I call them the 4 F’s: Family. Fun. Finances. Friends.
Of course, first and foremost, I had to take care of myself. That’s a given. My personal health and hygiene, inside and out, needed to be attended to.
But the four areas of my life which seemed to suffer most where these four F’s. While I was in the church, and especially as a pastor, these things were taken care of in their own churchy way.
- I had my biological family, but the church also provided a surrogate one.
- I had fun, but it was mostly activities in and around the church.
- I had finance, but it was an unhealthy attitude about money that kept me poor.
- I had friends, but they were all church people that left when I left the church.
So I had to fix these four areas myself.
- Family: We no longer had the spiritual family, the church. It was instantly gone. Now, I felt attention to my biological family became necessary. Things were strained with some. I learned a huge lesson though: I was holding my family, especially my parents, to a fantasy about who they should be that they simply could not and would not live up to. I had to learn to let them be and relate to them on their terms, just as I was trying to help them learn to relate to me on mine. I knew that as soon as I let my father-fantasies go, then I could perhaps see my dad as he actually is and relate to the real person he is in front of me rather than the false image I have of him in my head. It was a couple of years into this that I started The Lasting Supper that provides a surrogate family as well, for which I’m truly thankful.
- Fun: All the fun we used to have centered around the church. As pastors of the church we were very busy. We were always doing things. Busy church equals busy schedule. It was rare to have a quiet night at home. Then, after we left the church, suddenly free time was all we had. We had to start actually planning things to do. Some of them simple, like going for walks, going to the shore, going out in the canoe, or just going out for a coffee. Some of them more complex, like planning a road trip or vacation or going to a concert or something. It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of waiting for good times to come that we forget to make ourselves go to them. Lisa and I have to make fun happen now. We don’t want to be pulled down by the gravity of life. We want to be happy, so we’ll make it happen because no one else will!
- Finances: I had a very unhealthy attitude about money during my many years in the ministry. As a result, when we left the ministry, we also filed for personal bankruptcy. Even though I enjoyed a steady salary from the church, it had never seen an increase, but in fact decreases, over the years I had been there. I was such a sacrificial servant. After leaving the ministry and the church, I knew one of my number one tasks was going to be to heal myself of this poverty mentality I had acquired over the years. It’s been five years now, and I’m far better about money then I used to be, but I still have a long way to go. One of the most significant components to this healing was valuing myself and the things I make and do. My art, my books, my blog, my online community, are things of value and deserve to be appreciated as things of value. I am no longer easily shamed by people who insist I should give myself away and wait to be rewarded for it. I tried that. It doesn’t work. I do still give myself away in many ways, but I also sell my goods and services that deserve remuneration. Things are getting better.
- Friends: One of the greatest values the church has to offer is instant fellowship, friends in an instant, community ripe for the picking. When I left the church, I left a whole intricate network of friends. One could question how genuine the friends were if that’s all it took. But that’s another issue. Lisa and I suddenly were faced with an overwhelming loneliness. It used to be we felt peopled out. Now we felt lonelied out. We realized pretty quickly that friends were not going to magically appear. It was going to take effort. We were going to have to initiate by making calls and extending invitations and contacting people and testing ourselves with new people. I’ve come to realize, actually, that this is pretty normal for most people. Unless they have friends from high school or college or their business, most people find it difficult to find friends. For us, it meant making contact with people we already knew and trusted. We have a handful of couples now that we can call and meet at a movie or a restaurant or have over. It means nurturing these relationships. Again that’s normal. But it is a necessary skill we had to learn if we didn’t want to end up lonely forever.
It took me some time to finally realize and admit and embrace: I am the master of my destiny. I am at the steering wheel of my own life. It is magical thinking to think that my relationship to my family is going to fix itself, that fun is just going to show up, that finances are going to appear, and that friends are going to be knocking down our door to get in.
If I wanted to see these things happen, I was going to have to do it myself.
I did. It did.