Editor’s Note: Continuing the theme of how hard clergy try to hold on to their faith, this active pastor describes his struggles with prayer and its effects on his ministry and his mental health. It is reprinted, with permission and with light editing, from his blog, A Preacherman’s Secrets.
By “Stan Bennett”
I haven’t prayed for years.
Oh, I’ve said the obligatory words. I still say them before the meal for the sake of my wife who doesn’t really know I’ve let go of my faith. I say them at church and think of it as voicing the feelings and desires of the group. I say them in front of the troubled souls to whom I minister, on order to voice their desires and assuage their fears.
For a while I was merely mad at god and I didn’t want to speak to him/her/it, because I thought god was trying to hurt me.
I had a bad depressive episode several years ago where I felt my mind slipping away, even as I begged for god’s help. I thought demons had come to oppress me.
So I tried even harder for a while. I lay prone on the floor of the church building before the cross. I even tried to speak in tongues, which was kind of pitiful and you would have felt sorry even as you laughed at me. I also begged for a miracle of healing and asked people to anoint me and lay hands on me. >
And then I lost myself. I stayed a few days in the hospital. Afterward, for almost a year, I lied and told everyone I felt better even though I still fought suicidal impulses.
I got a little better. I stayed a minister, hoping one day my spiritual life would return. But I didn’t trust god anymore. I had handed him my essence and he beat me to a pulp. I’ll mouth the words, but my thoughts are my own.
Still, I really thought the faith would come back to me one day if I stayed faithful and did good and right things. But the faith has slipped away even as I claimed more and more the ownership of my thoughts. I realized that god was a product of our cultural mindset. We invented him.
And I dis-invented him.
The prayers of others annoy me now. I hear someone begging for mercy like I once did and I have to shut it out. I roll my eyes at the scolding sermons within the prayers: “Lord, help those whose faith wavers to stop doubting and truly see your good works.”
The ones that make me throw up are the “prayer warriors” – the ones who “stand in the gap” for the spiritual safety of their weakling spiritual sibs. The ones who boldly state that they “bind satan in the name of the lord.” The ones who think they get extra credit for screwing up their faces and ratcheting up their voices when they pray for the sick, the lost, and the Democrats.
Was it the lord’s will that I become mentally ill? Some would have me think so. I prefer to think of it as being part of the mass hysteria we find in religious communities. I got well when I took control of my own mind.
More accurately, I improved. I still have some more healing to do.
**Editor’s Question** What do you think are Stan’s options, besides trying once again to regain his faith?
Bio: “Stan Bennett” is a closet agnostic, still working as a minister for a mainline denomination. He is the same “Stan” who was recently featured in the CNN documentary, Atheists: Inside the World of Non-believers. He has been a pastor for over thirty years, but is searching for other employment so he can escape from under the clergy robes. He has a blog called “A Preacherman’s Secrets” and is writing a book by the same name.