One Draft

I’m only allowed the one draft on this. I can edit here on the back end of WordPress, but that’s it. No printing it out. No going over it 200 times. No red pen. Just the first and only draft.

Do you have any idea how vulnerable that makes me?

I have an intuitive sense that this is the way I need to write this. And when writing I try always always always to follow my intuition. It’s the key to my unconscious, which is the source of creativity. So okay. Here it is:

I don’t seem to be recovering from having been a minister for 20 years. It was 30 years if you consider the 10 years of education leading up to it. I left. I thought I’d find my place in the world. I felt odd but thought that would go away. But it’s not going away.

The main symptom is a continued withdrawal from people. I don’t want to be around crowds. I don’t really want to interact much. I still love to interact online with the 50 or so people who read me. The readers feel like my friends. I’ve tried being in churches and failed. I have no church now. I seem to have a fear of anyone needing me that is beginning to be a little unhealthy. There are four women in this world whom I adore and who I love to be with. My wife and the three sisters. Being with others is work for me. I can do it. Man, can I do it. I’m very gregarious and outgoing when I need to be. You’d have no idea it was work.

But doing that feels like waking up the preacher. And I don’t want to wake him up. He ruled my life for all those years and I’ve locked him in the cellar. Bringing him out frightens me. So I mostly don’t. Mostly I keep reaching for solitude like an alcoholic reaching for a drink. One drink is okay. But drinking all day long is a problem.

And now my withdrawal is worrying me. I thought I’d bounce back but I just seem to be going deeper into it. And it’s starting to manifest itself in a fear of being physically touched. I don’t want people touching me. If they try I can bring out the preacher for a moment, hug them, then stuff him back down. But I feel the aversion and it frightens me.

Can you imagine how invested I was in Christianity, the Church, and my calling that it is doing this to me? And I’m beginning to think I’m not going to find a way through this alone.

  • ChloeAmari

    Gordon, I’ve read your writing for years and have benefitted greatly from it. I can’t claim to know what you’re going through, but in a much lesser way, I’ve recently reached a place where even going to church drains and saps my energy. It follows from burnout and a sense that church as I know it is not equipping me for “ministry” in a broad sense.

    You don’t need to find your way through this alone. I’d like to suggest you consider–just consider–some mindfulness or meditation study. Not as a religious practice, more as a psychology or medical approach. See if you can find someone who does the Jon Kabat-Zinn type stuff. But try it in a group of other people, and give it a couple months to do its work. You may be surprised at the mental clarity and comfort that results. And if you’ve tried it before, try it again. Blessings to you. We who care about you are out here.


  • Dave Rice

    Intense. You and I corresponded through comments some time back. I grew up in a big Baptist Church, got an M.Div. from SWBTS in ’93 and a D.Min. from SEBTS in ’02. Climbed the ladder, did OK, lived the life for 18 years, then chucked it all in 2006. I feel for you.

    My wife and I refer to the transition away from ministry as “killing the preacher.” I barely tolerated church for years, then something happened. I have no idea what it was, but it all came back somehow. I mean the innocent, childlike stuff. The “God so loved the world” part.

    I wish there was a way to shed the years of weary toil running churches and dealing with difficult people that was as easy as removing a wet overcoat. If you could go back to the start… Not the naivete and dogmatism, but, rather, the hope and purpose. Think about Morgan Freeman’s character in “Shawshank” after his release. That’s you and me. Don’t give up. The best is yet to come.

    Btw, your writing was a light unto my path during all those years, fwiw.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      thanks. very helpful.

  • Travis

    I wish I could find words that would help. Just know that we are here and care deeply for you.

  • David Goldfarb

    As someone who’s been following your writing from back in the old anonymous days, I hope you find some good way forward.

    (You talk about liking to be with your wife: I hope we can infer from this that you two are still together. You had a Foy Davis story a little while back in which Foy was divorced, and I wondered whether that was your way of talking about a marriage breakup without talking about it.)

    • Gordon Atkinson

      We are together and happy. 30 years next month. Foy has his own life, though he is certainly modeled after me. I’d say that with Foy I explore what my life would have been had it taken several different turns.

  • James Millar

    Thank you for sharing this, it means a lot.

  • Twila Spaar

    A labyrinth is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return. There at last the metaphysical journey of your life and your actual movements are one and the same. You may wander, may learn that in order to get to your destination you must turn away from it, become lost, spin about, and then only after the way has become overwhelming and absorbing, arrive, having gone the great journey without having gone far on the ground ~ Rebecca Solnit
    I’ve been over a dozen years post-fundie and there is still deconstruction, although now I spend most of my time sifting through the refuse for the shards of wisdom to take along with me. My process also included a dark night season that lasted almost 10. Although I no longer identify as Christian, I have come out of the dark with a greater appreciation of mystery, groundlessness, and connection. I think of myself (at least at this place in my life) as a hopeful agnostic. I have no answers and searching for God-answers seems to diminish the whole idea of “God”. I feel a connection, however, both outwardly and inwardly, to, um, something. And that is enough. What was an anathema for so many years (spiritual music, the bible, etc) now has evolved into an appreciation for the poetry, the beauty, and the effort to express the inexpressible.
    I identify with so much you have written over the years. If I were to give you a word of encouragement, I think it would be to just try to let it be. This season is hard. It may last a bit longer or a lot longer, but it won’t last forever. Relax. Let it be what it is. Let what needs to be annihilated be consumed. Don’t try to see ahead too far. Be here, now, and let it be.

  • Suzanne Britton

    From someone who has lurked for quite a few years (on RLP, now here) and never commented: my deepest sympathies for the struggle you’re having, and hopes that you will find your way.

    This may have already occurred to you, in fact it may be an attack of the blindingly obvious, but have you considered this as possibly being a midlife crisis? That’s the phrase I settled on for my own recent struggles, very different from yours and yet similar in some ways. I remember reading somewhere that a midlife crisis is about going back to reclaim parts of us that we left behind, and reintegrating those parts. This struck home for me and it has also struck home in reading your posts of late.

    The old identity puts up a struggle. It doesn’t want any of this new material, it wants to stick with what it knows. Sometimes one gives in to it and other times one overcompensates and tells the old identity to get stuffed. There can be guilt–especially if the old identity is all about self-sacrificial giving and the new material is about taking proper care of you and yours. There can even be a sense that one is moving backwards or devolving. After all, that which was left behind may have been left behind many years ago. So to join it and reclaim it, you almost have to have a second adolescence.

    I think that in time (and maybe with help) your crisis will resolve and result in a life that does justice to all your parts–including the preacher.

    Just something I thought I’d throw out there.

    • Gordon Atkinson

      Very nice. Sounds very Jungian to me. Reclaiming things that have gone to the shadow side. I’m definitely going through that, but everyone should in mid-life. At 49 I decided to reclaim my athletic youth. With kids mostly grown suddenly I had time. I could have made time with small children but didn’t. That’s okay. At 49 a healthy man can reclaim a lot. Now I work out about 15 times a month. Averaging every other day. Biking, walking, racquetball. It’s wonderful!

      What I think is happening is I’m reclaiming parts of me that were never allowed to grow or develop. So these parts of Gordon have not seen the light. Now they are being asked to come out and thrive. I suppose it’s understandable if they blink and hesitate a bit.

  • Rachel Barenblat

    I don’t think any of us can find our way through the tough stuff alone.

    I hear you on the fear of being needed. I think a lot of us in this line of work (myself included) get some kind of juice from being needed — and I can see how that can become unhealthy; how we get our self-image and our sense of self tied up in being needed and being able to meet other people’s needs. (And in the end, there are always needs we can’t meet.) I can imagine what it would feel like to dedicate decades to this and to come out on the other side, as you have done, and to feel some of what you’re feeling. I don’t have wisdom to offer, but I am thinking of you.

  • PaulNotTheApostle

    Did you find the whole gregarious/outgoing thing something exhausting that you needed to “recharge” after back when you were a pastor? The reason I ask is that you just sound normal for a really strong introvert to me (they’d have to invent a new scale to properly place how “I” I am on the Myers-Briggs spectrum). People seldom guess I’m an introvert because I’m not shy in the least (the two have nothing to do with each other), but though I can be gregarious, too, I find it very draining; and I never was a preacher.

    To echo (at least sort of) something someone else said, I wonder if you may not find a fulfilling way to be “the preacher” totally outside the context in which you were that in the past. You’re a living person, not a dead gear that has to fit in some particular mechanism. Maybe, if you asked him, “the preacher” doesn’t even care about church!

    • Gordon Atkinson

      My myers briggs introversion was 20 to 1 I think.

  • Bill Finley

    Gordon, I get it. Right now I still am ordained but work in the administration side of the evangelical ministry I am part of. I have not preached for two years. I am preaching in a week and while I will preach a very inclusive sermon I can not help but be scared. I don’t like myself when I preach. I don’t think my answers are worth a hill of beans. That said I get where you are coming from. I find that over the last three years I have withdrawn from people. I dread it when I have to engage with people. You are an inspiration to me by having the courage to face this life and be real. Thanks

  • Serena Sullivan

    for what it’s worth, I get it too. Since I don’t have any spouse or children, I’m still forcing myself to attend a local church a couple of times a month because of a few friends I’ve made there, and guest preaching at another occasionally, Thankfully both are very inclusive theologically and philosophically. But/and, I’d much rather stay home.

  • Mjacopec

    I was introduced to RLP…wow…I guess in its infancy. It was really cool. I loved the anonymity and I guess you may agree, when you finally revealed yourself and your church….the fun was over. I like your writing. I have purchased the two books that have been published. (Two that I am aware) We think along the same wave length. What I thought was fascinating is our ministry lives running parallel. I too have separated from the “Church”. It was 25 years of the same issues over and over again. The only thing that changed were the faces. I got tired of the “sheep” biting each other. It bordered on cannabalism. I decided that Church exists to perpetuate itself…and I am fully convinced we get God’s message wrong.

    Guess what…My Sundays are open. Opportunities to serve people and love people show up without being committed to a “body”. I answer to God…and to myself. I do not have to depend on other people. I do not have to put up with people that believe their God given talent is judging others. Judging is all they bring to the table. No other service. Alas…I get what you are writing. I too was fully vested. I feel the tug. I feel the pull…but then I remind myself how it ended. Why it ended. What was said…and said without compassion. I pull back and continue to be happy with my decision to stay away.