On our last hiking trek that my wife and I engaged in on our regular trail, Inspiration Point, I realized that I have an anxiety problem.
I mean, I knew I always had one. It was one of the blaring and glaring reasons why I failed my ordination interviews in 2010. I got nervous. I got anxious. And I couldn’t hold it in (on top of that, I had caffeine coursing through my veins. Not the best mix of things). So I was going 1000 mph, all the while being a spazz. It was a wreck.
Unfortunately, the BOOM thought that I had ADHD and “strongly recommended” that I go see a psychologist, therapist, or a counselor to help me deal with these “issues.” (The last quotation marks are for sarcastic purposes.)
Look, I know I don’t have ADHD. And I think it was wrong for the BOOM to so strongly think that I had ADHD without any previous contact and/or conversation with me. Perhaps their resident “psychologist” wanted to exert his/her presence on the board. I don’t know. But don’t they realize how intimidating the whole interview process is and can be? And that nerves can, unfortunately, take over a Candidate, so much so that they can’t sit still or give straight answers? You’re sitting in front of a group of “colleagues,” some who you have never met before, who have this strange authority and power over the course of your career for the next few years. And in the end, it’s strange that I went through all that for a “piece of paper” that certifies that I am ordained, when in my heart of hearts, in the deepest corners of my soul, mind, and being I just know that God has called me into a life of full-time ministry. I don’t need a piece of paper or a group of people or the Bishop to tell me otherwise. In the big picture of things, it’s just a piece of paper and nothing more. Perhaps a piece of paper some of us felt we had to sell our soul for. I kid, I kid.
What I do know, or more accurately, how I feel, is that the BOOM tosses around the recommendation to seek professional help/counseling as much and as often as a good Korean boy craves rice and kimchi (just in case you don’t get the reference: a lot). Sometimes, it just seems like a go-to response to the ordination candidate. You know, like when a good friend is pouring out his/her heart to you and it’s filled so much anguish and pain and you don’t know what to say or how to phrase words to help your friend in need. But you feel the need to respond, because at this point silence doesn’t seem like the best answer. You search deep in your heart to find words to say to let you know that you’re with this person — although you can’t really imagine what the struggle really feels like. After searching for words, you just come back to the one phrase that you’ve told people throughout your life: “I’ll pray for you.” Even if they’re not Christian, “Look, I know that you don’t believe in God, but hey, man. I’ll pray for you.” (Which, if we’re not careful, can be as offensive as “Go see a counselor because we don’t think you’re completely healthy.”)
After each phase of my candidacy process whether I passed or failed were continued, it always ended with the recommendation to go seek a spiritual director, a counselor, or a psychologist. Most of the time without a reason why. “Just go see one for the sake of seeing one”, it felt like. “We feel like you’re on the right track in your calling and it is obvious that God is doing great things in your church and in your youth ministry. We, feel, that you can benefit from seeking a counselor or a spiritual counselor as you continue your ministry.”
It can be as generic as “I’ll pray for you” can be, at times. Like a one-size-fits-all cure. Until, I passed and became a full member of the Cal-Pac Conference. There was no mention of seeking a counselor of any kind. Which made me kind of curious. I guess I don’t need one after going through all the hoops I had to go through? I would think, after feeling like a good trained seal, who can bark and jump through hoops on command, at Sea World, now would be a good time to go seek a counselor to deal with all the emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual stress brought on by the process and dealing with the BOOM and also the emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual stress that we will accumlate as we engage in ministry and with God’s people.And funnily enough, when an opportunity came up for me to have a spiritual director recently, I signed up.
So the Board was concerned that I was dealing (struggling? battling?) with ADHD and recommended that I go seek help to deal with such issues. So, I did. I asked my health provider to provide a psychologist for me so that I can prove to the BOOM that they had no idea what in the hell they were talking about.
I met with my doctor. I gave him the letter that the Board gave me about the recommendation. Within the first 15 minutes of our conversation, and to my relief, the doctor said, “Look. I don’t even have to any tests to know that you don’t have ADHD. And in my professional opinion, it was very unprofessional for this ‘Board’ to suggest that you even have it. What qualifications do they have? It’s rather irresponsible. At your age, you would be dealing with ADD, not ADHD, because with ADHD you would’ve been diagnosed much earlier in your life. Not in your 30’s. So, you don’t have to worry about that.”
But what we did talk about was how I deal with anxiety. And I totally agreed with him there. I don’t think I handle anxiety very well. As much as I want nerves of steel or ice cold water running through my veins, I think when I’m nervous or anxious, I have a hard time hiding it. We spent most of our sessions aftewards talking about anxiety issues.
So there I was, almost at the top of the hike, almost to Inspiration Point (which, even though I’ve seen it dozens of time, it doesn’t fail to inspire me each time I’m at the top. It’s a beautiful site).
I was sick that week, so the hike was harder than usual. I called upon Jesus’ name many, many times in between hacking, wheezing, and coughing.
As soon as I neared the top, my mind instantly went to what I must do when I get back down. Sermon prep. Bible study prep. Do I have any meetings tomorrow? Am I forgetting something? Did I send in the newsletter thing? I must be forgetting something. I forget something all the time. What was I gonna blog on? Did I have something to do for my parents? How long is it going to take to get down? Did I pay all the bills?
I was sitting on a rock at the top of the hill, trying not to cough out my lungs, and instead of being focused on the amazing sight in front of me, I was consumed with figuring what’s next on my to-do list.
Out of nowhere, Rob Bell’s Everything is Spiritual started playing in my head. In the video, there’s a part where he talks about Moses climbing to mountain and where God commanded Moses to be on top of that mountain and how that’s a brilliant commmand. Because, Moses would’ve exerted all his strength and energy walking up the mountain, that when he arrived on top of the mountain, he’ll just start planning his trek down. And God wanted to Moses to be on top of the mountain. Just be. Don’t think. Don’t plan ahead. Don’t think about the trip down. Just be on top of the mountain. With God. In the moment. Be fully present in the here and the now.
And that’s what I really struggle with. And, unfortunately, sometimes it shows in the way I interact with people.
I know that I have an hour before my next engagement, as I’m talking to this person in front of me. I don’t like to be late. So, I’m calculating how long it’ll take me to drive to the next place, factoring in traffic. This person has approximately 25 minutes in our conversation to give me a safe cushion for the next appointment. But, as this person or group goes over the allotted 25 minutes and the time gets closer for the next appointment, I start getting antsy and fidgety and I can’t help but play that mental game of — okay, if I walk out with them, I won’t be late. All the while, I’m engaging in conversation with this person or group of persons.
I don’t like that about me. For no good or real reason, I’m always a step ahead in my head, thinking about what’s up next, what lies ahead in the week — causing me to miss out what’s going on right here, right now.
Who knows how many burning bushes I’ve walked by because I’m paying attention to nothing around me that is in the here and now. Instead, my head’s in the cloud somewhere, somehow. Which is good — but totally counterproductive if I’m in the clouds all the time, missing out on the things that are happening on ground-level.
It’s something that this hike has helped me recognize. Now that I know it, I just need to deal with it. Work on it. Get better. More attentive. More present. Aware of the here and now.
There is a time to think ahead, to plan ahead, to dream– day dream even, to vision. But what I can’t do is spend all my time doing those things.
There are more times where I need to engage, to be present fully, to minister, to be ministered to, to enjoy, to love, to live… to, simply put, be on top of the mountain, and nothing more and nothing less.