I’ve talked before about how wellness is a balancing act, in perpetual motion as elements of our lives swing left to right, into clarity and back to darkness. I’ve even gone so far as saying that people who are physically healthy but spiritually empty are out of sync, and people who are spiritually devout but negligent of their health are in disharmony, too. Ahem, not talking down on ANYONE here or speaking blasphemy. If you’re imperfect, raise your hand!! Mine is waving high. At first, this concept rubbed me the wrong way, but it gradually settled in my heart after listening to a sermon by a pastor who founded a large DC-area church with a congregation in the thousands.
You can imagine my surprise when this pastor suddenly and unexpectedly said a choked-up goodbye to his congregation last week, admitting that his marriage and physical health were suffering. I was a bit shaken up, like many people. After swallowing the news, I realized that he isn’t all that different from the rest of us, even as a pastor. His relentless pursuit of “doing it all” [for God, in his case] is universal in American culture. Here’s what I have put together that he went through over the last few years and how it’s a warning to us all…
Eye on the Prize
The young pastor’s spiritual journey began when he was diagnosed with Leukemia as a young teenager. Doctors weren’t optimistic about his ability to survive and gave him his death sentence before he was old enough to have attended a prom and a healthy number of Friday night football games. Pastor Robert’s* (name changed for privacy) grandfather was a spiritual man, unlike young Robert, and he told his grandson that while he was praying for him, God gave him a vision. He said he saw Robert emerging from his hospital room a normal, happy boy. He felt confident this was a sign that God was going to heal him, in spite of the medical world’s ominous prognosis. The next day – yes, the next day – Robert woke up in his hospital bed and felt great. The doctors were stunned when scans revealed that in less than 24 hours, the cancer had quite inexplicably vanished.
As you can imagine, this is one of many things in Pastor Robert’s life that ignited a fire under him to live out God’s word and spread it to as many people as possible. And he did. He did just that. He moved from the deep south to the Washington, DC area where more incredible divine interventions took place and allowed him to launch a thriving non-denominational Christian church community. His vision for expansion was aggressive, confident and, in a lot of ways, one might say “ordained.” For example, in just ONE weekend, he lead the effort of raising multiple MILLIONS of dollars from the congregation so that the church could build a new, larger main campus and new additional church homes across the region.
All this is the tip of the iceberg. Pastor Robert also has several beautiful children and has written and published multiple books. Wow. He has done A LOT. To me, it seemed there would be nothing stopping his relentless pursuit of his big dream; the vision he says God gave him, to establish over a dozen churches in the DC metro region. So, why is he having to step back? And what does this have to do with wellness or physical health? In a lot of ways, we sacrifice too much when we gives things our all…
Energizer Bunnies Come to Abrupt Halts
Pastor Robert hasn’t committed any moral wrongdoings and he is NOT a failure. No one can sustain momentum forever on only a few hours of sleep a night for several years as they pour all of themselves into their goals and work. I’m sure that this fact along with other unmentioned struggles caused turmoil in his marriage and home life. It also hurt his physical health. He has a surgery scheduled to remove his thyroid, after which he plans to spend time with a spiritual counselor.
Pastor Robert and his wife courageously told their congregation that they couldn’t focus on healing their marriage and health the way they needed to while also pouring the energy required of them into leading the church. From the outside, it’s easy to quickly judge this as weakness. It’s convenient to separate ourselves from their situation and assume that they must be somehow very different from us; less strong, more sensitive, lacking thoughtfulness about their former life choices. But this is a lie. If we’re telling ourselves this, it’s because it’s hard to remember that we pour a lot of our own energy into some things at the expense of others. No one can “do it all.” We are all only human. And I’m personally so impressed they have the strength to publicly admit this, leading by example how to make the tough calls in life.
“No, You Can’t Have It All”
The news from last weekend came full circle [for me] when I read an article one of my friends posted on Facebook: “No, You Can’t Have It All” by Mark Manson. Manson writes about a man named Mohammed El-Erian who was the CEO of a $2 trillion bond fund, earning $100 million/yr. Like Pastor Robert, he abruptly stepped away from his company, explaining that family needed to come first. He realized that his relationship with his daughter was paper thin after missing out on so many important experiences in her first 10 years of life. She made him realize that he hadn’t really “fathered” her when she countered his attempts at discipline one day by proffering a list of 22 things that were important to her that he had missed due to work.
Manson writes that in America “we regularly celebrate people who become rich by doing ‘exceptional things.’ But the nature of those ‘exceptional things’ often requires extremely high opportunity costs.” He argues that work/life balance plagues us all and that we are constantly guilt-tripping ourselves over what we can’t do more of. More workouts at the gym. Higher promotion and pay at work. Home-cooked meals and quality time with family every day. Manson asks us to ponder if the answer is to say “this is what I choose to value more than everything else” and wholly embracing the decision.
Spiritual and/or Physical Brokenness
I’m not sure that I can say there is a perfect answer. Actually, I know there isn’t. But I think one of several solutions for spiritual and/or physical brokenness lies in Manson’s suggestion; being honest with ourselves about what truly matters to our hearts. Another possible solution is finding harmony in the different aspects of our lives – that elusive “work/life balance” that Manson and many people argue is impossible. I will counter that thought. I think that it IS possible. But that doesn’t mean that “balance” will look or feel like we expect it to.
For example, we may not be able to assume a role at work that brings more responsibility, even if it means a bigger paycheck. We can say “no” to climbing the ladder aggressively fast, especially when it means we keep sanity in check for our families and sleep a little more soundly at night. Likewise, we can bounce back and forth between feeling full and whole in different elements of our lives. This oscillation between almost-full and somewhat-empty doesn’t mean we are failures.
I’m betting even Pastor Robert feels confident that God has promised him nothing is impossible and that he can feel overflowing with purpose, health and joy, even after stepping back from his big dreams [the church he founded]. Even after feeling left empty and depleted.
Yours in health and wellness,