Last Friday I opened my mailbox and saw two significant pieces of correspondence. One was from the pension board of the Presbyterian Church (USA); the other was from a federal entity that shall remain nameless, but trust me, you don’t want to get a letter from this entity. I decided to be brave and open the unwanted entity epistle first. It was bad news. Bad. Bad. News. After calling a few people to vent and seek advice, then collapsing into a panic attack that required many deep breaths into a paper bag, I calmed down enough to finally open the letter from my board of pensions. It was something I’d been expecting; the copy of my health, spiritual, financial, vocational plan that I’d created at the CREDO conference last year. Receiving a copy of the plan was a way for participants to assess how we’ve done following our plan over the past year. My plan was in a separate envelope and attached to it was a letter from one of the persons who administers the CREDO program. I know this letter is sent to every participant. While I can’t quote his exact words, at the end of the letter he thanked me for my ministry to the church and for the blessing I have been to others.
You’re probably thinking that I’m about to write that reading those words changed my whole outlook on the bad news I’d just received. Maybe you expect my next sentence to say that I realized at that moment that everything would ultimately be okay. If that is what you’re thinking, dear reader, you’re wrong. Upon reading those words I lost it all over again.
Blessing to the church? To others? Great. That’s great, I thought, but I feel kicked in the teeth by my vocation. All I could see was that I had failed. I had failed in my personal life, my professional life, and no matter how hard I tried or worked I couldn’t seem to get ahead; financially, spiritually, professionally. My self-composed, excessively long list of failures and shortcomings, a list I have worked valiantly this past year to let go of, curled itself around me like a snake. And Winston Churchill’s black dog of depression, which I’ve also spent the last year training to heel, sprang back seemingly larger than ever.
I spent the majority of my weekend dancing between despair and rage. On Sunday, it was only through sheer will that I was able to stand in the pulpit and preach about love and intimate relationship with God without crying. Intellectually, I knew, I know, that all the nasty things I say about myself in these moments aren’t true. I know in my head that I have many blessings, and that I am far better off than so many others. I can logically articulate that this bad news isn’t going to ultimately ruin my life. But my perfectionism and my depression, which I’ve discovered walk hand-in-hand, do their damndest to convince me otherwise.
But the good news is – and yes there is good news – while I felt like I've spent this year inching my way forward a few feet at a time only to be propelled backward the length of a football field, I have come a long way. I know this is true because my perspective did come back. I was able to recognize more quickly that not all of this is my doing or my mistake. Bad news doesn’t automatically mean that I am doomed to failure. Bad news doesn’t meant that I’m a failure at all. Have I failed? Sure. Who hasn’t? But am I failure? No. I’m not.
It took more courage than I thought I had to finally open up my envelope and review the plan for health and well-being I made last year. But I did. I opened it thinking I knew every promise I’d made myself, and everything that I had accomplished or not. But I had forgotten one thing. At the bottom of each page, I’d written in big, bold letters, “I WILL FORGIVE MYSELF.” I will forgive myself. Just four words. They sound easy, but they are so hard to do. Yet those four words brought me back. Those four words reminded me that I am not lost. The black dog won’t win, and even if I don’t always believe it or see it, my ministry and my friendship have been a blessing to others. And I am blessed, so blessed, in return. So I will forgive myself. It’s going to be hard, but I will. That’s my plan.