My husband and I have been in ministry together for almost seven years. In that time, we've had our few run ins with ministry burnout. You know, that feeling where if someone else needs another moment of your personal time, or says, "Bro. Joe, when you have a moment, I need to talk to you about something," only to find out that they want to get you behind a closed door and relay to you every way that you have disappointed and not met their expectations - which, let's face it, were probably really unrealistic to begin with - you know you'll just go through the roof. And there's never a chance for family recreation, because just when you make a good plan, something comes up, someone passes away, or you start feeling guilty about how much it would cost or the amount of time you have to take off. Or as in our case, the time that I'm off - summers - is the busiest time of the year for youth ministry.
Burnout for us has meant a lot of tears, sometimes bitterness that takes more than a good cry and a vacation to get over.Yeah, it's a sacrifice a lot of times. But this has been my worldview for a lot longer than seven years. And when we find ourselves getting into a place of bitterness or despair, where we lose our passion for what we're doing, and we feel more and more attacked by Satan, I am reminded of a story, a warning to slow down the train before it derails.
I was born into a ministry family. My father had been preaching in Florida for six years before I was born. A couple of months after my birth, we moved to Mississippi, so my folks could be near their families and aging parents. A couple of years after moving from Florida, the wife of an old preacher friend from down there called my dad.
"Dick, Jimmy's snapped. I think he's having a nervous breakdown. He's just talking crazy, and I can't handle him right now. Can he come stay with you? He needs some time away, time to rest and just get his head right."
Said my father - with two small children in the house - "Sure, send him on. I'll pray with him, give him a room and some time to think."
I don't remember Jimmy arriving. I remember being moved to my brother's bedroom, which means Jimmy had taken up residence in my room. I'm not sure how many days he had been with us, if he had eaten meals, anything like that.
What I remember is being yanked from my brother's bed very early on a Sunday morning, and carried out the back door to the porch, and lifted up over Jimmy's head. I remember him calling out to God, "Lord, give me faith like this child. Make her my angel. Let her show me the way...."
I remember screaming my head off for daddy. I didn't know what was going on. I remember the back door nearly flying off the hinges as daddy roared down the porch steps. Jimmy turned, still holding me up to the porch ceiling, and faced daddy. I don't remember any offered explanation, just a quick jab from daddy to Jimmy's jaw, and daddy's huge arms catching me in my midair freefall as Jimmy stumbled down to the slab.
Momma was close behind, and Matt behind her. Daddy handed me off to momma, as I was still screaming my head off. Then daddy said, "Jimmy, it's about time you pack your bags. You're going back to Florida today."
I wasn't present for the next part of the story, but this is how daddy tells it:
Daddy hastily helped Jimmy get his stuff together, and made a quick call to Jimmy's wife.
"Jimmy's nuts. I'm putting him on a plane out of Jackson back to Tallahassee. You be there to meet him and get him to a doctor."
The whole two hour ride to Jackson, Jimmy raved about God speaking to him in dreams, telling him to blow things up. He quoted and misquoted scriptures. You could hear the thump of marbles hitting the floorboard of the car as Jimmy lost it, little by little, the more they drove. Daddy was afraid of Jimmy acting out at the airport, when he saw a little yellow brick church on the southbound side of Highway 49. The sign said "Florence Assembly of God". They were only about thirty minutes from the airport at this point. There were cars in the parking lot. Sunday services were underway.
Daddy made a U-turn at the emergency turnaround. He took Jimmy by the arm and led him into the small church. A stunned congregation turned to see the two men coming through the double doors. The pianist stopped playing, and daddy asked the preacher, "Does anybody here know how to cast out a demon?"
The whole front row stood up.
They laid hands on Jimmy and prayed for him, for his health, for his journey, for his wife, and then they prayed some more, but Daddy couldn't understand them. It was in an unknown tongue.
Daddy and Jimmy got back in the car and finally got to the airport and the ticket counter. The woman behind the counter asked if there were any bags to check, and Jimmy threw his briefcase up on the ledge.
"I've got enough C4 in this briefcase to blow up this whole airport."
Daddy, with a deadpan face, replied, "No he doesn't. He's just crazy."
There was no time for a good explanation. A couple of federal marshalls stepped out of nowhere and pinned Jimmy and Daddy to the ground. They were handcuffed and sequestered in a dark little room, reminiscent of noir detective films. The marshalls questioned them separately. Jimmy raved like a lunatic. Daddy had a chance to finally explain the situation.
A few phone calls were made, one to check for prior criminal behavior, one to Jimmy's wife. One of the marshalls agreed to escort Jimmy on the flight home, seeing as how he was in no shape to travel alone. Daddy was released, and rode home as Jimmy was walked to his departure gate in handcuffs.
We never saw Jimmy again.