The Hurting Pastor: My Story
Updated: May 27, 2020
by Rev. Allen Kleine Deters, Pastor Care Coordinator, Agora Network Ministries
The year 2019 was the worst year of my life. It really exploded in early 2018 and just ramped up into the next year. Not only was I struggling with cancer, but a broken marriage and clinical depression which all led to my leaving ministry and leaving a young church plant to fend for itself. The whole thing felt Job-esque (I made that up meaning my life-hell resembled that of Job’s). I seriously contemplated suicide numerous times.
I just wanted the pain to stop. At one time I mentioned to someone who had come over to stay with me as a support in a very dark time, that I would rather be with Jesus than to keep on going through all of the stress and the emotional and physical pain I was feeling. My depression had soared so out of control, I frightened myself. Never had I been in such a dark place.
I want you to understand something about me. On the outside you would never peg me as a depressed person. Admittedly, I realized that I have struggled at some level with depression my whole life but had very healthy coping skills I developed on my own growing up. For me creative outlets were my saving grace. I would draw or play and write music. Anything creative, from writing to fly-tying was a reprieve and gave me energy to cope. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these became coping mechanisms for my depression. Sometimes these coping strategies which had come natural for me were a source of frustration for my wife who watched me dive into one creative interest after another, sometimes interfering with our relationship and work. I had no clue that all this was somehow tied into my struggle with depression or that I even had depression.
This connection didn’t become known to me until I began intensive therapy as I headed into deep clinical depression. Most of my coping mechanisms ceased to be of any use. Besides, I was not even interested in most of them. I stopped playing music (I was a paid musician), stopped reading, writing, drawing, among other things. I didn’t even want to be around people. My only saving grace, besides clinging to Jesus, was my two wheeled motorcycle therapy and playing darts. The only things I read were my Bible and some Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning. I often found good spiritual counsel through their writing.
When I was given a three month leave of absence I put nearly ten thousand kilometres (6,200 miles) on my motorcycle. I traveled and camped with it. When I felt especially anxious, I would just jump on the bike and ride for hours sometimes with a plan and other times with no destination in mind. At the spur of the moment I would pack all my
camping gear and just leave maybe for a night or a weekend. One time I left for a week. Three days later I realized I should tell someone, especially my son who was my greatest support who may have dropped by the house discovering I was gone. I would pray and usually rode in silence. I would scream and cry in my helmet. Sometimes I hoped the oncoming truck would careen out of control and take me out doing something I loved. Yes, it was that bad.
There were times the despair came thundering in like a train. I was confronted with shame and guilt, disgrace and uncertainties. I was dealing with trauma from my life and ministry I had not dealt with, leaving me exhausted and depleted.
I was a pastor yet ready to end it all. Understand that I was also clinging to Jesus. I’ve always had a healthy rhythm of prayer and silence, and lengthy times of solitude with the Lord. Never before had I dove into the contemplative life like I did during this time. I spent regular days in solitude at a local monastery where I prayed, met with a spiritual director, fasted, memorized scripture and laid prostrate in waiting before God gushing out my torment in tears, in heaving sobs. I memorized and recited Psalm 13 and others over and over again. I resigned myself to the mercy of God and his comforting Holy Spirit. I journaled a lot especially at times when I heard what I believed to be a message from God that was always very timely to my current state. And boy did I weep and wail in my agony. As each next foul piece unfolded in my sordid life during the year, I retreated afraid of being overcome by it all.
God often answers prayers in ways unexpected. I experienced this time and time again when, just at the right time, someone reached out to me, sometimes unaware of my state. I joined a Soul Care pastors group with Thrive Ministries and found more healing and clarity through sharing and listening for the Holy Spirit. At times I was confronted with myself. At other times I was affirmed of the work of God in my life. Partway on this journey, God brought Allan Gallant back into my life connecting me with Agora Network Ministries for which I will be forever grateful.
I had excellent counselling through Niagara Life Centre and was led to a place of deeper understanding and a plan toward healing and managing the depression. I spent a week at a special retreat centre in Colorado called Quiet Waters spending three hours a day for five days with a wonderful Christian psychotherapist.
I have very much moved to the other side of all of this in the past eight months and have regained focus and joy due to God’s work in my life through all avenues and resources he has afforded me. As I began to seek God’s direction for what was next, I kept thinking of other pastors who have been struggling with mental health difficulties like me. Their mental health concerned me greatly and I prayed a lot in this regard. As Allan and I began to focus on Agora Network Ministries, I discovered I had a place there. And as it turns out I find myself helping develop the Pastor Care aspect of the ministry, reaching out to pastors and church leadership in need of support and resources toward thriving spiritual and mental health.
My friends, God is good. He blesses those who seek his face and hold on to him. *“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” *(Matthew 5:6) The journey may be long and arduous at times, and even downright nasty, but no matter what you are a child of God, beloved by him. “*See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”* (1 John 3:1a).
Jesus knows your every struggle and the depth of your pain, and he has overcome. It is ever so comforting to know and experience the deep love that God has for me knowing that he, in full humanity knows what it is like to bear the weight of my sin and shame, emotional and mental agony. *“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way… Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”* (Hebrews 2:17,18).
I know there is no healing without facing what needs to be faced and owning what needs to be owned, AND get the help you need. There is no shame in a struggle with mental health difficulties. And there is God’s grace along the way… ALWAYS GRACE.
At the end of the day I can truly say,
My only comfort in life and death is this….
That I am not my own, but belong,
body and soul
in life and in death
to my faithful saviour, Jesus Christ
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
(Heidelberg Catechism Q&A1)
Allen Kleine Deters is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church denomination and has been in full-time ministry for 34 years.