Immediately after reading Ministry Health Article 286 “Put Off”, an ACDF pastor responded via email. After sharing how the article had touched his heart and made sense of his pain, I wrote the following letter to him. The name, of course, has been removed to preserve his identity. The letter is commended to God’s people through Ministry Health for their consideration to help give insight and direction to support ACDF’s in long road to recovery.
Thomas F. Fischer
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Dear Friend, The fact that you were able to read, digest, reflect and share your thoughts indicates that you have a great deal of strength and capacity to face–and, by God’s help, overcome–fear. I recognize that it is scary, difficult, unsettling, etc. to give up “don’t talk, trust, feel” mechanisms and replace them with simply putting ourselves in the hands of a loving God that we can trust, talk with, and feel His love. But it’s such a challenge…and a hard thing to do…even for non-ACDF’s. Why is does your spouse still stay loyal and supportive of you? Why doesn’t she just put you off? We should ask your spouse in a meeting together soon. But I can give you my thoughts. Your spouse can love, talk, trust and feel. Most important, your spouse can freely show interest in people, especially you. It is nothings less than a response of faith. Spouses like yours have resources to uplift, support and genuinely encourage others to be the best they can be. Above all, they know the most valuable treasures of life are relationships. That’s why spouses like yours live in a “relational” world–enjoying, building, savoring, repairing and expanding relationships. Yes, it can be scary even for such strong spouses as yours. They, too, get more than their “fair share” of being “put off,” “snubbed,” “rejected”, etc. Life is more than a “what you see is what you get” proposition. No matter how many people reject, hurt, etc. you, there are always others. The key is not to take it too personally and, after honest evaluation, to move forward with greater maturity, growth and capacities to love, trust, talk and feel. Sound easy? Frankly it’s not. But, in the final analysis, it’s less painful than the alternative. Most importantly, in spite of the pain which inevitably comes, it’s where the joy is. Because the greatest joy is where the pain is, it is necessary to gain a clear understanding the central role of paradox. Paradox not only something necessary to understand in your recovering. It is absolutely fundamental to a proper understanding of faith. Jesus’ recognition of the undeniable essential character of paradox to faith and the human experience that He began His ministry with a message on…paradox.
- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy… Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” Matthew 5:3-7, 12a (NIV)
“Paradox” tells us that in pain we find joy, in loss we have the greatest gains, in failure we find success, in our hopelessness we find hope…in God. The most healthy expression and most vivid realization of this is Job’s statement,
“The Lord gives, the Lord takes away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
ACDF’s would have never taken the risk to amass the fortune he had. But, in every instance of testing in Scripture, God always forces his servants to confront the issues of talking, feeling, and trusting. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Elisha (remember his BBQ in I Kings 19:21?), Jesus, Matthew, Andrew, James, John, Peter, Paul, Mary, et al. He confronted all of them by means of calling them to the impossible, unimaginable…and the painful. Part of this pain was the pain of personal growth and transformation necessary to develop greater capacities for “great” faith. That God and His Word are still among us today is proof positive that God is still doing this among us today. And, once one forsakes one’s “net” and follows…the testing never, ever stops. God is a God of relationship. That means that the life of faith is a life of continual experiencing God’s testing, failing, forgiving, and growing (again) in the appreciation of the fullness of God’s Grace. It’s the experience of the undeserved, the un-requested, the spontaneous, the surprising…and the awesome wonder of God. It is this experience which is the foundation and fountain of Christian ministry. My friend in Christ, God is using your personal experiences to prepare you for greater ministry. He has done that with me…and still is. (Why should I be an exception?). Frankly, it is those areas in which God gives pain where the growth is. The most frequent ACDF question I get from those inquiring about recovery from the pain and ACDF experience is this: How do I know what issues I have to deal with? What are these issues? My answer (brace yourself) is this: It’s where the pain is. When you recognize it, let yourself feel it. Initially this may need to be by yourself or with some you trust. Then to reflect, share and talk about it with a caring professional and others who are on various stages of recovery. As you can see, the recovery process itself IS the healing. It’s being able to participate and engage in intimate processes of talking, trusting and feeling that marks the recovery and aspiration toward healthier patterns of intimate relationships with others…and God. As you may or may not know, the articles on Ministry Health from which I receive the greatest responses are those dealing with ACDF dynamics. Perhaps now you know why. You are not alone, my friend. The pain you feel permeates our entire society. It is why we are such an anxious, depressive country afraid of relationship but driven by the “trappings” of advancement, wealth, materialism and control. When the effects of ACDF finds itself in the church it destroys congregations, pastors and ministries. But, in spite of all the pain, havoc and destruction, the hearts of the people of the industrialized world and all Western civilization is still pained and restless…until they find rest in God. That is what the ministry is all about. Ministering to the pain with the grace which comes from the benefits of Him who experienced greatest pain ever experienced–for you, me and all the world. In our contemporary, Western world there is an intense need to recover the “spiritual” side of ministry. When Christianity and the church is reduced to a CEO-driven institution, something very, very vital and life-giving is lost, namely, its essence of being a living, breathing, growing Body of Christ. But much more–so much more–has also been lost. What has been lost is what causes unrelenting existential inner pain such as yours. In spite of the defense mechanisms, achievements, trappings, etc., the pain is there until one relinquishes the power to control one’s own pain via isolation, hiding, facades, detachment, etc. Hence the first of the twelve steps is to give God the control. I often wonder what would happen if I had a sermon series entitled, “Put Off!”? Just a thought! But can you begin to imagine just how this one issue takes in the key elements of the Gospel: confession, absolution, Law and Gospel, God’s purpose and calling, the role of suffering, and faith itself. I suppose all this should be obvious. When we’re experiencing ACDF and ACOA dynamics what we’re really dealing with is one of the most common consequences of original sin in our culture. It’s one of the most common ways fear and shame manifest themselves and proliferate in our culture, churches, workplaces, and families. My friend, as God ministers to you through this healing process I pray that He will be shaping and preparing you (as I’m sure He is) to be an even greater healing agent to all God’s people. Indeed, such healing is one of the key marks of the Scriptural prophetic tradition, isn’t it?
- “Comfort, comfort My people…tell them their warfare is over…and God has paid double for all their sins.” Isaiah 40:1 (KJV)
Ah, grace. How sweet it is! You are in my prayers, my friend. Hold fast to this course of trust and healing. It is nothing less than the call of God working working in you. I know it’s scary. But do everything you can to overcome the fear, OK? I ever I threaten you with fear, etc., please let me know. It is not my intention nor will it ever be. It would grieve me to do something to cause you fear and not understand how I had incited that fear. If I have incited fear or anxiety, please forgive me. Like your spouse, I’ll be there for you the best way possible. Unlike God, I can’t be there all the time…but I’ll try! And for those times when I can’t, you’ll be in my prayers. Thanks so very, very much for the sharing! May God bless you and keep you! Pastor Fischer