doesn’t mean I’m always chipper and happy-go-lucky. I want to preach. I don’t like it that I can’t do it all the time. I hate the physical pains and mental problems that I have. Sometimes I question. Still, I pity. But, when I can find comfort, I find it in knowing that I have a God who loves me, who knows mortal pain through his son who became human, and who blesses me abundantly more than I am burdened.
My eye wastes away with grief,Yes, my soul and my body!For my life is spent with grief,And my years with sighing;My strength fails because of my iniquity,And my bones waste away.I am a reproach among all my enemies,But especially among my neighbors,And am repulsive to my acquaintances;Those who see me outside flee from me.I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind;I am like a broken vessel.For I hear the slander of many;Fear is on every side;While they take counsel together against me,They scheme to take away my life.But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord;I say, “You are my God.”(Psalm 31:9-14, NKJV)
Indeed, I am “blessed.” “Yet I trust!” — Aaron B.