The Perfect Prodigal
The pastor in emotional crisis. Where does he go for help? Dr. Louis McBurney and his wife, Melissa, work full-time at their Marble Retreat Center trying to bring healing to Christian leaders unable to cope (See LEADERSHIP, Spring 1980, Volume 1 Number 2).
To give our readers an insight into what happens at Marble Retreat, we asked writer Harold Fickett, himself a pastor's son, to spend a week at the retreat center and to thoroughly research one story. Certain dimensions of this story are unusual, but the underlying pattern has applications to all of us, for it concerns our most basic thoughts and emotions and the experiences which shape them.
The story is based on the experience of one man, his family, and the people to whom he ministered. The names of the people involved, except for Dr. McBurney and his wife, have been changed to protect their privacy.
We suggest if you have only ten minutes, don't start this one now. Take time to read it as you would a story; let the background lead you into the events; notice the subtle interweavings of "normal" life. For the counselor, the pastor, the person trying to grasp the biblical counseling/ therapy role and to understand the troubles around him- and perhaps aspects of his or her own struggles-this article can provide important insights.
We have appended to the story a discussion of this case history with Dr. McBurney.
In a southwestern city, under an oceanic sky, a man, David Johanson, and his wife, Claire, sat on a park bench beneath two eucalyptus trees. David was the pastor of a local Presbyterian church. His ministry had reached an impasse.
He looked down, unable to speak. Boyishly handsome at thirty-two, with a full head of brown hair, David looked from a distance like someone who might have been elected the outstanding member of his fraternity, as he had been; but up close, his features appeared stronger and somewhat mysterious: his eyes, though bright blue, were recessed, hidden. He sat so very still, as if to create boundaries for the wild struggle within him.
Claire's eyes were dilated with fear. She said his name.
David told her then that he needed to get away; if he didn't get away for a year, maybe longer, he might break down completely. He had never thought of himself as a candidate for a nervous breakdown, but he could not describe what he was going through now in any other way. He wanted to ask the church for a sabbatical.
Claire embraced him. She cried. But he knew, from how she held him, her hand on the back of his neck, from the catch in her cry which said yes, that her tears were joyful.
"I'm so glad it's the church," she said.
"Why? Tell me what you mean."
"Lately, well, I thought it might be me. That you had stopped loving me."
David Johanson began his ministry proper in 1971, when after seminary and a year as an assistant pastor, he received the invitation of Memorial Presbyterian Church to become its pastor.
This southwest congregation had severe problems; in fact, if they ...