My heart broke this week as I read about a young 30 year old Pastor who recently made the decision to end his life, leaving behind his wife and three children. Sadly, he’s not the first.
I read about Andrew Stoecklein, who was the lead pastor of Inland Hills, as I sat in a parking lot after arriving early for a lunch meeting.
As I read the article from the drivers seat of Ferdinand (the name my boys gave our Toyota Tundra), just beyond the glow of my iPhone screen the words “Maintenance Required” were illuminated between my speedometer and tachometer.
The words have been shining for a few days but it has been hard to find the time to slow down and give Ferdinand the TLC he needs to keep him running. I mean, it’s just an oil change, we aren’t talking a blown head gasket! Not to mention, every time I turn my truck on I can just hit one button and hide the “Maintenance Required” notice until the next time I fire up Ferdinand.
In reality, a black strip of electrical tape would do the job nicely as well.
On a weekly basis I spend a lot of time with Ferdinand and he does a great job moving me from meeting to meeting, worksite to worksite and location to location. To take the time to visit Darrell Waltrip Buick/GMC for a tune-up is time that could be invested in a lot more seemingly meaningful of ways.
I see the indicator on my dash, and I will take care of it…eventually.
Stopping for maintenance is a hard thing to do.
The church that Andrew Stoecklein pastored in Chino, California is a pretty big church by my standards. And the larger the church, the larger the load there is to shoulder. He felt not only the weight of the administrative and executive sides of his fellowship, but as a caring individual he also felt the weight of the countless others he cares for as well.
I understand the story because I see it happening all around in ministry with pastors, missionaries and yes, even chaplains. There aren’t enough hours in the day nor enough days in the week to be sure everyone is being cared for; so men and women extend themselves as far as they can and then stretch just a little bit further to fulfill the responsibility of being a minister of the Gospel of Christ.
Here is the problem, though. The more packed the days become shouldering the responsibility of ministry the harder it is to slow down when “Maintenance Required” lights up on the dashboard of life.
As a minister, to pull ourselves out of service for maintenance feels selfish in light of our mission in life.
Our dirty little secret is that while we do our best to take care of others, it’s easy to find ourselves doing little to take care of ourselves.
The sad truth is many are no longer experiencing what they are sharing. The care of others has caused the destruction of self.
Think back to Ferdinand, what IF I just ignore the light on the dashboard and don’t slow down?
For a while, it won’t even be noticeable. I’ll be able to charge forward like nothing has changed. But over time the components within the engine will lose their lubrication and will begin to warp and wear over time. Eventually, the engine is going to lock up and shut down.
Sure, I can put a piece of tape over the indicator and pretend everything is going okay by not seeing the light. But sooner or later Ferdinand is going to be stopped on the shoulder of the road.
In ministry we have a lot of tape to use. Sometimes we use the nobility of our cause or the eternal importance of our message as tape to cover up the need to slow down. Other times we just tape over the indicator with some addiction, some relationship, some hobby or some logic that keeps us moving forward.
Either way, under the tape, the light is still on. And when unaddressed it will eventually lead to a breakdown.
If you do not pay attention to any other words in this post I beg of you to pay attention to this…
SELF-CARE is not selfish.
If our life is one of the vehicles driving God’s mission, then shouldn’t we maintain the vehicle that is driving it?
It is very hard to share the freedom, peace, contentedness, hope and satisfaction that is found only in Christ when we aren’t taking the time to experience it ourselves.
Remember the great command? Love God with everything we’ve got and then love our neighbors AS WE LOVE OURSELVES. Part of loving our neighbors is loving ourselves first. Recognizing we, too, are God’s beloved. Experiencing Him before sharing Him.
The Gospel of Luke reminds us that even Jesus would escape as frequently as possible for prayer (self-care).
If you’ve ever traveled by plane before, you know part of the safety speech that takes place during pre-flight. Before helping others with their oxygen masks, be sure your mask is on first. You can’t help someone else if you aren’t breathing yourself.
That is a warning we all need to be reminded of in ministry AND in life.
I am not even beginning to say a lack of self care is what led Andrew Stoecklein to the point of taking his own life; I do not know his story and I know mental health issues are very real. But I do know the weight he carried as a Pastor was very real, and sometimes in those moments we don’t make time to take care of ourselves.
What I am trying to say is that we should all make time when the “Maintenance Required” lights of life come on to pull ourselves out of service and tune ourselves up.
- We can’t effectively help others if we aren’t healthy ourselves.
- Lack of maintenance leads to breakdowns.
I love the way The Message interprets the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:
Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:26-30 MSG
My prayer today is that my friends in ministry, those in ministry I’ve never met, and myself would continue to FIRST experience the freedom, peace, contentedness, hope and satisfaction found only in Jesus THEN lead and care from that freedom.
My prayer is also for countless others who see suicide as the only option left on the table. The weight of life wan’t meant to be carried alone. Reach out to me, or to someone else. There is help. There is hope.