Nearly 2000 years ago, the Roman poet, Juvenal, asked the question “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” Or, “Who watches the watchmen?”
Five years ago, after my husband and I birthed two babies and a church plant, I started asking the same question.
It didn’t happen overnight—the hopelessness that carved a hole in my insides in the fall of 2014. We celebrated our small but seemingly sturdy church plant launch in the summer of 2012. Our leadership team was made mostly of college students and a handful of young families, all new to ministry and life.
No one knew how this should go, but what we lacked in experience, we made up for in arrogance, energy, and mediocre ideas.
I worked in a nearby hospital, bringing in the primary income. Meanwhile, our boys tagged along with my husband while he tried to build an organization with young leaders with trust issues and no money.
The launch team were at first our friends, and at times, our roommates when someone needed a place to land. But one by one, our friends left town or left the church, often blaming us for a failure or theological disagreement on the way out.
Initially, we received enthusiastic support by our sending church and denomination as they saw us reaching college students and Millennials—the then-impossible demographic other churches struggled to reach. When several other church plants from our district closed soon after our launch (including our sending church), we knew we had to stick it out to prove ourselves.
But we didn’t know how to make it. Our attempts at outreach were met with disdain by our leaders, and the money was running out.
All this during the grim news cycle of 2014: ISIS, Ebola, and Ferguson. Unrest and uncertainty was all around. As parents with two babies and a baby church, we felt vulnerable in a way we never had before.
The pressure weighed heaviest at night. One night after tucking the babies into bed, my husband and I sat facing each other on the living room floor. His head in his hands, he confided his fear that the church may not make it. All this work and sacrifice for nothing, he feared.
We had less than a year to become financially viable, to bring home more than a stipend to support the family.
He was so anxious and discouraged and I didn’t want to tell him about the thoughts that tormented me: intrusive images of terrorism and disease, all the ways my babies and I might die. These were telltale signs of postpartum anxiety and paranoia, I would later come to find out. But then, it felt so real.
What happened to us—the once hopeful and vigorous young church planters, brimming with the vision to change our campus, our city, the world?
We discovered a horrible truth in those days: we were not the invincible heroes we once fancied ourselves, capable of transforming the world around us. We were, in fact, mere mortals assigned an impossible task: to expand the Kingdom of God through the local church.
But as humans, there was only so much disappointment, grief, betrayal, loss, financial insecurity, and loneliness that a real, live human could take.
And we were at our breaking point.
I’d read John Ortberg’s book, Soul Keeping, earlier that year, and perhaps God brought it to mind. Gripped with the sudden awareness that I was losing not only my mind but also my soul, I began a morning practice of sitting quietly with God and doing nothing.
I did not read my Bible. I did not pray. I did not worship. None of that was working. But David talked about calming his soul like a child with his mother in Psalm 131, so I took him literally. It was just me and God, sitting in the big, leather chair before I went to work, letting him love me back to life.
Slowly and carefully, my skeleton soul fattened up a bit. But I was still not okay. As a mental health professional, I was still too arrogant to get my own therapist so I enlisted the help of a life coach. And I crawled out of the darkness a bit more. I took out caffeine and took up yoga. And the light at the end of the tunnel brightened.
Then my husband went to therapy too, we all changed our diets, got healthy, and did the things we told everyone else to do. It surprised us when it worked, but it did. Thank God.
As of today, I have my own therapist because I am not too good or too strong or too cool to ask for help. I also have a close friend who pastors another local church with her husband. We spend long hours in coffee shops sharing battle stories because I finally know I need friends outside my church who understand the immense pressure and pain of ministry leadership.
My body is healthy, my marriage is strong, my soul is alive, and my mind is resilient. But I had to give up the old way of thinking of myself, the old way of being the Watchman with no one to watch over me.
In this past decade of ministry, my heart and all the rules I knew of life have been broken again and again. I do not know anything, really, except that I am a mere human charged with a divine call. And if I am to fulfill this mission and do what a human cannot do—be the Watchman God calls me to be—then I need to finally let others watch over me.