“Leave me alone, Lisa; just leave me alone.” Aaron’s tone was bleak, his face gray and lined with distress.
So much of the past year this had been the theme of their communication: no communication at all.
And yet, seeing the pain and frustration dragging her beloved husband deeper into this yawning chasm of despair, how could Lisa, in all good conscience, watch him suffer to this extent without trying something—anything—to turn things around. She knew what the problem was.
Burnout. Pastoral burnout, to be exact.
What she wasn’t sure of was its cause.
Ten years of successful ministry. A large and still-growing congregation of enthusiastic worshipers, a staff who loved him and received his mentoring and supervision with grace and good humor.
“Get him alone and see if he’ll talk to you,” she had pleaded with Nick Dalton, Director of Pastoral Care. Nick’s doctorate in Psychology more than qualified him to counsel Aaron, and his deep respect for his senior pastor made him for this mission.
“Lisa, I can’t just butt in. What do you want me to do? Go to him and say, ‘Lisa sent me to find out why you’re so moody’?” Nick’s own frustration with Aaron’s unknown problem was evident.
Lisa’s eyes filled. “No, but you’re his friend. He trusts you. And since you’ve seen the despair, too, it seems like you could approach him honestly. Tell him what you’ve noticed personally; you wouldn't need to tell him we’ve talked, would you?”
Blasting his way through the traffic in the downhill portion of the tunnel, Pastor Aaron Whitman wondered if he could just “forget” to make that sharp curve at the end of the tunnel, and without even thinking about it, leave the highway and plunge down into Alder Creek. “An accident,” they’d say sadly. Lisa would suspect. . .but she’d move on. And the God he’d been preaching about, well, he guessed he’d find out one way or another if He really existed.
Funny, the red-hot confidence and excitement in the beginning, that God was literally directing every moment of every day; now, it was like that had never happened. And how in heaven’s name (if there is a heaven, he thought wryly) did he end up as pastor of this huge flock of sheep! And sheep they were: staring hungrily up at him every Sunday, as though the very words he spoke went straight into their mouths to nourish and mature them.
Another half-mile to go. Unfocused as he was, he nearly missed the trail of red brake lights ahead, and screeched to a halt within an inch of the car in front of him. Dazed, he rested his head on the steering wheel, waiting for his heartbeat to slow.
It was another 30 minutes before he reached the end of the tunnel, with traffic officers slowly inching traffic around the outside lane. As he reached the source of the snarl, he rolled down the passenger window to call out to the officer waving him by: “What happened?”
“Poor guy’s tire blew,” the rookie cop replied. “Just missed going down into the river…must be his day.” He took another look at Aaron, then said, “You’re that pastor, aren’t ya? That’s one uh yours, ummm. . .name’s Nick? I think he’s sumthin’ or other up there?”
“Yeah, that’s ‘is name. Sure was lucky. That blowout coulda taken him right over.” The guy waved Aaron along and moved toward the cliff edge, shaking his head.
The trembling didn’t start until Aaron was nearly home, and then it was as though a sudden palsy struck him. He pulled into the back lot of a mall and sat, waiting for calm.
He sucked in the deepest breath he could around the icy constriction in his chest, but when he exhaled, it was a gut-wrenching sob. Uncontrollable now, he cried aloud, gasping as the sobs shook him.
When his breathing at last became steadier, he reached for his cell phone and speed-dialed Lisa. As best he could, he explained where he was and what had happened. When he spoke Nick’s name, Lisa broke in, “It was Nick who had the blowout?”
“We need to talk, honey. I’ll tell you about it when you get home, and we’ll talk, okay?”
As he and Lisa talked, Aaron looked past the void which had threatened to destroy him, and opened his frozen heart to allow in a tiny, warming ray of grace.
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