As Pastor Jenkins was leaving his office on a late Thursday afternoon, he saw Henry Jacobson sitting in the front of the sanctuary. Henry’s head was bowed, cupped in his hands. Pastor Jenkins heard muffled sobs. As he walked slowly forward, he saw Henry was dressed in fatigues, reminding the pastor that Henry had been on military deployment three times. When Pastor Jenkins gently touched Henry’s shoulder, not wanting to intrude too much, Henry jumped up and turned as if he were about to strike the pastor.
Oh, Pastor Jenkins, I didn’t know it was you. Guess a part of me is still back in Afghanistan. I’m sorry,” Henry said as he collapsed back into the pew.
“Henry, I’ve been concerned for you. How are you doing?”
“Not well, Pastor. Ever since coming back I feel like I am a different person.”
“Pastor, it’s a long story.”
“For starters, I’ve done things I never thought a person of faith would do. I’ve had thoughts that make me doubt my faith and God’s existence.”
“Go on. Is there’s more?”
“Yes, a lot. I have doubted myself. It’s like I’m a different person, like my whole life has changed. I don’t know myself anymore. I am not sure how to pray now. I am so filled with doubt and conflict I think, sometimes…” Henry hesitated, “if I just ended it all, it would be better for everybody.”
“Henry, you’ve been carrying so much!”
The pastor sat down near Henry, prayed silently, and waited. They shared a long period of silence. Neither spoke.
“Henry may I offer a few suggestions?” Henry nodded.
“I believe we all face times of doubt in our lives. Would it be OK with you if we set up some regular appointments to talk about your faith and doubts?” The pastor waited. Finally Henry looked up and said,
“I think I would like that.”
“Also, I would like you to meet a friend of mine, the chaplain at the Veterans Administration hospital. I know the chaplain could help you connect to a clinic for other returning Veterans. Is that something that you would be willing to consider?”
“Yeah, Pastor, it’s been hard for me to admit, but the truth is I need help.”
“One more thing, Henry. You mentioned that sometimes you think about ending it all. How strong are those thoughts today?”
“Well, I just think about that once in awhile, and admitting it helps. I’m not going to do anything that would make things even worse for my family, and killing myself would go against everything I learned as I grew up in the church.”
“OK, Henry, but if those thoughts get stronger, I want you to promise to call me. I will give you my cell phone number. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night, if you need to talk, I want to hear from you. Deal?”
“OK, then what would be a convenient time to meet you next week?”
“Could I see you Wednesday at 4:30, after work?”
“That works for me. I look forward to seeing you then.”