I was a Pastor for 30 years. Before that, I was very involved in the local ministry of my church. If the doors were open, I was there, ready to serve. Three days from now will be the 38th year of me being a Jesus follower. On April 11, 1983, I acknowledged who Jesus is, and invited him into my sixteen year old heart. What follows is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Reconstructing of Your Mind, releasing in mid June through Quoir publishing.
“At age sixteen, I was “called” vocationally to the ministry. I started out the ministry by teaching Sunday School, singing, visiting prisoners, and youth camp counseling. Later I was a minister of music and youth at a couple of churches in North and South Carolina. I decided to finish my college degree at Southeastern Baptist Theological College in Wake Forest, NC. When I was a student, we had four to five-hundred people on campus. Today it is at least five times larger! My classes were intimate – less than thirty people per class. I made some wonderful friends who challenged and cared for me. I lived on campus, mostly worked on campus, and seldom got out of Wake Forest. I was in a Southern Baptist “bubble,” in which I was indoctrinated in the authority of God’s holy, inerrant word, the Bible.
I learned biblical Greek and Hebrew. I was never an expert at either language, but I learned how to use my lexicons. I learned to be an expository preacher. I also learned arrogance. Maybe it was already there, but it really took shape in Bible College.
By the end of my first semester, I wanted to quit. I felt that I didn’t belong there. When one receives a vocational ministry calling, it is an amazing feeling. I arrived at the seminary campus thinking I was going to be the next Billy Graham. That didn’t last long. I thought I knew so much about God, Jesus, the Bible, and theology in general. Very quickly, I realized how over my head I was. I didn’t understand why I had uprooted my family and moved to Wake Forest. I thought I would make a terrible pastor. Many of my friends and classmates were already pastors. They were (and still are) some amazing people. I felt like a blind man at a staring contest. I was unworthy of my calling in my mind. I wanted to go back home. One of my favorite professors and some good friends talked me through my first semester crisis, and I decided to stay and finish my conservative evangelical education and indoctrination with great humility. I graduated two years later and embarked on a thirty-year journey of pastoral ministry.
Almost all of my life my life, I wanted to be someone else. This mindset started as a child. Everybody I knew had a better life than I did. They had both parents, nice families, and nice homes. My father was an alcoholic and emotionally closed off. After they divorced, my mother was always tired from working to support my two sisters and I with no help from him. He abandoned us. Because of this, I always felt odd. My closest friends had good fathers, and I had no one. I never believed in myself, even when I was doing good or winning awards. I still felt less than everyone else. I think I overcompensated by trying to be the best at everything I did. Even when I succeeded, I still had a low opinion of myself. I had no faith in myself. This mindset followed me as a young man, a husband, a father, and employee, and later as a pastor.
I never trusted myself to be a good pastor, so I tried to emulate other prominent Baptist pastors who I admired, like Charles Stanley, Johnny Hunt, John MacArthur, and Tom Elliff. I studied these men and tried to be them. I even preached some of their sermons. I did Wednesday night Bible studies straight from MacArthur’s commentaries. I couldn’t remember the last time I had had an original thought of my own. Why? Because I didn’t trust myself to lead as a husband, father, or pastor; I expected to fail, so I tried to become other people who I believed were way better than me so that I could be successful like them. They weren’t always real people, either. I picked characters from television and movies to become. I was never enough as myself. I tried to live other peoples’ lives. When I had my mental breakdown in 2016, I had no idea who I was. It had never even occurred to me to just be myself! Not one in my entire life did I just try to be Todd.
As a Christian, I simply tried to act like the people at church that I looked up to. I became good at wearing my church mask. My life at home was difficult, so I spent as much time away from there as I could growing up. I had about five surrogate families during high school. I seldom had people over to my house. I never wanted them to know how dysfunctional my life really was.
It wasn’t until 2016 when I went to intensive outpatient psychiatric therapy that I discovered who Todd really was: a big mess. At the time I was in my final pastorate and couldn’t give the church what they needed. My heart wasn’t in it at all. I asked myself why, and I realized that I wasn’t even sure I believed in God anymore. What good is a Christian pastor who doesn’t know if he even believes in Jesus? Did I ever? Or was I just trying to be accepted by my friends? Those were hard questions, and that is way understating it. Everything I believed, everything I thought I was, and everything I had known since high school, was suddenly gone. It was like the death of an old friend. I knew exactly what that felt like. I thought about Rick more than ever. How was he so comfortable in his skin? Why wasn’t I?
After he died, I began to seriously ponder my life as I compared it to his. He left an amazing legacy to his family and friends. I had hurt my family and friends. I didn’t know at the time that I was entrenched in severe anxiety and depression. I loathed myself so much that I sabotaged every good thing in my life.
When the spiritual rug of your life is yanked out from underneath you, it is perfectly normal to go into crisis mode. Something was terribly wrong with me. I had lost my faith. The very thing that I devoted my life to sharing was just…gone. I was terrified. The fact of the matter is that I was more relieved than sad. I felt free – a lifelong burden had been removed from my sagging spiritual shoulders. If I didn’t want to, I never had to go back to church ever again. Let them have it! I thought. I’m done. I’m out. The problem for me was that I no longer had a belief system. I am a spiritual-minded person. I needed something to grab hold of.
Before I left the church, I had acquired a job at a local furniture store. The owner and his family were Christians, but much different than what I was used to. They treated me like family from day one. I was doing really good there, and after a few months, a position opened in another store. This store was a one-man operation, as there was nowhere near the foot traffic than at my store. The owners had been so good to me and I didn’t want to let them down.
At the new store, there was literally nothing to do for most of the day except sit at the computer in the office. I played on social media and binge-watched several series I had been wanting to see. I watched old movies I had never seen. Mostly, I watched things that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Every now and then, a customer would come in and I would stop and wait on them. I made some good sales, so the owners didn’t mind me sitting at the PC most of the day. It was a great time of mental unwinding for me. I didn’t have to focus on much at all. I was getting paid to use the computer pretty much. It was a healing time for me.
I soon became bored with binge-watching. I started to think about faith again. I felt empty inside, even though my life was good. I took to the internet exploring beliefs and why we need them. I connected with an amazing Hindu swami, who was so full of wisdom and kindness. He even suggested that Hinduism was not for me. He said that Christianity is where my heart belonged. I felt a little put off at the time, but now I realize what an amazing thing Swami J did for me. I began to read books by John Assaraf, Vishen Lakhiani of MindValley.com, and I discovered books on the brain and faith by Dr. Andrew Newburg.
I spent hours in front of the company computer watching Masterclasses taught by some incredible people I had never heard of before. John Assaraf’s Brain-A-Thon was also one of my favorite things to watch. John has met with brain experts all over the world. His teachings about the brain are geared toward living the life you dreamed of by unlocking yourself from unhealthy beliefs and traditions that have held you back. I was taking pages of notes and absorbing as much as I could from these incredible people. I started writing The Renewing of Your Mind during this time. It took me three years and several rewrites to complete. Plus, there was so much research that I had done. The book didn’t feel right to me. I felt like I was sharing information that had already been shared by John, Vishen, Swami J, and others. It wasn’t my book. I wasn’t using my own voice. I was going back to trying to be these people rather than myself again. I wanted to write my own book. Something was missing, however. Or rather, someone.
Jesus. Not the Jesus I had been preaching for so long. Not the Jesus that I could do nothing but fail. Not the Jesus who sits at the right hand of God, shaking his disappointed head at me.
I wanted to rediscover the Jesus I met in 1983 as a teenager. Those first months as a Christian were like a dream. I talked to Jesus and he talked to me…like a brother. I wanted everyone to know him. I didn’t understand how I ever lived without him. I walked on clouds during that time in 1983. Nothing bothered me because I had Jesus in my life. I also had some of the best friends in all of explored space. I was the happiest I had ever been!”
All those years of trying to be like and serve Jesus, and I had missed it. My head was buried in a religious, performance-based sand of my own creation. As I deconstructed my belief system, the real, authentic Jesus of the gospels was revealed to me. The loving, caring, non-violent, closer than a brother Jesus. I regret it took me so long, but trust me, he was worth the wait!