I had been the pastor at the church for about six months. The church had gone through a lot of upheaval before we came and we had been mandated by our leadership to make a few ministry decisions to correct some illegal activities that had been going on before we came that were related to financial and tax-exempt concerns in the church.
I don’t remember what occasioned the phone call I received from a board member, but it was related to one of these issues. We’ll call him Tony.
“Pastor, I have a problem,” Tony said, and it was all downhill from there, in both content and volume. He complained. He shouted. He blamed. He accused. He made certain I knew that he felt all of the complaints he was hurling at me were my fault.
I tried to understand his perspective and explain my side the best I could; but he barely let me speak and seemed intent on making sure I felt as bad as possible and fully to blame for the things he was railing me for. And he seemed to be almost intentional about keeping his voice elevated.
When I was convinced that he was winding down, I said, “Tony, you are on our board. How can you feel comfortable being there when you feel this angry about things?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” he said. “I’m resigning tonight and I am never coming back to this church again.”
Now, my description of Tony may seem like I am trying to paint him as a raving maniac. But he wasn’t that at all. As far as I could tell, he was a very gentle and capable man and a wise leader in the church. It is one reason I remember the conversation so vividly.
But another reason I remember the conversation is because after he hung up, I broke down. There was no shortage of tears that I cried that night. I was devastated, both in being attacked and in losing such a valuable person in the church. And it wasn’t just Tony. His wife was a truly godly lady. It was pain and loss all the way around.
I was thirty five at the time. I wasn’t by any means a seasoned pastor. I was very prone to mistakes. I made plenty, but I knew I didn’t deserve the haranguing Tony gave me that night. However, that didn’t comfort me much. I was still numb for the next few days.
Until three nights later when I found out Tony was drowning in a sea of anxiety.
The phone rang and I picked it up. When I did, the person on the other end of the line identified herself as Tony’s wife. At first my defenses were up because my initial thoughts were, “Oh no. Now I am going to get the other barrel from her.”
But that didn’t happen. Instead, she apologized for her husband.
She said, “Please forgive Tony for talking to you the way he did. You see, he is just about at his emotional limit with all the stresses he is undergoing in his life right now. His doctor just told him if he doesn’t have open heart surgery in the next few months, he wouldn’t live out the rest of the year. His daughter just informed him that she is getting a divorce because her husband is having an affair. And the company where he has worked for the last thirty years is terminating his department and phasing him out. When you put all of that together with the pastoral-change issues at our church, he decided to take all his anxieties out on someone. I’m just sorry it was you. When he told me what he had said to you, I was so ashamed and I told him I was going to apologize to you. Please forgive him. He really didn’t feel the things he said to you.”
My experience is, this happens all too often with people. Anxieties rise. Problems mount. Angers increase. The numbers of stresses in our lives begin to multiply with few or no solutions and we explode. We explode at work. Or we explode at our spouses, or at our siblings, or at our kids, or at our church, or at our friends; whoever is unlucky enough to receive our wrath.
And in this I’ve seen friendships end. I’ve seen marriages end. I’ve seen parent-child relationships, and sibling relationships, and professional relationships and church relationships severed never to be mended; all because of the anxiety monster.
Paul writes in Philippians 4:6-7 “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Jesus called it a peace that the world doesn’t understand. That means people can’t comprehend how, when we should be really freaking out…instead, we are at peace.
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You.”
Prayer: Lord, allow the peace you give to take over our hearts so that we can stay calm rather than ruining our lives and our relationships with unholy and out of control emotional explosions. Amen.