“If we walk in the light, as [God] is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). What does it mean for you and I to “walk in the light” of God?
Nick is a pastor who is around people all the time. He is friendly and caring and he preaches sermons from the Bible that help people. But he doesn’t feel safe to share with anyone the hurts and questions in his heart so he keeps setting his emotions and needs aside and plowing ahead with the work of ministry. And there’s always more work to do!
It’s a story I hear over and over: it’s easy to become emotionally detached when you’re busy running the church and there’s a long line of people who want something from you.
The Pastor Role Was Killing his Soul!
How does Nick keep working when he’s under such stress and his heart hurts? “I’m good at compartmentalizing,” he smiles. “And I know how to be a pastor. The role takes over. I do ‘pastor talk’ well. I love to exegete Scripture passages, tell stories that interest people, and help them to apply God’s Word to their lives.”
Over the years Nick has become increasingly removed from his true self. He never meant to hide behind an ideal image or to put up a false self as a front. Being vulnerable and emotional felt unsafe so he retreated into his head. He learned to do this as a child growing up with an alcoholic father and hyper-efficient mom. He knew his parents “loved” him, but neither they nor any one else in his world knew how to be emotionally present with him, draw out his inner person, and care for him in personal ways.
Nick has a seminary degree and knows the Bible backward and forwards. He is a highly skilled and experienced pastor who is appreciated and admired by his congregation and community. But he is alone and unknown. His soul is weighed down and depressed. He’s on the edge of burnout. He’s lost touch with the warm and guiding light God’s presence and the darkness was killing his soul.
Nick Stepped Into the Light and Came Alive
I invited Nick to join me and some other pastors in a Soul Shepherding Group. He stepped into the light and found a safe place to be real among brothers, all from different churches, all with their own “junk”, all ready to receive him with an open heart. He didn’t have to play the pastor role here, he didn’t need to prepare to say anything for this community, and he wasn’t under the pressure of people’s expectations — all he needed to do was to show up and learn how to bring his true self into the group.
“This is the place for my soul that I’ve needed,” he told me years later. “It’s been a relief for me to let you lead me to quiet my heart in God’s presence and hear his word in fresh ways. I feel like an emotional weight has been taken off of me and I’ve come alive in new ways as I’ve learned to trust my brother pastors to care for me and to pray for me.”
We all need a few Christ’s Ambassadors to be real with and to be led into God’s presence. It’s the primary way that the child part of us on the inside experiences God’s love and grows up to be able to overflow with that love to other people. Verbalizing our deep emotions and confessing our sins to someone who listens with compassion and grace is an essential part of developing our God-created and God-redeemed self.
Genuine self-disclosure of sins and struggles is cathartic and purifying. It cleanses our souls. Then as we come to know and love our true self in the acceptance of others it helps us to know and love God and others better. To the extent that we take this risk and are met by the grace of God through other people we are free to be our true self!
Stepping into the light helps us to connect with God and people and it clears the way for us to hear his voice.