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From a 2008 interview with Bob Kauflin, published in The Power of Words and the Wonder of God (pp. 149-151):

I helped plant a church in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1991. I began to feel increasing anxiety at different times when we first planted the church. Then in January of 1994 my wife and I were at a couple's house for dinner, and I cracked. My life fell apart. Mentally I had no connection with what I was doing, no connection with the past, no connection with the future. I didn't know why I existed. These were the thoughts that went through my brain. That began a period of maybe three years where I battled constant hopelessness. I would wake up each morning with this thought: "Your life is completely hopeless," and then I would go from there. It was a struggle just to make it through to each step of the day. The way I made it through was just to think, What am I going to do next? What will I do? I can make it to there.

It was characterized by panic attacks. For the first six months I battled thoughts of death. I'd think about an event that was three months away: Why am I thinking about that? I'm going to be dead by then. I had feelings of tightness in my chest, buzzing and itching on my arms, buzzing on my face. It was a horrible time. And in the midst of that I cried out to God, and I certainly talked to the pastor that I served with and other pastors that I knew--good friends--trying to figure out what in the world was going on with my life.

Five or six children at that time, a fruitful life, a fruitful ministry. And this is what I discovered: although I'd been a Christian for twenty-two years (since 1972) I was driven by a desire to be praised by men. And I wasn't succeeding. When you plant a church, you find out that there are a lot of people who don't agree with you. People who came to plant the church left. All of that assaulted my craving to be admired and praised and loved and worshiped and adored and applauded. God, I believe, just took his hand from me and said, "Okay, you handle this your way." I knew the gospel, but what I didn't know was how great a sinner I was. I thought the gospel I needed was for pretty good people, and that wasn't sufficient to spare me from the utter hopelessness I felt during that time.

I would read Scripture. It didn't make sense to me. It didn't affect me. I remember lying at bed at times just reciting the Lord's Prayer to myself over and over and over, hoping that would help. I couldn't sleep; then at times all I wanted to do was sleep. I remember saying this early on: "God, if you keep me like this for the rest of my life but it means that I will know you better, then keep me like this." That was the hardest prayer I've ever prayed.

During that time I read an abridged version of John Owen's Sin and Temptation and Jerry Bridges's The Discipline of Grace.

About a year into the process I talked to a good friend, Gary Ricucci, whom I am now in a small group with at Covenant Life Church. I said, "Gary, I feel hopeless all the time."

He said, "You know, Bob? I think your problem is that you don't feel hopeless enough."

I don't know what I looked like on the outside, but on the inside I was saying, "You are crazy. You are crazy. I feel hopeless."

He said, "No, if you were hopeless, you would stop trusting in yourself and rely completely on what Jesus Christ accomplished for you."

That was the beginning of the way out. And I remember saying to myself literally hundreds of times--every time these feelings of hopelessness and panic and a desire to ball up in a fetal position would come on me--"I feel completely hopeless because I am hopeless, but Jesus Christ died for hopeless people, and I'm one of them."

Over time I began to believe that. And today when I tell people that Jesus is a great Savior, I believe it, because I know that he saved me. That's where my joy comes from. My joy comes from knowing that at the very bottom, at the very pit of who I am, it is blackness and sin, but the love and grace of Jesus goes deeper.

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11 thoughts on “Hope for Your Dark Night of the Soul”

  1. Dane says:

    Wow. Incredibly strengthening.

  2. Lindsey says:

    Omigosh, I’m going through this right now. I’m so glad to know that I’m not alone. I thought I was the only one who was experiencing this unbelievable anxiety, tightness in the chest, doubts about salvation, thoughts of utter hopelessness. I’m actually really relieved.

  3. This story truly is a powerful, shocking testimony of God’s mercy.
    I remember hearing this while listening to the panel discussion when DG first posted them on their site. I have actually recounted this story to others after hearing it only once myself. Amazing how well Bob’s story stuck with me, especially in light of the theme of the conference.

  4. Rod Lyon says:

    I have been through all this and more. I am just starting to learn. I was recently told that the worst thing that could happen to us is to never know who we really are. Though I am a follower of Christ I have tried to redeem my own life in ways I was not aware until now and it nearly destroyed me and others. There is only one Savior and it is not me. I think many of us in ministry are plagued with this “Savior complex” and God will not let us think of ourselves like that, but He does so redemptively. But it starts with complete honesty – especially with our wives. And I think our wives are much more aware of our relentless drive for performance, rescue and approval than we are. At 52 I finally believe I am moving toward maturity and wholeness in Christ as a man and as a husband and anything else God calls me to. The days ahead are bright, hope-filled and impactful in the best sense. BUT, it happens through the crises, pain, wounds and sin of our lives when God brings us to the end of ourselves. I believe God is not interested in “fixing” our lives (the Biblical characters bear this out), He redeems our lives – every part – in order to display the atoning work of Christ’s cross, the magnificence of the Father’s grace, the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and the reality of His presence. The following is a poem someone recently shared with me.

    Go slowly
    Consent to it
    But don’t wallow in it
    Know it as a place of germination
    And growth
    Remember the light
    Take an outstretched hand if you find one
    Exercise unused senses
    Find the path by walking it
    Practice trust
    Watch for dawn.

    Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

  5. Mark says:

    Thank you for posting Justin. I’m not a pastor, but so much of this story is like mine. I’ve come to accept God created me in a way that depression is something I will likely struggle with my entire life. But I also believe he has given a higher degree of empathy for the suffering around me and a greater realization that He is my only hope.

  6. I certainly don’t want to diminish the spiritual aspect of this, but it sounds like clinical depression. While clinical depression is a very physical mood disorder (aside from the lowered production of certain neurotransmitters, it can also result in chest pain and panic attacks), it seems symbiotic with sociological factors and self-identification such that physical depression can be conditioned as a response to repeated circumstances and further feed those circumstances.

    Spiritually speaking, since we have Truth as Christians, even if we know that Jesus died for us soteriologically we can still feel rejected by God ministerially. That is to say that we might be doing everything right, but we may not be seeing any fruit from our labors or the doors of opportunity don’t seem to be open to us to use the gifts that God gave us.

    I’ve found that the answer is the same. Even as we must understand that there is nothing in us that we can trust to save us, we must also understand that there is nothing in us worth trusting in ministry. God will use us in His time. If He chooses to use us to serve Him, then it is good. If He chooses not to use in such a way that we see assurance of effectiveness in the fruits of our labors, then it is still good. We’re not worth using to begin with. Strangely, this is comforting.

    1. Lynn Rutledge says:

      Also, panic attacks are often a purely physical disorder, for which there are very effective medicines.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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