Standing On The Rock

Dec 5, 2023

by Ken Rummer

Having trouble finding the next words to say. That’s what I noticed first. But other warning lights were flashing: heart banging, air in short supply, tingly fingers. I felt like I could faint at any moment. And painful pressure had settled in my lower chest. Was this a heart attack?

At the time, I was in my usual Sunday morning pastor spot, leading worship from the pulpit, and I had just launched into the sermon.

Could I continue? Should I continue? What if I went down?

I had heard of pastors who died in the pulpit and how traumatic it was for their congregations. I didn’t want to be one of those pastors.

On other occasions when not feeling a hundred percent, I had pushed through. But this was more than a scratchy voice or the tail end of a virus. I had never felt anything like this before.

Thought slowed like data through a bad internet connection, and everyone was watching. What should I do?

Piecing together a decision, I interrupted myself and told the congregation that I was not feeling well. Then I asked one of the Elders to lead the rest of the service.

I made my way down from the pulpit. Along the side aisle. Through the doors. Into the church library. I was feeling scared, embarrassed, shaken.

Sitting in the library, my wife beside me, I started feeling better. Church members with medical skills came to check on me. They took vitals and asked questions and stayed with me as the symptoms eased.

My wife drove me to the Emergency Room where the medical team ran tests and weighed symptoms. The verdict? No evidence of a cardiac event. Most likely a panic attack.

A panic attack? I barely knew the word. And to experience one for the first time in my fifties? I’d thought I might be dying, but I was going home instead.

Stepping back into the pulpit after time away came with fears. And fears of fears. What if it happens again? What if I can’t do my job anymore? What if this is the end of pastoring for me?

After a few weeks of trying to face all those what-ifs on my own, I signed up for counseling.

A particular visualization gleaned from the counseling sessions proved very helpful. I would see myself standing on a rock.

Standing on a rock as in:

“[God] alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress;

I shall never be shaken.” (Psalm 62.2 NRSVue, alt.).

Standing on a rock as in:

“On Christ the solid rock I stand.

All other ground is sinking sand.” (Edward Mote, 1834).

Standing on a rock as in:

“[God] drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.” (Psalm 40:2 NRSVue, alt.).

Back in the pulpit, when I noticed my breath tightening and the fear rising, I focused on feeling that rock through the soles of my feet. Some Sundays, the rock was only as big as a dinner plate; on others, it was as big as the whole chancel. But standing on the rock got me through.

I don’t know what standing place you’ve found that is strong in a scary time (drop it in the comments if you’re willing to share), but for me it’s a pebbly surface of imagined granite, a rock of strength and courage, a rock of psalm and hymn, the rock of God and Christ.