In 2016 I was flying high. My life and ministry were looking pretty good. I was pastoring a large, growing church in Phoenix. Things were really rocking on the outside. But, on the inside, they weren’t. No one knew just how bad it was getting.
Some call it the perfect storm. I would simply call it the breaking point—the cumulative result of trauma and stress in my life. Things blew up. Doors closed. Dreams were dashed. Relationships went sideways. It felt like everything was falling apart, and I was coming unglued.
Something Broke Inside
It all came to a head one night when I was traveling and had a severe panic attack. I never had one of those before and haven’t had one since. But it got scary fast. I freaked out; thought I was going to die. I called my wife to tell her that something broke inside. I just didn’t know what.
A few weeks later, I was preaching at church and felt like I couldn’t contain it anymore. I unloaded that day and told everyone publicly that I was depressed, burned out, and having suicidal thoughts about ending it all. I wept. The church went into a panic.
I stepped away and felt like I fell into a pit. I needed to get some help but had no idea how to ask for it. I never had. The church pretty much told me to go and get well. That’s it. I think most churches have no idea how to help pastors who crash. It’s not their fault. They just don’t understand.
Help Found Me
I didn’t ask for help. But, thankfully, help found me. I picked up a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality that rocked my world. Emotions? What are those? The only emotion I knew how to feel was anger. And, self-care? What’s that? Never did that either.
That awakening began to change everything for me. For the first time, I started caring. I started seeking what I needed. I had always taken care of everyone else except me. And, I couldn’t keep doing that. I had to make huge changes in my life.
I left my job; moved out of state; started over. I rebooted my life. Made new relationships and found a new community that was high on grace and low on law, empathetic and understanding, emotional and aware. It was a radical change, like leaving one universe and entering another.
Another Way to Live
Up until that happened, I didn’t know there was another way to live. I didn’t realize life is about more than just doing our duty and making a living. Life is about relationships and enjoyment. I spent the first half of mine on tasks and obligations, just trying to live up to ridiculous expectations and unreasonable demands.
Life is different for me now. I’m happy, for the first time in a long time. I’m rested. I’m relaxed. I’m connected, and I’m fulfilled. I’m getting therapy, I’m meditating more, and I’m getting what I need. I still give, but I’m receiving now too.
I’ve learned to ask for what I need from others. That isn’t easy. And, it feels weird at first. No one had ever asked me what I needed before, so I’d never really considered it. Now, I do, a lot. I think about what I need each day and go find it.
Life is Relationships
I’ve also learned to seek relationships that are life giving, not life sucking. Many of my relationships in my old life were transactional. So much so, that I felt like a commodity, to be bartered and sold by people who thought I was only there to serve them.
I choose friends now who give back too. I have fewer friends, for sure. But they are real friends. Not just the superficial kind who come and go when they need something from you. They care, and they show up. That’s my community now.
What Do You Actually Enjoy?
I’ve also started finding hobbies. I didn’t have any when I was so busy running a church. I have lots now. Hobbies aren’t time wasters. They are time spenders. And, I need to spend time doing things I enjoy. Things that fill my tank.
I happen to live in an outdoor paradise. I ski, I mountain bike, I hike, I fish, I take walks in the woods just for fun. I enjoy my kids, and adventure with my wife. We play. We laugh. I didn’t do much of any of that in my old life.
Learning to Say No
And, finally, I’ve learned how to say no. I choose to live my life with rhythm, margin, and balance. I say no to a lot these days, and it feels good. It also gets easier. I used to say yes all the time, and I had nothing left because my life was used up by others.
I turn down good opportunities for better ones. I don’t go to things I don’t want to. I am okay with letting people down and disappointing them. I can deal with sadness, anger, and anxiety. Negative reality is part of life, and I can handle it now.
It Took a Breakdown
I used to fret about rejection and failure, about hurt and pain. Now, I’m okay with it. Good enough is good enough. And, I know that pain serves a purpose if I use it. Now, I feel like I’m really living, and it’s all been worth it to get here even if it took a breakdown to figure it out.
Kent is a non-profit director, executive coach, and leadership consultant. He is Co-Founder of the Love & Transformation Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to leveraging the love of God to transform individuals and organizations by providing resources and creating experiences to inspire change and influence society. Before starting LTI, Kent was a pastor and professor for 20 years.