We, Dale and Sara Wolery, met, married and lived happily ever after – for one month. Sara, my wife, and I failed even the standards of conventional wisdom which projected that we would “honeymoon” for at least 3 months. It hurt so badly. We agonized out loud about whether or not it had been God’s will for us to marry. Conflict cycled in and out of all our attempts to be a happy Christian couple. Closeness eluded us consistently.
We were also deeply involved in ministry. Seminary was engaging and energizing for me. Sara thrived as the president of the student’s wives association. Both of us served the Lord tirelessly on the weekends. We were enthusiastically planting a church and working with the social concerns of some of central Georgia’s poorest people. Our ministry efforts were rewarded. The church was growing. We built a building. Each of us flourished in ministry. But along with the growth in ministry, we pushed the pain between us deeper and deeper into the subterranean realm.
Our struggles became our secret. It was like a dark hidden decay just beneath the surface of ministry success. No one knew how bad it was. We didn’t even know how bad it was. I did not realize it at the time but I lived under the constant threat that the decay would break through, ooze out to the surface and spoil what mattered most to me – the success I enjoyed in ministry. This threat and the accompanying behavior it evoked worked against the marriage even more.
Then it started. Sara began to assume we needed help. She said it out loud and began to do something about it. First, she brought home a book on marriage. It was an affront to the fantasy marriage I wanted to believe we had. But, the promise of better sex, which was one of the things they used to market the book, motivated me to read it. It was a little help. It was not enough.
Next Sara urged me to go with her to seminars. We went. We got a little help. Again it was not enough.
Finally, she began to insist that we should “get some help”. She actually wanted us to see a Christian counselor!
I resisted. For two decades I resisted. Two decades. Ministry was thriving. I leapfrogged into opportunities beyond my dreams. I’d learned to counsel, administer and lead with effectiveness. There was no time for that ‘getting help’ stuff and besides my ministry was going to well.
The decay remained underneath; in the dark. Sara grew increasingly dissatisfied and more depressed. So I worked more. Served the Lord more. Enjoyed the “success” even more. I avoided getting help by insisting that if we just did what God wanted us to do we would be okay. I avoided getting help by insisting that Sara was the problem. Her depression, her not being happy with what I was doing for the Lord, her not submitting to what God was doing in our lives – those were the real problems. I was totally deceived about my own fears and needs.
The “it must be biblical” culture we lived in also provided some handy excuses for avoiding even Christian counselors. Imagine the irony. It was okay for me to live as a pastor with the lie that everything was okay between my wife and me. It was not okay to accept the truth that we needed help. Living the lie meant that no one could share my burden, as Scriptures encourage. I was honestly afraid of psychology and those around me supported my mistrust.
Eventually the truth has a way of becoming unavoidable. What it took for me was the convergence of a major episode of ministry burnout, some significant personal failures, my parent’s divorce and my wife’s threat of divorce. I succumbed to getting some help. I insisted that it be in secret. It was so shameful to me. Imagine, me getting help. What will they think? I’m the helper, not the helpee. They will think I am crazy.
What did I need? I needed help. Just a little help? No. My dishonest, split off life could not be repaired with a few minor adjustments. The fear that fed my resistance to help needed to be challenged intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Even after I decided to get professional help, my resistance created barriers to the growth I needed. The problem was not just some little part of me – the problem was all of me. The core of my person was entangled with shame and denial. The closer you got to my core, the more I clung defensively to the shame and desperately tired to hold my insanity together. A little help wouldn’t help. Deep-seated psychological problems? Yes. Absolutely. It was the kind that had to be addressed with lots of time, honesty, grace, insight and change. Sara had been right. We (maybe mostly me) needed lots of help.
After a decade of receiving counseling, going to groups, and pursuing change I know the pain and thrill of getting real, consistent, quality help. I have numerous regrets for not getting help sooner. I also now believe that getting just a little help would have been almost as tragic for me as getting none. I needed all the help I needed.
If you find yourself wrestling with hidden stuff, with repeated cycles of unmanaged acting out, or if you just don’t know why your relationships are not satisfying, why not investigate getting some quality, confidential help. Fight the denial. Fight the shame. You are worth helping. You are a precious, lovable child of a grace-full God and you deserve all the help you need. To take the next step in grace and help click here.