Damned If I Do…

It’s an old cliché.
But just because it’s old doesn’t make it untrue.

Sometimes you are damned if you do; damned if you don’t.

I am cognizant that living such a public life as a preacher for a thriving, growing church means the community of believers and the community at large is watching.

Watching and judging every move I made, people had expectations I couldn’t begin to comprehend.

And the truth is, in the face of such tragedy and heartache, I became very, very selfish.

I didn’t want to think of anybody else’s needs. Yet, so many, and not just from my local church family wanted, expected, and needed me to step back in the pulpit. They needed me to normalize their lives by being the same man, the same preacher I had always been.

The day Karen and Cole were murdered, some pour soul–and I am not really sure who it was–told me the church needed me to be strong for them.

It was one of those moments of extreme restraint. Whoever held me back that day is owed a large debt of gratitude.

Maybe selfish isn’t the right word to use. I didn’t then nor do I now want to be perceived as selfish.

On the other hand, pain and horror rendered me incapable of thinking about anyone else’s real or imagined needs. I didn’t know how to anymore. All I could see, feel, and know was my own pain and the suffering of my family.

One of my biggest regrets and worst failures as a husband and a father was putting church ahead of my own family’s needs. And I did it time after time. Truthfully? Some of it was my tremendous ego and the inordinate amount of pride I had in my work–to the point that I self-blinded myself to the needs of those I loved.

And the brutal truth is my own Christianity had already been sacrificed on the twin altars of success and church growth. My family was nothing more than collateral damage.

Long before the events of October 10, 2011 I needed to step back and re-evaluate. I’d like to think I would have, but that’s probably another little self-delusional thought.

Knowing what you have now heard, is it any wonder faith took such a strong hard hit? My faith was already compromised by relying on self and the prideful proverbial bootstraps I used to accomplish my goals and dreams.

Turns out I was pretty selfish before as well.

The point is this: no matter how you judge me or not, being a local church preacher is something I no longer want to do or can.

To those of you who preach, my hat is off in joyful recognition of the tremendous way you serve God’s people. The vast majority of preachers are good, honest, sincere people who seek only to serve.

You deserve more credit and appreciation than you probably get. (And more money!)

I, too, still want to serve. But I have to find a way to do it without forcing my family to squirm in that particular crucible. Even more, I have to find a way that doesn’t compromise my relationship with God.

As self discovery goes, it’s now abundantly clear I was never very balanced nor good at trusting God before. That’s a big part of my new reality. Finding my own faith, learning to trust, and discovering a new voice and a better way to minister is my goal.

Damned if I do? Yes, I walked away. And I have not looked back.

But instead of wallowing in pity and anger, I am choosing to find a new way.
To live.
To serve.
To minister.
To love.

And even though it is hard… Even though I am not sure of where I am going… Even though I still wrestle with God, I sense and feel Him taking these new tentative steps with me.

It’s a new journey.

As one of my favorite classic rock bands sings, Walk on.

Tell me what you think?

(This is a two part article… Damned if I Don’t is up next…)

21 thoughts on “Damned If I Do…

  1. I know that knowing the family you grew up
    In that you have a tremendous work ethic. It is easy to see how you gave more and more of
    Yourself to your church members. I know that
    Even though you went through the worst life had to offer, you now have balance in your life.

  2. Les, I think it’s a common problem in our American church culture. We want to serve b/c if we don’t… well then there is something wrong with our priorities. Another issue is that the church looks to their pastor for everything and can at times be selfish in itself in that they expect first rites to the pastor before his family gets him.

    I think you touched on a tremendous subject that I think needs to be talked about and dealt with.

    Love,
    Shannon

  3. Keep trucking… Your openness gives deeper understanding to grief work so that even as you are still finding your way, you are already engaging in your “new way to live, to serve, to minister and to love” Many of us, while compassionate, do not know how to help so we become watchers and commenters. You are teaching us.

    • I agree with Mandy. While you may not be preaching at a church with walls every Sunday, you’re definitely reaching the hearts and minds of all who read these pages. The fact that you’re struggling with these thoughts of theodicy and purpose at the same time makes it so much easier to reach into your words and see Christ’s work, rather than feeling the separation a pulpit can bring. We all tend to look to our preachers and ministers for answers, but it’s a very different example of being a part of the body of Christ when a preacher can only say to us, “I don’t know, either, I’m still trying to find that answer. Will you help me look?”

      Thanks again for your courage and sensitivity in opening yourself so deeply to walk with us, Les.

  4. Les, I tell you that every post I read just shows me how strong you really are! Maybe you don’t see that yet, but I do. God has a way of turning our journeys through this life in directions we would not have chosen. Yet we find ourselves going in the new direction wondering what’s coming next. I know that the times my journey has taken a new direction (one I didn’t pick!), I have sometimes felt a little apprehensive, a little angry, a little lost! I just know that I have had to get myself out of the way and let God do the leading. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing anyway! As you continue your new journey, I pray every day that God will continue to use you and bless you. Don’t ever stop writing. This is truly your gift!

  5. In the end it will be God’s decision where you are lead I beleive. Your honesty is admirable. The truth could be that someday you may find that what happened in your home had less to do with you than the tremendous burden you carry would indicate. God knew this would happen long before you preached your first sermon. Great tragedy can have unexpected ripple effect that is not all bad. I have seen devastation working 30 years as an ER nurse that’s inital impact should have taken all involved down the tubes. You either let what happened drive you nuts or you deal with it. You are just dealing with it in your own way and in your own time. Godspeed.

  6. Just found your blog today. I am so sorry. It feels inadequate to leave it at that, but I know how badly platitudes make me want to sock a person in the face and I won’t subject you to any.

    The restraint… I can identify in a way. My husband was a youth pastor. No less than 3 weeks after we had just lost our first child to miscarriage, the senior pastor called us in for a meeting and told me — to my face — that I needed to look happier when I came to church because people would think I didn’t want to be there, would think that something was wrong. Damn straight something was wrong and no, I didn’t want to be there. 9 years later, it still infuriates me. Why the pompous attitude? Why the need for Christians to sweep reality under the rug? If I hadn’t been so completely stunned at his comment, I would have been across that table in a split second to smack him. How dare he. How dare anyone tell a person how they should handle their personal grief? Again, I’m sorry.

    • That is so hard to hear. I’d like to stand beside you and sock some folks in the face too. The pain of loss just doesn’t magically go away. And if people are uncomfortable with our pain, they need to learn some compassion. Everything is not always ok! I am sorry for your hurt–please keep reading and maybe we’ll both get to a better place!

  7. It seems to me there came a time when the church needed to be strong for Les & family. Were they? On a whole? I don’t mean a select few individuals who went against the grain of expected church culture, I mean collectively love and support and sit in the ashes alongside a hurting broken man as he discovered a new reality.

    Gods people placed you in the position of God rather than messenger of God. As you stopped doing what they expected of you their god had been removed and suddenly they needed to seek The Lord for themselves.

    As the prospect of my husband reaching his potential of becoming a pastor all I can think of is being put last as a family and enduring the hardship of foolish people and their idiocy.

    Thank you for your truthful writings and wrestles, sharing your wrestles I mean.

    Peace in Christ xx

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