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A Youth Worker’s Personal Climb Out of Darkness

Andy Juvinall
November 4th, 2019

Over the past year, I have been greatly impacted by the national news stories surrounding the suicide deaths of at least two young pastors.  As I think about my own young family, it breaks my heart to think about the families that they have left behind.  In some ways, I totally relate to the pressures, stress, anxiety, and depression that these ministry leaders must have felt.  I am also reminded of my own negative emotions and darkness that I have experienced in ministry over the last few years.  With the help of God and many positive people in my life, I have been able to find new hope and excitement about my future; but this journey wasn’t easy.  It is from this much healthier place, that I want to share some of my story and insights. Why be so open? I want to give others hope, especially as they experience difficulties in this broken world. 

Ministry can be life-giving experience, especially when you feel God’s passion and calling in your life.  I have been working in youth ministry for seventeen years and absolutely love it!  However, ministry can also be a very lonely, draining, and empty place in which you and/or your environment feels unhealthy.  There have certainly been highs and lows over the years, but the last year was definitely the hardest of my life.  The church I was working at has been through a lot of transitions during the last few years.  For me, this resulted in a lot of mental and emotional struggle.  I often felt like a failure.  I often felt unappreciated, unloved, and unwanted.  I wrestled with a lot stress, anxiety, and depression that negatively affected every area of my life.  I would instantly feel a pit of anxiety in my stomach as soon as I pulled into the church parking lot for work.  I was disappointed in the husband, father, and leader that I was becoming.  In the midst of all of this, I also lost my dad. This has been an added struggle as I continue to wrestle with that grief.  All of this fueled the never-ending fire that was consuming my life and sending me into some of the darkest places I have ever experienced.

I hit rock bottom late last winter.  I had a very rough day at work which resulted in a difficult evening at home.  As an introvert, I decided I needed to be alone for a little bit, so I went for a long walk around our neighborhood.  As I prayed and cried, I experienced a lot of different thoughts and emotions, but the most disturbing were the thoughts that I had about ending my life.  The common suicidal questions rolled through my mind: “Would everything be better if I was no longer here?”  “How can I make this pain go away?”  Thankfully, I also felt God’s presence in these moments and my negative thoughts didn’t go any further, but I also knew that I needed help in order to get out of this dark place.  I want to share with you some of the ways that God brought me back to a much healthier place over the last several months. 

TIME WITH GOD

As a leader in ministry, I especially recognize my need to be fueled by God and constantly growing in my own faith.  I have been an active part of a group called Bible Study Fellowship over the past twelve years.  This has been an amazing place for me to simply participate in an intensive Bible Study with other men.  It was in this environment that I was able to share some of my struggles and seek prayer from my weekly small group.  However, what I loved the most about this group was the many ways that God spoke to me in the midst of my depression.  Our Bible study spent a lot of time looking at the life and psalms of David.  I was amazed by the amount of time that David spent wandering in the wilderness, fearing for his life, and questioning God’s plan for his life.  David was anointed as king by Samuel in 1 Samuel 16 but he was not officially crowned king until 2 Samuel 2.  We can read through these passages in under an hour, but the actual time covered here is about fifteen years.  

As a source of healing, I began to read David’s Psalms and rewrite them into my own personal prayers.  I truly felt connected to the many feelings of depression, uncertainty, fear, and pain that David experienced during this period of his life.  It was through these prayers and my own personal Psalms that I was able to reconnect with the God who created me, knows my every struggle, and has amazing plans for my future!  There is unbelievable hope in the Word of God.  It is through these stories and words from broken people that we can find ourselves in God’s redemption story. Especially when life feels hare, I would challenge you to spend quality time with God and His message of hope for your life.

COUNSELING / THERAPY

As a result of our struggles at church and home, My wife and I decided to start counseling last fall.  The counselor recognized the ways that we were hurting each other as a couple and as parents to our kids.  This was an amazing place for us to start and I would highly recommend counseling for everyone, especially those who work in ministry.  I instantly felt like this was a safe place for me to share some of my personal struggles.  My wife and I were able to learn a lot about each other and begin to find new ways to love and support each other and raise our kids in an environment of grace and understanding.  Yes, there are still struggles, but we gained a lot of great advice and encouragement throughout the counseling process.  

After a few months of couple counseling, I began to share about my suicidal thoughts.  This is when we noticed my need for personal counseling.  It was during these sessions that I was able to process some healthy ways for dealing with the emotions and thoughts I was experiencing.  I had a place to open up and share rather than holding everything inside, waiting to explode in anger.  Outside of God, counseling became a great source of support and healing.  Counseling has been so beneficial to me that I have committed to continuing my sessions for at least the next year as I transition into a new job and we increase our family with a third child.

POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS

Through counseling, I realized that I was listening to a lot of negative voices which were causing me to feel like a failure.  I decided that I needed to find people outside of my current circumstances to talk to.  I made a list of all the people who have been friends, mentors, coaches, and positive voices in my life.  These were people who I could trust, people who had seen God at work in my life and ministry, people who could speak God’s truth into my life.  I began to reach out to these individuals and share some of my struggles, seek their advice, and receive prayer and encouragement from them.  These conversations began to revitalize my life and remind me that God was not done with me yet.  God used these amazing people to bring hope and healing back into my mind, heart, and soul.  It was these conversations that began to drown out the negative thoughts that I had been listening to for so long.  

This is just a quick glimpse of my personal, year long story. My prayer is that as you read these words you will find hope, peace, and encouragement in your own life.  Ultimately, I want you to know that you are not alone; God is not finished with you yet. He loves you more than you can imagine and has amazing plans for your life.  Please seek out some of the resources above.  If you need someone to talk to, I would also love to listen, encourage, and pray for you if needed.    

Andy Juvinall

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.

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