All of us have struggles. For those who are growing a ministry, creating a brand, building a platform, or hoping to reach more people with a specific message, it is hard to know how to handle personal challenges. There’s a very real need to protect the work you are doing. We offer our stories as a way to help others, and each time we make a personal mistake, throwing in the towel becomes a legitimate consideration.
At least that’s been my experience. As one working through my own recovery from addiction and a suicide attempt while also writing and sharing hope with others, I get it. I am trying to raise healthy and whole children, while consistently engaging and romancing my wife, and also using my experience to help someone else. This is no easy task.
The struggle with anyone who chooses a more public life is that the fishbowl concept consistently comes into play. People stand around to watch you swim. The thing is, most folks don’t know enough about fish to know if they are swimming or drowning until the fish is floating at the top of the bowl.
I’ve never seen this struggle more than during my years in traditional ministry. As a pastor, everything you do has the potential of being scrutinized by everyone you know. There are those who want to hold you accountable and there are those who long to see you (and the Church universal) crumble. I remember the nights of driving home after a difficult interaction with a parishioner, wondering why I kept trying. It has been said that Christians are the only “army” that shoot their own wounded. And sadly, I’ve seen that too.
Yet the fishbowl struggle is often a blessing. It keeps you vulnerable and humble. Reminders of your humanity allow you to connect with others in the midst of a brokenness you completely understand; however, it is also the scariest part of the job. Knowing that you have the potential to break the very thing you love causes anxiety most folks outside of the fishbowl cannot understand.
I’m okay with people seeing Steve Austin, the sign language interpreter who left work early last week because of a panic attack. My fear is that people will believe that because I share redemption stories, they will believe I no longer struggle anymore.
Friends, I still struggle.
When an online ad creates a solid hour of struggling not to go back to my old numbing behaviors, I feel like a failure. I didn’t fail. I said no, and I won that battle. But the temptation itself feels like failure. The fear of being seen, of truly being known, is a universal one. Mine is not gone. If people know I still struggle, will they continue to take the redemption stories I share seriously?
Brene’ Brown would say we fear not being enough. I fear both that I can’t offer hope to enough people, and that my honesty will sacrifice the hope I’m offering. Multiple times on a Sunday morning, people come to me and say “thank you” and begin to share portions of their story. There’s no greater honor and at the same time, I want to scream, “I am jacked up! I have more issues than you! It’s just an online journal! I have no idea what I am doing! I’m barely saved!” What shame whispers, I want to shout.
The power of vulnerability is life-changing. To have the boldness to say, “Just because I didn’t give up last time, doesn’t mean I am no longer tempted,” gives each of us space to mourn and grow. We can have really good days, reaching other people, engaging at speaking events, or reading emails from people who have been moved by our stories. Those joys are very real. But even in our best moments, struggles leave anyone in the fishbowl feeling fragile and, often, alone. All it takes is one negative word, one trigger, to send us spiraling again, drowning in the very thing we so carefully and lovingly created.
No matter how successful you may be, all of us struggle. On my best day, anxiety still has the chance to kick my butt. If I said anything different, I would be lying. The spotlight doesn’t erase struggles. And really, isn’t that a great relief? Even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane shed literal drops of blood. Even our Savior, in his most significant hour, struggled under the pressure, feeling crushed like an olive into oil.
But you aren’t Jesus. Nothing matters more than you– who you are at your core –apart from your title, success, brand, organization, ministry, or any other ways you have devoted your energy. No matter how many likes, follows, or shares you get on social media, everyone needs a Savior.