Day 9: My Soul Is Fried

I was a young pastor, in my mid-20s, and ministry was going pretty well. I worked a lot of hours and put out a lot of energy, but I also saw a lot of fruit.

Then one day I lost my joy. I didn’t know where it had gone – but it was gone.

I read that one of the fist signs of depression is when you don’t enjoy doing the things that used to bring you joy.

I still did those things… I just didn’t get the same buzz from them. They didn’t have the same zest they once did, not did they replenish me when they were over.Bridge Troll


I was in a rut.

I am by nature a big, loud, extroverted, animated guy. It is not natural for me to be in a funk. Regardless, I was in a deep funk.

My entire spirituality at that point consisted of:

  1. reading the Bible and
  2. hearing from God.

Both of those had stopped working for me.

I went away on a prayer retreat with two trusted friends. We drove to a cabin on lake in New Hampshire that some folks in my congregation owned. The cabin had already been shut up for the winter but they said we could go and use it. We just needed to take care to drain the water and shut down the fireplace when we were done.


It didn’t work.  I tried to pray but it just didn’t happen.

After the weekend was over we were driving back to New York and I was growing bitter. The longer we drove in silence (one of my friends was sleeping in the back seat) the more it seemed like I was seething inside.

I sort of said to God “I came all the way out here to meet with you and get recharged and … nothing. You just leave me depleted?”

It must have been the use of that word ‘recharge’ that was providential because my imagination was sparked. Way back in High School automotive class I had learned about car batteries. Car batteries are replenished by what is called a ‘trickle charge’. It is a slow, steady current that gets the battery ready go as you drive.

When a battery loses its power, you can ‘jump’ it (with jumper cables) and infuse the battery with a huge surge of power. This works, but it is not good for the life of battery. Do it too often and you can fry the plates, making it impossible for the battery to receive a charge anymore – even from a jump.

I had fried my battery. 


My life at that point was not set up for a slow steady trickle of power. I was set up to run the battery down to almost empty and then, through charismatic experience, get a jump and get pumped back up. I had done it once too often apparently.

I had confused how a battery works with how a gas tank functions.

It was as if God was saying to me “Slow down. Take a breath. Receive the goodness and gift of existence. Enjoy being alive. Trickle charge back to full strength”.

I needed to make some changes. The spirituality of a young man was not going to sustain me long-term. It was already failing me.I needed to grow into a healthier more sustainable spirituality.

I also found out that somewhere along the line I had shorted out some lights and gauges on my dashboard. I would have to rewire some of my internal monitors and reset the ways that my internal reality sent me messages of health and of warning.


I like that Tony used a car analogy to frame this chapter (chpt. 9). I use them too. There is one problem, however, with my use of car analogies for soul stories. The soul is not a machine and spirituality can not be mechanized. 

There is a reason that Jesus used farming analogies. It wasn’t just because he lived in an agrarian society. Jesus just as easily could have talked of Roman wagons or something. No, he talked of birds and flowers and fields for a reason.

It is no accident that Tony came back to health in the water. Ancient pools and worn rock are a good combination. Randy Woodley likes to remind me that many Native communities call water ‘first medicine’.


The car analogy works for me – as an analogy. It is a word picture or a metaphor. It helps to diagnose the problem … but it is not the solution.

The solution is deeper and wetter. It is slower and quieter.

“”The one who turn to the Lord shall be as a fountain filled with living water, and streams shall flow out of them” – John 7:38


I would love to hear how you recharge. 

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Thank you for this post Bo! In some ways, your story articulated what I am going through in this chapter of my life! I have a deep longing and yearning to " feel" connected and recharged in my relationship with God but instead find myself in a confusing and disconnected funk. Plus, there is a profound sense of loss that my "battery" isn't at full capacity as it used to be. Hoping the the "recharge" happens, even if it is slow and sustainable. Thank for sharing!


Fantastic blog!I feel you and feel like I am in the middle of one of those experiences. Back in Cape Town it was lone walks in the mountains for 4-6 hours at least monthly, dinners with close safe friends/mentors where we talked crap and laughed, as well as finding life in a liturgical progressive church as a space out of the machine that began the process of restoration.In new life in London (4 weeks in) its harder, but runs and walks and a Quaker church meeting are bringing life to a soul being re-built and enlivened again.


I have no comment except to say "Amen and amen." Beautifully written, Bo. Thank you.


One way I recharge, when I am even able to (chronic depression) is by doing things that are utterly unrelated to religion or spirituality. I write fiction. I design and play roleplaying games. I go to nerdy conventions where I am surrounded by people who don't care that much about God but who love Star Wars or Firefly or Monty Python with a passion. I go on road-trips and watch an entire season of Community in one sitting. I eat Thai food.


There are things about being a pastor that sort of energize me, but more give me momentum to carry me forward. Counseling someone one-on-one. Finally identifying a particular problem. Having a great discussion. Learning something. That sort of thing. But prayer, in particular, has always been a drain on my energy, which is probably why I pretty much only pray at meals and professionally, as part of worship or Communion or if someone asks to pray.


After a couple of decades of dismantling creation with a chainsaw, I cannot begin the day without a series of stretches - for some reason the ones I liked the least at yoga class do the most for me. Grrrrr@downward dog! I try to pray while I do those, but if not, I at least do the stretches. The alternative is massive amounts of ibuprofen, or some more destructive form of self-medication. If I am lying on the floor, twisting and turning to the limits of my limbs, I can trust that the day will go better than if I just stumble toward the nearest cup of coffee.


The other great thing for me to do is to get up and go for a walk. I had a great one up the mountain in the falling snow this morning. - sometimes I'm listening to things on my iPod - sometimes I'm listening to the world. Bruce Chatwin had the idea that we evolved to move through this world at a walking pace. Better yet is to walk with someone else - my wife and I eventually get around to talking things over if we walk far enough.


I don't think I simply attend a crackshack church as Peter Rollins suggests is a possibility, but I do find going to church very renewing. If work and travel for some reason coincide to keep me away for a few weeks, there is definitely a renewal and refreshment form attending a service, especially if i have come home to my home parish.


"There are times, probably more than we aware, where a "deep funk," is one of those left-handed graces that God blesses us with." - charis9  Personally, before I took up yoga and prayer, my addiction/alcoholism had taken me to a place where it definitely seemed easier to die than to ask for help. I definitely had to burn some of the boats that had brought me to that shore before I could open up to the possibility that the world operated on different terms than I was used to conceiving it. I laugh at it now, but I was a very lost, very limited soul at that point. Got to use that situation in a sermon a few years later: "I walked through those doors, and sat down right over there, lost, lonely and afraid. And you welcomed me!"


There are times, probably more than we aware, where a "deep funk," is one of those left-handed graces that God blesses us with.


@theBoSanders Bo that was deeply good. Thank you


Thoughtful thoughts from the Bo Daddy. Thanks

BoSanders moderator

@_JacquiB from you that means a lot ;)

BoSanders moderator

 @charis9 Yeah but ... it doesn't feel like it at the time.  

BoSanders moderator

 @steventfuller This is probably my favorite thing that I have ever written... but probably because I know that story behind it. 


Holy Father, Lord Jesus Christ, Sweet Holy Spirit.

Inflame within me the mind, spirit, and passion

of your Son that I might forever walk in your path,

continually giving you thanks and praise

not only in times of joy, delight, and exhiliration

but in those times of darkness, despair, doubt,

   and cofusion,

when blind, I fail to see your guided touch.


from the Third Variation on the Jesus Prayer

by yours truly, Charis