By Mike and Kari MacKenzie
I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here! I don’t want to be here! That was the only thought going through my mind as my wife and I silently drove up the long, twisting mountain road to the counseling retreat for pastors.
Yeah, I admit things had been a little rough lately with conflict in the church and declining attendance. It had been a little harder to find that old passion for prayer, preparation, and preaching. I hadn’t been getting sleep lately, but God said in his Word it wouldn’t be easy for those who chose his kingdom, especially those in leadership. So, I never expected it to be easy.
Yes, Beth and I hadn’t been doing so well, especially since the recent revelation that I had been looking at pornography for nearly a year. I don’t know how I let that creep into my life.
But still, I didn’t need to be here. I wasn’t getting fired (at least I didn’t think so), and I had too much to do to spend a week talking about my “feelings.” I was going to play this as cool as a cucumber. I was only here at Beth’s insistence, and I could tell by her tone and the look in her eye that there was no talking my way out of it this time.
I am going to kill him! I am going to kill him! I am going to kill him! That was the only thing I could think as we drove the long, winding mountain road to the pastor care center. How in the world did we end up like this?
I was so mad. I had never been so angry and uncertain about the state of our marriage. I didn’t like how I was feeling, the things I was thinking, and the things I wanted to say.
And the worst part about it was I had no one with whom I could share the pain inside me. I couldn’t talk to someone from the church about how their pastor had been using pornography. The thought of anyone finding out scared me to death. What if I damaged their walk with God? What if I hurt my husband’s ministry? What if it disgraced the church? I felt if I talked I would be letting down God, that in some way I would be disloyal to him and his kingdom.
I had no one to tell, no one who would love us and accept us if they knew the truth. So, I couldn’t wait to get to a place where it was safe and they would understand what it was like to be a pastor’s wife.
I felt like I was ready to explode. It seemed like I had never been able to talk openly, even with my husband. Maybe it was because he was the pastor and I felt intimidated. Maybe it was because I believed he already had enough on his plate. I always interpreted his reactions to me as if I were one more thing he had to worry about. Or maybe, I just didn’t want to rock the boat.
When counseling began that first day, and we were invited to share, I wasted no time. I was hurt and angry and I was tired of hiding it.
I talked about the betrayal I felt because of my husband’s pornography use, how it made me feel inferior, not good enough. And I was angry, very angry. I had done so much for him and his ministry. I had sacrificed my career, left my hometown, and had tried so hard to be a good pastor’s wife.
Now I was questioning all of it. I was honest—brutally honest.
I paused for a moment to look around the room at the group, having nearly forgotten they were even there. They must have seen the hurt beneath my bitterness, because I expected looks of condemnation or at least a shying away from the ugliness of my anger, but instead they were leaning in, and they were crying. There were tears in their eyes—tears for me.
They shared their acceptance of me, even with the ugliness I shared. I can’t tell you how loved I felt in that moment. The healing I would find over the next few days began at that instant in that room and continued as we ate together, played together, and enjoyed the majestic Rocky Mountains.
I expected I would pick up some tips on how to set better boundaries, take care of myself, and find an accountability partner. I thought I might even learn a little bit about Beth and improve our marriage. The experience of healing turned out to be so much more.
I did not expect to experience complete and utter brokenness. At first, it was like I was there, but I wasn’t really there. I heard my wife speaking and I responded, but I didn’t feel anything.
Then, I don’t know if it was the stories of the other pastors, the words of hurt and betrayal from my wife, or the Holy Spirit’s conviction, but right in the middle of a group I was overwhelmed by such a strong surge of emotion that I couldn’t hide it. All it took was one of the other group members to notice and gently prompt, “John, what’s wrong? You don’t look so good.”
The next thing I knew I was crying, and like Niagara Falls, it just kept pouring out of me—the disappointment from our first church failure, the betrayal I felt when one of our favorite families left the church, the hurt from when some people judged us when our teen son had problems, the loneliness I had been experiencing, especially since my favorite elder passed away.
Deep down I felt an extreme sense of failure. I felt I had failed God, the church, and now my wife for not being a better pastor, man, and husband.
To say I was shocked by all this is an understatement. How could all of those feelings be inside me? Now, what was I to do with it all? How was it going to get fixed?
Over the next few days, along with times of reading and quiet reflection, the group and the counselors helped me piece it all together. How and why I had been “stuffing” it all those years, and what to do with those feelings.
As I continued to share with the group, something began to happen in me. It was subtle, but powerful. The conversations began to have life; I began to feel passion in my prayers; I was able to truly hear my wife and grieve with her. I began to feel again. I began to experience life and freedom.
Wow, the difference a day can make. A day earlier, I wondered if our marriage was going to survive, and now I felt closer to my husband than I had in years. I thought he didn’t care; I even thought he didn’t know how to care anymore. Deep down I knew he was hurting, but he never let me in. I never saw it.
Now, not only was he letting me in, he was accepting my pain. I realized I had been protecting him from what was really going on in my heart, and now I had learned to share myself with him again. It was going to take a lot of practice to stay open and share my heart with John, but now I knew it was possible.
As we drove back down that long, twisting mountain road, all I could think was, Lord, thank you for saving our marriage. Thank you for helping John and me truly see each other again.
The church is a mystery. I don’t fully understand it, but somehow through confession, repentance, unlimited grace and truth, and a small group of hurting people on the top of a mountain, God showed up and reignited my passion, my ministry, my heart, and my marriage. I am so thankful that I truly feel her forgiveness and her passion for me again.
Being a part of that group of ministry leaders was one of the most growth-producing experiences in my life. I knew there was work to be done when I got home, but instead of dreading the effort, I was excited for the challenge.
The next time I stood in the pulpit, I felt alive and whole again. I spoke from a deeper love for God, for myself, and for those around me. We still look at our pictures of our time at that retreat and remember how God brought healing and wholeness to our broken world.
Mike and Kari MacKenzie completed their doctor in ministry degrees specializing in pastor care from Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University, work as staff associates with Marble Retreat, and operate a Christian Counseling practice (MacKenzie Counseling Services) in Longmont, Colorado.
Marble Retreat is an interdenominational Christian counseling center for all believers, especially those who serve in ministry. For more than 36 years, Marble has provided a place of hope, healing, and restoration to nearly 4,000 participants. Marble’s program consists of a purposeful and effective combination of individual and group counseling, recreation, and rest. Located in the picturesque Crystal River Valley of the Colorado Rockies, Marble Retreat offers premier counseling services surrounded by world-class recreational opportunities, including fly-fishing, hiking, skiing, and wildlife viewing.
This peaceful refuge in the Rockies has offered healing for hurting marriages, ministry problems, spiritual issues, grief and loss, burnout, depression, and other life challenges.