About a year ago, "Eduardo" sought help from Elba, our Vineyard pastor in Altamira. Eduardo was thirty years old, he was pastoring a small home church and he had worked for years in remote areas of the rain forest with New Tribes Ministry. I sat down with Eduardo, his wife, and Elba and listened to his story.
Over the past several years, he had experienced extreme bouts of debilitating anxiety which begin suddenly, last from minutes to hours, occur almost daily and are completely unpredictable as to possible triggers. Often, he is awakened at night with the same. He also experienced general anxiety about the possible occurrence of these "attacks". He couldn’t understand these attacks and didn’t know what was happening to him. He understood completely that these "crises" were irrational as he could easily reason within himself that there was absolutely nothing to be upset about. With the attacks of anxiety, he would experience chest pain, difficulty breathing, sweating, and an overwhelming need to flee the situation. He expressed embarrassment over his symptoms because he believed that as a Christian he shouldn’t experience anxiety, especially as a pastor.
As Eduardo shared, it was easy to see his brokenness, his humility, and his desire to be well. I was able to share with him my own past experience with battling something very similar for many years. I was able to share with him my Christian world-view, knowing that it is a bit different than the world view of many Christians. I explained to Eduardo that, in my opinion, our walk with Jesus is a battle, and facing strange circumstances and various enemies are a normal part of war, as is frustration, confusion, fear, and being pressed to your limit. I shared with him that God allows those who are His to be broken and stripped of those things that interfere with simple trust in Him. The stripping hurts but He strips us of those things that push us away from Life. God knows that our appreciating His love for us is more important than any earthly thing and our affection for earthly comfort, security, and esteem needs to be torn from us, in order that we would hear and see His expressions of love, without all the distraction that these earthly things provide.
I emphasized to Eduardo that this world has too many pastors (and Christians) passing on information (teaching) and that God’s Kingdom needs more pastors intimately familiar with pain and brokenness because broken people know how to love. We need to love those in pain more than we need to know or teach more of the Bible. Hurting people can be better comforted by those who have hurt and can be empathetic. We effectively and compassionately comfort when we’ve suffered and have been comforted. I encouraged him that he would now be more used to impact hurting people (all people are "hurting people", some realize it!) because of the pain he’s faced in the past few years. In short, he will be a better pastor because he’s known pain, grief, confusion, sadness, desperation, anger, etc. He had been taken through the "Valley of Humiliation" by his loving Father, and he was now more prepared to be poured out and spent in service to His King.
When I was in my third year of Medical School, I went to the home of my mentor, Dr McCarty, a beautiful man that I had shadowed for eight weeks. I told him that I was quitting medical school because I couldn’t face another humiliating day of anxiety attacks. They had now plagued me daily for about four years and I was finished. I could take no more. He gently listened and said that I shouldn’t quit and that he would help me through these attacks. He also said that my humiliating and frustrating battle with these attacks would make me a better physician because I would better relate to hurting people. The thing that caused me to want to quit was the very thing that God was using to make me a better servant.
I shared all this with this man who was at the same place that I had been 25 years ago. It was nice to see God use my painful personal experience for someone else’s benefit. He was broken and in a place to receive. We prayed together and took it all to our Father. He received my counsel, took it to heart, began taking a recommended medicine.
One year later he is such a different picture. All attacks stopped within weeks, he sleeps well, exercises regularly, and pastors with a whole new perspective on suffering, God’s sovereignty and caring for those hurting. He shared his whole experience with me this week over some lemonade at his house. What a joy to see the resolution of symptoms but even more the transformation of his heart. He shared that he used to see his primary pastoral role as teacher and now he sees his primary role as care-er, first loving those hurting, and then teaching. His church is growing and has been adopted in as our fifth Vineyard Church in Altamira. I look forward to see how God will spend this man in coming years.
We are not called to teach, evangelize, disciple, heal, build, counsel, etc. We are called to love, and while loving, God will direct us as to how we can best serve those that we are loving.
Conflict, difficulty and pain are not expected at a party. All are, however, certain in war. In the “abundant life”, are we to expect a party or a war?
Why, within the church, do we esteem success, charisma, and confidence when the Head of the church honors and delights in humility?
God is interested in developing much more in us than ease and prosperity would provide.
God prefers to use broken, screwed up people.