So my story goes something like this…
I was a… pastor’s kid… missionary kid…
The gold standard of what parents wanted their kids to be at church…
A high school graduate at 16… Medical School Student at 19…
Crashed and burned at 21… Worked hard to fix it all (ministry, career, marriage, kids)…
Crashed and burned at 42 (but it was a different kind of crash and burn)…
At home, when I was alone, deep inside, where it was just me, my thoughts, and God…
All those things hurt…
And I couldn’t figure out how to live any differently.
You see, there’s this guy who says you can’t tell anyone when your pain weighs you down. It’s a crazy looking guy who looks just like you, and he sits in the corner of your heart and constantly whispers, “Keep running. If they find out how messed up you are, they won’t love you…they won’t keep you around…work harder…run faster…” So, you don’t quit. You keep going. After all, it’s always easier to be a martyr than a disciple. Martyrs go out in a blaze of glory, but disciples have to walk the long road. Martyrs tell stories of victory, but disciples wait patiently for healing.
Where did all this come from? It starts like this… My parents were immigrants who came to faith and then came to the United States. They had a dream to raise kids who loved God, shared the Gospel, and worked hard to be successful. To do this, they used, with the best of intentions, the life development tools they were most experienced with: pain and shame. Imagine a Marine Corps drill instructor and a football coach living in your home, and they’re always in coach mode. For everything…all the time.
Ironically, pain and shame can produce fantastic results. “You made the A/B Honor Roll, too bad you didn’t make the All A Honor Roll.” “If only you were a little better, I’d be happy with you.” “Nobody cries in this family except me (dad). You don’t see me cry, ever, that’s what you do.” “If you fail, you’ll never succeed at anything.” “You’re not going to ever be wise enough to make tough decisions. I’ll have to make them for you.” It motivated my siblings and me to work hard, frantically, endlessly, and tirelessly…for everything…even the things we didn’t necessarily have to earn. However, pretty walls don’t always make for stable buildings, and great achievements often mask injured hearts. Trying hard not to fail makes you feel and do weird things. It makes you ambitious (good), but it makes you do things out of fear (not good). It makes you nice and polite (good), but it makes you incredibly manipulative and passive aggressive (not good). To top it all off, when God directs you into ministry, you teach grace (good), but your shepherding can leave a legalistic aftertaste (really, really not good). You end up with expectations in your head, and as people don’t meet them, you always have a reason to be frustrated, upset, angry, and, as my wife told me, prickly. “You sure are prickly (like a porcupine). It’s hard to love you sometimes.”
My Story Caught Up With Me
It wasn’t a massive failing that caught up to me. (That would be a way more exciting story). It was a series of simple conversations with someone who peeked behind the curtain enough to gently tell me that I was tired, that I was hurt, and that I was inadvertently hurting others in the process of trying to keep up appearances. I thought I had beaten the pain of the past and had successfully buried it in the backyard of my heart and mind by getting older, getting established, and being nicer than where I came from. But you wake up when something and someone breaks your frantic stride just enough to make you stumble. When someone tells you how you have hurt them, and when you find yourself losing it on a kid in a wheelchair and repeating the cycle on your own family, it really slows you down. In that moment, it all came to a halt in my heart and mind. I needed help. There were no more places in me to hide the effects of pain and shame. I was working so hard to earn love, acceptance, and significance that I was completely burnt out on being me. I had to come to a place where I wasn’t telling stories about my story; I had to come to a place where I was willing to say, I am my story.
The truth is hard, and in an effort to do more and to do well, those whom I loved the most (my parents) created a strong adult who loved God but was absolutely petrified of failure and abandonment. But I knew that if I could keep moving, working, doing more for others so they had to “like me” that I could find the acceptance, love, and significance that I had craved for years. The problem was that I had breathed an artificial grace for too long: “God will love you as long as you get it right because we love you as long as you get it right.”
No one in the kingdom should walk with a swagger, but no one should walk with a limp, either.
~pastoral wisdom picked up along the way.
Not leaving room for failure means that there is never enough room, hope, or help to grow when you sin, fall, or fail. I would do anything to protect myself emotionally. I would languish for hours searching for significance internally. This insecurity and ferocious need to control. This was my limp.
One day in the midst of the fog, two simple statements broke through. The first was a question, “Have you ever pictured what your life, ministry, and relationships would look like if you lived them from a place of God’s love and nothing else?” No, I didn’t know, because in my worldview, people only love you when you do good, not when you fail. But that question rocked me to the core because, for a brief moment, I caught a glimpse of a peace, joy, acceptance, and motivation in the Lord that seemed so freeing! However, like a ship on stormy seas that catches a glimpse of the harbor as the bow goes up and down, it was just a glimpse. The second statement hit me right between the eyes. In the middle of trying to explain my deep seated fears and desperate actions, a counselor and friend I was conversing with looked at me and quoted from Brennan Manning’s book Abba’s Child. He said, “David, you are the beloved. That’s it, no more, no less. You are the beloved. That’s how God sees you, how he’s always seen you. Now go home and tell your kids that every time you tuck them into bed.” What? Of course I tell my spouse and kids, “I love you,” but it’s always to remind myself and them, “Look how hard I’m working to earn your love. Look how long has gone by since I’ve messed up something you’d have to forgive. Why can’t you work as hard as I do so that you remember to love me as hard as I’m working to love you?” To simply say, “You’re the beloved” means that you’re loved, valued, and accepted beyond anything you can do to earn it. I tried to do it and that…Rocked. My. World.
As I began to understand Jesus’ grace, my time in friendships, relationships, work, and family wasn’t about proving myself so I wasn’t rejected; it was about remembering my identity that had been purchased at Calvary: “I am the beloved.” When I fail, I am the beloved. When the voice in my heart says, “No one notices you. If you were good enough, you would’ve succeeded. Work harder, longer. Make them like you!” God’s grace answers with a simple, “You’re the beloved.”
That crazy guy in the corner of my heart is still there. He still says the same things to me. When I make a mistake at work, when I feel disrespected, insignificant, alone, or rejected, he’s still there to throw gas on the fire of my regret. But now, there is also the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. Now, when the memories are thrown at me, I get to go back and slowly mine through the craziness of the past with a guiding light from the Lord. “When you endured that pain, when you endured that shame, you were still the beloved. I am still sovereign, and this can still glorify Me!” The truth and promises in Scripture are no longer future things for when I’m “good enough.” They are God’s graceful provision to me now, and slowly, steadily, God’s gentle voice is getting louder than the crazy guy in the corner.
Sharing My Story
The world is full of ministry books that tell of great breakthroughs pastors make when they crater, heal, and then hit the road teaching on the great lessons they learned. Maybe years from now, there’s a podcast or article that my story could write. But here’s the quiet truth: my new story is just a few months old. For years, I’ve walked these halls around people who just didn’t know that I was dying inside. My theology was strong, but my heart was empty. However, the new rebirth of resting on the simple truth of being loved by God is slowly pushing out of a wrecked and burnt out soil and ground, like a little green shoot of a plant. It’s going to need some time to grow. It’s what you might call a story in transit. Many times we look at the great stories of life change, and we yearn for the freedom and joy that others have experienced in their journeys. But we look at our past pain and our present burden, and we don’t even know how to begin. We think, If people knew, they would walk away…just a few short months ago, I was there. I’m just a few inches ahead of you…and I’m cheering for you.
For that reason, I’d like to leave you with a simple challenge.
- The next time you’re alone in the car, park for a minute and answer this question: How tired am I of trying to prove myself to God to earn His love? (Not His salvation, but His love, affection, and care).
- Or try this: Go be alone for a bit with just you and a mirror. Look yourself straight in the eyes and say, “I am the beloved.”
The first time I tried this, I made it less than a minute before I completely broke down. But every few weeks or so, I try it again, and I get a few more seconds.
It is with much gratitude that we thank David Ake, Associate Pastor of Junior High Ministries, for so openly sharing his story with us. Our prayer is that many will see the truth of Christ’s love and know that they don’t have to be perfect to be a BELOVED child of Christ.
David Ake joined the Stonebriar team in 2007 as part of our student ministry teams and pastor to seventh- and eighth-graders. He brings with him years of experience in youth ministry, a master’s degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a passion for mentoring young men to authentically know and love Christ. David has a rich spiritual heritage. His father, a full-blooded Mayan Indian from the Yucatan Peninsula, and his mother, a native of Chile, were missionaries and church planters along the Texas-Mexico border. David walks through life with his wife, Jamie, and they share their journey with two amazing daughters.