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I Thought I’d Figured This Out…

March 14, 2020

Pardon me while I indulge in a little self-disclosure (and pardon my poor judgement in including this picture…).

For the first time in my adult life, I’m not employed by a church. For 45 years, I’d been on somebody’s staff at a church in Oklahoma, Nevada or Iowa. In August, Debbie and I moved back home to Oklahoma so I could start a new career as a pastoral counselor. It feels good to be home in the land of red dirt and warmer temperatures. I’m enjoying my work with True North Ministries. We’re settled in to our new home.


But, although I thought I knew it would take a while to get established in a new counseling practice, it’s taking a lot longer than I had anticipated. I have more gaps in my schedule than I like. Which means I’m seeing far fewer clients than I want to see. And one of the bottom lines on this is that our income is pretty really limited. This is a concern, but God has always been faithful. We’ve never missed a payment or a meal because of finances.

There’s anther bottom line for me on this. When I’ve got so many openings and so few clients, I feel unproductive. I can’t do what I feel I’m really good at without clients. Philosophically, I get that feeling unproductive isn’t the same thing as being unproductive. And it’s way not the same thing as being fruitless and incompetent. The clients I’m seeing are being helped. The distance between my feeling and my thinking gets wide here, though. I don’t feel productive.

I’ve counseled others through a season of unproductiveness, successfully in most cases. It stinks when you have to take your own counsel, though. I’m probably my worst counselee. Probably?

I went through this after my heart attack, in 2011. I wasn’t able to work for 6 months. For the first 8 or 9 weeks, I was helpless as a puppy. Debbie had to do almost everything for me. I was more than fragile. I was brittle, like pretty much any small thing would break me.

I had struggled before this time with feeling unsuccessful, but this was the first time I’d been unproductive, and unable to guess when I’d be productive again. Feelings of success weren’t even a blip on the radar. I had an identity crisis. If I couldn’t work, who was I?

Always before I could say, “I’m a Youth Minister.” Or, “I’m a Family Minister.” Or, “I’m a Care Pastor.” But for 6 months, I could only say that I had done those things. You can probably see the problem here. My identity was wrapped up in what I did. As long as I was contributing and adding value, I felt good about who I was. I felt valuable. But when I couldn’t do that, when I couldn’t contribute, I didn’t just feel bad about what I wasn’t doing. I felt bad about who I was.

I know intellectually that what I do (or did) is not who I am. I teach this. I write about it. I counsel others toward this. But today, with a very open calendar, I’m struggling to feel good about myself. I’m having trouble not disliking myself, in fact.

As I left the house to come in to my office for one of two appointments I have for the day, Debbie kissed me and said, “I love you.” I said, “I love you too.” In my mind I said, “Yeah, but I don’t love me.”

I’m not the only person who struggles with this. Far from it. If you don’t or haven’t, I’d love to interview you. I think everybody encounters valleys like this.

There is something worse than feeling fruitless and lame because of inactivity, though. It’s feeling fruitless and lame with a full schedule, overworking and producing. Been there. Done that. As in the King James Version of the Bible, “It sucketh.” Yea, verily.

This is the double-edged sword of the identity problem. If you’re not producing, you may struggle with who you are. If you’re producing, you may still struggle with who you are. As I said, it sucketh.

I do not quickly or easily move out of this. I’m often given to moodiness, so that plays into it. Moods come from somewhere. From the environment, from my perception of the environment, from my digestion, and probably a dozen other things. But from wherever they come, I am responsible to decide what to do about them. Will I bathe in them (which often results in drowning in them), or will I move through them? It comes down to my choice.

Sometimes it takes me a while to choose well. A few minutes, in best case. A few days, in less than best case. In all cases, what happens after this choice is a ton of self-talk. A ton of self-talk has always been rumbling through my mind like a freight train before I make this choice, so self-talk isn’t an abrupt change. The nature of the talk is, though. Pre-choice, it’s all negative. It’s all tilted toward lies from hell. It’s loud and it’s relentless.

For me, nothing works better for silencing this negative self-talk than drowning it out with the truth. Sounds easy. It’s not. For lots of reasons, it’s far more difficult to drown out lies with truth than I want it to be. I’ll leave all the reasons for this to people smarter than me. My simple explanation is that I, like all of humanity, am broken. We’ve been broken since Adam and Eve bit into the unidentified fruit.

One thing with this is that we can be so well versed in the lies Satan tosses out to us, and so poorly versed in the truth that we have little to work with in the effort to overcome lies with truth. Before the truth can set you free, you’ve got to know the truth. That’s what Jesus said. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31, 32 ESV) Lots of us brush up against His word, like once a week or so, but few of us actually abide in it, live in it, consume it. This is a key. The only way we’ll know the truth is to abide in Jesus’ words. The truth and making us fee will not happen before we abide this way.

One of my favorite questions is, “If you believed about yourself what God says He believes about you, how different would you life be?” So far every Christian I’ve asked this question of has said something like, “Wow. A lot different.” But very few people are able to tell me more than that, because very few people know what God says He believes about them.

My friend, Joe Hardenbrook, built a brilliant tool for discovering what God believes about you. I call it The I.D. Card. I’ve made this offer before, and I’m making it again. If you’d like a PDF of this card, I’d be more than happy to send it out to you. All you need to do is to reply in the comments that you’d like it and leave me your email address, and I’ll fire it out to you.

Drowning out lies with the truth that sets you free isn’t for sissies. It takes work. It takes persistence and perseverance. But here’s the good news: God wants you to know and tell yourself this truth. In fact no one wants this for you more than He does. Ask Him to open your mind and heart to it, and then dive in to abide in His word. It’s a prayer He loves to answer.

From → Marriage, Parenting

  1. Margaret Sheppard permalink

    Oh Pastor Steve……….Let me tell you……….I have been there too and quite recently SO HAS LARRY. LifeWil such can be bumpy. Just got back to church service today and my soul is sooooooo happy. It has been since the middle of Dec. and I so missed it. Will continue praying for a full productive schedule for you. Sending you and Debbie our love. Peg & Larry

  2. Dureen permalink

    Please send me the id card you spoke of and stay on the good path, Steve 🙂

  3. I would like to have the ID card please.

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