Today's blog is from a very dear friend, David, who writes a blog of his own, Surviving 2 Thriving. I'll let him talk about himself in his guest blog post. He's become a very dear friend to me. Despite the fact that we've not yet met face to face, I know he'd do anything for me and I would do anything for him. I thank God for putting him in my path and love him dearly.
The lot of the fallen pastor is different.
A moral failure by a pastor has little in common with similar offences by others, including those in the world’s highest office. For example, when President Bill Clinton was discovered, he suffered some big time problems and embarrassment to be sure. But, he was re-elected to another term and is now paid well as an in-demand public speaker.
Or, I can only imagine the fall of Tiger Woods has been phenomenally hard. The public scrutiny of his affairs has been nothing short of extraordinary. How many of us could bear it? Although his marriage is in ruins and he will probably never regain his pre-discovery stature, he apologized and stepped back on the first tee at the Masters to the applause and well wishes of the media and his fans.
After my fall, not only was my marriage in ruins, and not only did I forever lose my pre-discovery stature, I went to work in a retail store for three years. With one colossal poor decision, I threw away my ministry and all the years I spent in higher education preparing for it. (Outside of work in the ministry, an M. Div. isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.)
Please know that except for other fallen pastors like Arthur, no one could possibly understand what I’ve been through. No one. So I don’t even try to explain it to people. This post and the blog I’ve recently started (surviving2thriving.net) are the closest I’ve come to trying to get a handle on it and put some of it into words for others to read—and it took several years for me to get to this point.
Unlike Arthur, I don’t offer the details of those last days (which makes for fascinating reading, I admit). Instead, my blog is about the aftermath, my struggle to regain a sense of hope and purpose. My desire is that it will be a ministry to others who are trying to survive painful experiences.
Most pastors are not prone to spur-of-the-moment adulterous behavior, so there is usually a very complex combination of personal and professional issues that trigger the events leading to a fall. Perhaps that’s true in most affairs, but it is certainly true for pastors.
The months following the crash of my ministry were times of anger for me. I was angry at myself, angry at God, angry at the church, and pretty much angry at everything. True, the event that led to the fall was of my own doing to be sure, but my behavior didn’t happen in a vacuum.
I felt that somehow God had let me down. Let me explain. I had poured much of my adult life into sacrificially serving him, and I felt that I was being “rewarded” with pain. He could have, after all, delivered me by giving me just a little more strength. Just a little. Just get me over the hill one more time. I can do all things through Christ… But instead, he watched me fall.
When I drove away on that fateful day, not only were the town and church in my rear view mirror, so was my wife, virtually all of my friends, fifteen years of ministry, seven years of higher education, and virtually everything that made me who I was.
At that point, there was no hope and no future. Life became all about survival.
In my anger (and guilt), I went on an extended period of rebellion. I got divorced and distanced myself from anything having to do with the life I had known. The idea of any kind of ministry, present or future, was dismissed outright.
But through it all, I never stopped believing. I even believed that somehow God wasn’t through with me, but for a long time I didn’t much care. That’s one of the incredible things we need to grasp in our pain. God is there. He is always there. He doesn’t get angry or pout. That’s what we do. And when we have worn ourselves out kicking everything around us, he is still there waiting for us.
In time things began to turn.
The hard survival instincts of my senses started to soften and my desire to have hope and purpose was rekindled. There were many factors to this, but mostly I met a woman. I met her in church.
My connection with her was instantaneous, which I later attributed directly to God. At first, it wasn’t a romantic thing. But instead, I actually felt compassion. I hurt for her.
Would I have been so moved in any other context? If I had met her at the grocery store or in some pool hall would I have been touched? I’ll never know. But of this I am sure, it was part of God’s plan, his new hope for me, and I was certainly in the right place to be open to it.
She and I almost immediately sensed that our relationship was a gift from God. We were both pretty beaten up by life, and like two shipwrecked survivors clinging to a life raft, we were holding on to what God had sent us.
As we encouraged one another, this verse of Scripture came to mind for both of us: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
On any given day, that verse might not have moved either one of us in any extraordinary way. But for a divorced woman with a serious form of cancer and a divorced down-and-out preacher it seemed to be God telling us why we were together. We got married.
I’ve never known my wife without cancer. Not one single day. She had it the day I met her. She was going into her first cancer surgery the day I proposed to her. She had surgery the week we returned from our honeymoon. She had brain surgery the Monday before our first Christmas. And she has had multiple surgeries and treatments ever since.
Even though our lives to a great extent have been about surviving cancer, she encourages me and supports me. She believes God isn’t through with me. We hope that together we will one day have a ministry of some kind.
Yet, we all know it can never be the same. I won’t get re-elected or tee it up again like nothing ever happened.
Something did happen—something that transcends even the mistakes of presidents and sports superstars… because it touches eternity. And that is something a fallen pastor carries around inside the rest of his life.
And so here is the lot of the fallen pastor: though life goes on and we can find faith, hope, love and happiness after The Fall… we never stop paying the price. Not in this life.