Church planting exposed my emotional brokenness on two fronts. First, I was angry most of the time. My anger fueled my workaholism. Church planting required undivided attention and a willingness to correct matters quickly. Since anger actualizes a person, it became my partner. I lived just below the boiling point. Most people were unaware of my tendency to boil over, they simply felt that I was driven to make things happen. But my children walked on egg shells at home.
Secondly, two years after we planted Clear Creek Community Church, I recognized a feeling of emotional detachment from my wife and kids. I don’t remember where the question came from, but I asked myself, “What if my wife and children never feel loved by me?” I thought about how much of a failure I would be if I planted a church successfully, but I did not know how to love my wife and kids in a way that they felt cherished, protected and connected to me. What if I reached the end of my one and only life and thousands of people became Christians, but my children wanted nothing to do with me. That would be such a farce. So I called a friend who could help me work through my junk.
I hated the process of talking about what makes me tick. It actually hurt. But I learned so much about anger. Anger is omni-directional. It splashes on the people it was never intended to reach. Of the four basic emotions: mad sad, glad and scared, anger is the second emotion. We always feel one of the other emotions first, but we jump to anger because it’s the empowering emotion. That made sense to me since I stayed angry in order to stay engaged and solve problems. With anger, it was as if the house was always on fire.
My friend helped me see that my driven life and associated anger stemmed from my performance orientation. I was driven to perform and succeed because I believed successful people are loved. So anyone who stood in my way of success was cutting off my air and, thus, they were met with my wrath in response. I could morph from nice guy to killer in a nanosecond.
It was the gospel that changed me. One day my friend said to me, “There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more and nothing you can do that will make God love you less.” I had said the same thing many times. But when I heard the statement, God’s Spirit opened my heart to grace. I realized that I was trying to earn God’s love through hard work and success. That’s why I was angry and the people I loved were being pushed away. It’s when I learned to preach the gospel to myself that my emotional world changed. Under grace, in light of the gospel, I became self-controlled.
In retrospect, we were exposing the idols in my life. And the gospel continues to set me free more than a decade later. I’m grateful. So are my wife and kids.