In his 20-plus years of ministry, Jacob Armstrong said he has noticed that everyone has breakdowns.
“Breaking happens when you come to a place where you’ve just had enough. You don’t feel like you can keep going. You are broken. … You are down. … Breakdown.” So begins Chapter 1 of Armstrong’s recent book, “Breaking Open.”
“You can’t avoid breaking. That’s going to happen — that’s inevitable,” Armstrong said. “But you can do what I call break open. That means you’re still open to God and open to keep going and open to healing.”
Armstrong’s first major breakdown occurred after one of the young people he counseled committed suicide. He thought his ministry was over and that he had let God down.
“The openness that I ended up having toward God instead of closing off has impacted the rest of my ministry,” Armstrong acknowledged. “[I’m] a broken pastor who has his own pain and vulnerability and ministers out of that, instead of in spite of it.”
After the suicide Armstrong broke down and ran away, he said, not knowing how to talk about it or what to do.
He ended up reaching out desperately to God and cried like he never had before, he remembered. This release opened him up to a desire to be healed.
The next step was reaching out to his brother.
“Being with someone who really loved me, who would listen to me, who let me fumble around in my pain, that is what began the opening up of my heart to God. That’s how we begin sometimes to see that God is present with us even in this dark moment.”
Not only did God teach Armstrong how to get through those tough times and use them in his ministry, but God already had been preparing him for how to convey a story, a skill he used writing the book.
His father was a songwriter, and his mother was a librarian. At an early age he loved discovering how a story can “become more.”
“Breaking Open” wasn’t written because of the pandemic, but Armstrong said he noticed more and more unresolved brokenness, with pain and loneliness as its result. He wanted to share another option besides retreating after a breakdown.
“I have seen that there’s so much in the Scriptures about people who come to these critical moments in their lives where they either break down or break open in a way that really leads to the path of true life for that person,” Armstrong said.
“This book gives permission to be in those broken places [because] we see Jesus enter into our broken spots. He is actually broken Himself. I had to learn that — to not learn the life of avoidance or covering over it, but to be honest and authentic about it.”
Writing the book has helped Armstrong become a better pastor, he said. He is more perceptive of what’s underneath the breakdown in someone’s life, and being honest and authentic has made him more relatable to church members.
Love and grace
It also has been a reminder of how big God’s grace is.
“We’re in a messed-up zone right now, right? God has extended love and grace to us through Jesus over and over and over. I can see it much more clearly now,” Armstrong said.
God continued to teach him even after the manuscript was finished. Just after turning it over to his publisher he was stung by a wasp. He had a seizure and spent the next three months out of work and homebound, then another seven months recuperating.
The principles Armstrong had written about gave him tools to make it through the difficult time.
Thinking back over the years, even those times when he had breakdowns and difficulty, Armstrong said he wouldn’t change anything.
“Even the bumps and bruises and mistakes have led me to the perspectives and strengths that I have now.”
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