Emerging Black Dog

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(originally posted on my blog Feb 2005)

After talking with Rob Waller (see previous post), I started to journal my journey with depression and anxiety, and how much the emerging church has been a help to me. I use most of my blog for resources, and information, but will take the plunge and share something personal.

As a child I was very badly abused, psychologically, and physically, by my mother. My family dealt/deals with issues by drink and violence, as did most of the people I remember who lived on the council estate (public housing) where I grew up.

I became a Christian when I was nearly 17, at a wonderful church. I remember the first small group I went, to and experiencing being prayed for. Having people lay hands on me, gently, lovingly, was the beginning of healing for some much in my life. Church was wonderful, it was a place full of brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, adopted mums and dads, a place to be loved and cared for. For the first time in my life, people built me up, spoke words of life into my life, of my future and who I could be, calling out the best in me, where before all I heard was the worst.

For a while things went well, I grew, moved on, and went to seminary/college, got married, but found myself coping less and less well. Anxiety, depression, hit me harder and harder. I didn't know what it was at the time, and only now realise that I suffered it as a child most of the time, and when I became a Christian had a respite for 2-3 years.

I misunderstood the healing and growth process. I assumed that my past was gone, but didn't realise how much I still carried around with me, the ways I had learned to cope as a child that didn't work as an adult, the vows I had made to survive, that we now crippling, and that for God to deal with them I had to let them go, unlearn them, and grow into new ways of thinking, living, and being. Re-creation is a painful process.

I was bi-vocational for years, and when we planted the church we are now leading. I celebrated my first day as a full time pastor by having a nervous breakdown. I was catatonic, having several panic attacks a day, and thought I was going insane, or die. I had worked 100 hours a week, commuting 3 hours a day, raising a young family, and planting the church. The mounting depression and anxiety I suffered was kept at bay by working harder, and harder. Once I woke up on my first day as a pastor, my body, brain, soul, mind, gave in to the inevitable collapse.

It was tough on my wife, she had another child to care for. All I could do was get up sees the kids to school, go back to bed, get up when the kids came home, and preached on a Sunday (how I did that I have no idea). Our church was wonderful. They told me that I had always said it was ok to be ill, and it was my turn. During this time the church grew.

I got medication, I went into therapy, and began to really face up to my past and the abuse I had never really dealt with, and been unable to until this time. The coping mechanism I had developed, of caring for others to make up for my lack of care, had a found an unhealthy place in church. It was easy to excel in church by caring. Running small groups and ministries with adults when I was 19 was seen as me having 'old head on young shoulders'. With hindsight, I can see it wasn't all that healthy at all.

I had so many times of having to be the adult, running out in the snow in my pyjamas, barefoot, chasing my mother down the street, begging her not to take the overdose she had threatened to, or missing college to take care of my one year old brother, pretending to be his father as I walked around the shops, doing the shopping, hiding in the wardrobe for hours as I heard my parents destroying each other and our house...these were a regular occurrence. In the midst of the destruction I was determined to not be my parents, to not do and be who they were.

This determination helped me survive, but came undone one day in therapy, when my therapist asked, 'why do you define your life by what you don't wan t to be rather who you do'. I realised in that moment that I had spent so many years, as a workaholic, pushing, striving, fearful that I would become my parents.

As I was getting better, I spoke at a church, and shared my story and was asked if I was 100% now, and I said I was about 80% better. The next day someone who had heard me say that approached me and said they wondered if there was some prayer we could pray that would get me that 20% back. In a moment of clarity, I had to apologise to them, you see I realised that God did not take me through what I had, so I could go back to how I was, and I told them I was happy with who I had become, and was sorry for misleading them.

At the lowest point of my breakdown, I felt like I lost my faith, l the questions and doubts I had kept at bay came crashing in to, needing to be faced. I used to take the bible to bed, and hold it to my chest, praying that I didn't know how to read it anymore, and this was a close as I could get to it, and I hoped it was ok with God...now I know it was and is. Questions about inerrancy, hell, it all came out, like a wall tumbling down, and I wondered if anything would be left at the end.

During that process Jesus was still Jesus, the same Jesus I had given my life to, it was the systems I had built up, been told I need to have to explain him that came apart. So I went back to seminary to do part time research in theology to think through these things. Theology saved my faith. And theology became something of creation in my life, and our church. As it helped me grow, it helped our church grow, and over time connect to so many people, that now form our/my relationship to Emergent.

Emergent is not a programme, a network, but a way of life, of thinking, a place of healing, and a continuing extension of that first experience of people laying hands on me. Brian McLaren amongst others laid hands on my mind, with thinking and theology that was life giving.

I know I have a long way to go, and may suffer many dark days until I die. Genetics, and family disposition to depression, some pain so deep it will surface again, mean I will wrestle for life. But in the wrestling I find dependence on Christ, I find recreation, and new life. With my wife, my children the pattern of destruction has abated, and I see in them my hope.

And in my church community, who I do life in the deepest and most painful, and joyful, and happy ways. And with Emergent, get to know and be known, by so many others. My anxiety and depression like Winston Churchill's 'Black Dog' is something I know, and take for a walk with me through life.