Stuck /stŭk/ : The state of being fixed in a particular position; unable to move or be moved.
For a follower of Jesus Christ, being “soul-stuck” is an odd phenomenon. We know that Jesus called Himself the “bread of life” and “living water”, and that He spoke of abundant life in Him. Most of us know all of these things. Many of us have memorized the verses or the worship songs that paraphrase them. We know that He’s the answer to our problems and that only He can satisfy our hungry souls.
But we still sometimes get stuck.
We still live in a broken world, even after encountering the saving grace of Jesus Christ. There are parts of us that, although are in a state of being repaired, are still broken. There are parts of our affections, our emotions, and our desires that can get hung-up on things that aren’t God, and there are other parts of us that simply long for the consummation of our redemption, when all things (including our misplaced affections and strange emotional states) are made right. In short, there are times when even the most dedicated followers of Jesus Christ can find themselves in an emotional or spiritual state of being where they’re simply stuck.
Before entering full-time pastoral ministry, I had a very idyllic and naïve idea of what it meant to be a “pastor”. I thought most pastors’ days were spent in a cozy office that smelled of good books and cedar candles, listening to soft worship music and sipping French press coffee as they offered people sagely spiritual advice. The pastors I knew always seemed so confident in the faithfulness of God, so secure in their calling, and so at peace with the world and with themselves.
Deep down, I think I knew pastors were normal people, but the mythology of the “model pastor” was ingrained in my mind’s eye. Pastors weren’t supposed to get “soulstuck”.
They were the ones that helped everybody else get out of being “soulstuck”.
And then God called me into full-time ministry. I tried hard in the first year or so to live up to the mythology of being that “sagely pastor”. I tried hard to have all of the answers and seem perfectly at peace with myself and the world, but the reality was (and still is), I’m just like anyone else.
I’m not exempt from the brokenness of this age.
I still get insecure.
I still struggle with selfishness, greed, and impatience.
I still have mornings where, without rhyme or reason, I wake up and just feel empty.
The moments in my ministry when I’ve felt the most “stuck” have been the moments when I’ve fallen victim to a kind of toxic, spiritual myopia. In this ailment of the soul, I believe the lie that the way I feel in a moment has everything to do with where my soul is truly positioned.
I can’t recall the beginning of the ailment, and I can’t see the end of it either. It’s like being spun around in circles in a dark room and told to navigate your way out of it by feeling the furniture. It’s lonely, scary, and at times, even hopeless. The hardest part about being a pastor is that even when you’re soul-stuck in your own personal dark room, you’re still on call to help others navigate their way out of their own personal dark room.
The novel Slaughterhouse Five describes a protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, who becomes “unstuck in time.” Throughout the novel, Billy travels randomly through the moments of his life without control over his chronological destination. One moment, he’s with his wife enjoying his honeymoon, and the next he’s in a foxhole in World War II. One moment he’s at work as an optometrist, and the next he’s a prisoner of war.
Sometimes the only way that I’ve discovered to get “unstuck” is to let God take me on a time traveling adventure. Only when I’m willing to let God lift me up and take me to places in my personal history with Him that only Him and I know, can I see the bigger picture to my situation. I may think it’s too dark to navigate out of my own personal darkroom and that I’ll never get out, but then God reminds me of the times when I’ve been in places much darker and He’s rescued me, at the appointed time. I may think it’s hopeless and that God has abandoned me to my own despair and insecurity, but then I time-travel back to that moment when I first heard Him call me to full-time ministry when I was 10 years old in a Methodist church in North Georgia.
I remember the night I gave Him life, the night I was set free from bondages of a certain sin, and the night in my dorm room when I ached for more of the Holy Spirit and stayed on my knees for two hours asking for more anointing and power. I remember His faithfulness. I remember His goodness. And I remind myself that it’s not in His character to call me this far and completely forsake me.
If I could give any pastors a word of advice it’s this:
Time-travel to that moment when you first heard His call on your life and the moments when He has come through for you in ways that are utterly supernatural. Do it as often as you need to convince your fickle and flighty emotions that they DO NOT define the character of your God.
Your emotions make wonderful servants, but terrible masters. Don’t let them dictate the state of your faith. Remind your soul who its God is, and don’t grow weary of doing good.
My friend, Josh Brooker is the Executive Pastor at The Experience Community Church in Murfreesboro, TN. He and his wife Jenni are expecting their first child in just a few short months. His first book, co-authored with Corey Trimble is entitled Authentic Pursuit: Building a Church from Nothing. It is the story of how the Experience Community Church got its start and how God “built a vibrant, eclectic body of believers in a few short years from the ground up with no money, denominational support, or encouragement from expected places.”
This is Josh Brooker before he became a rock star pastor.