Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, and Don’t Feel with Jason Smith

What does a pastor do when he is not okay?  Jason Smith was burned out after covering pain with performance for decades. His coping mechanism was service, describing his relationships with the people he served as codependent.  When the limitations of the global pandemic created isolation, he was unable to receive energy and purpose from others, so his unconscious facade fractured, making him feel trapped.  Thinking like no area of his life was good, he felt hopeless.  Listen to this episode to find out how a dedicated ministry leader and professional helper took steps to get well.

Show Notes

This episode was recorded on February 9, 2022 at the offices of R+E by Blue Sky Media.


Season 4, Episode 10: Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust and Don’t Feel with Jason Smith

Craig Robertson: Welcome to season four of the Robertson and Easterling podcast. This is Craig Robertson.

Matt Easterling: And I’m Matt Easterling. We want to thank everyone who has listened to our podcast so far. If you haven’t already subscribed, please do so on iTunes, Spotify. Or your favorite podcast player, Craig and I are having lots of fun producing this show and we hope that you’re enjoying it as much as we are. It’s really hard to believe we are already on season four.

Craig Robertson: That’s right, Matt. We’ve really enjoyed sharing the life stories of some great people. And we have even more in story for you for season four. As you know, by now we are board certified family law specialists with one of the most successful boutique law firms in Mississippi. As creative problem solvers, we take a holistic approach to the individual needs of our clients.

Matt Easterling: Joining us again this season are licensed professional counselors, Eva and Roane Hunter from Lifeworks Counseling. We’re excited to continue our partnership with Eva and Roane. They provide a unique perspective as we help hurting people with the healing process.

Craig Robertson: We’re also excited to introduce two new sponsors for season four: Christie Tidwell and Kelly Engelmann. Christie is a certified financial planner and the founder of New Path Planning. Christie’s own walk through divorce, coupled with 20 years of experience, make her a perfect advocate for others on a similar path. And Kelly is the founder of Enhanced Wellness Living. Mississippi’s leading functional medicine clinic.

Her team’s food first approached to healing along with a variety of lifestyle and regenerative treatment options sets you on a journey to take control of your health and live life well.

Matt Easterling: So, now that we’ve told you what to expect this season, sit back, relax, take a deep breath. Everything’s gonna be okay. You found us. And what you’re about to hear is going to help.

Eva Hunter: Hey, this is Eva Hunter from Lifeworks Counseling. At LifeWorks, our counselors seek to integrate healthy, faith based principles with sound clinical skills. Whether you’re struggling in a relationship or have feelings that hinder your ability to be all you are created to be. One of our trained counselors can help.

We seek to partner with you as our client to find the freedom to live the life God intended for you. We offer our experience, strength, and hope to promote healthy relationships built on intimacy and trust. LifeWorks counseling: the science and soul of connection.

Christy Tidwell: Divorce is the largest financial transaction in most people’s lives. Unfortunately, the decisions surrounding divorce are having to be made when emotions are highest. Making choices about assets can feel intimidating, especially when you’re not in the best frame of mind. Make sure you know how what you do today will affect your financial future.

My name is Christy Tidwell and I’m with New Path Planning. I’ll use my 20 years of financial planning experience to help educate and advise you during every stage of the divorce process. Visit New Path Planning for more information.

Craig Robertson: You know, I’m almost asking for it. When I partner with Christian counselors to do a podcast and I’ve done it again today. I’m in the room with my, my friend and co-host Roane Hunter, who is a, uh, Christian counselor with LifeWorks counseling.

Roane Hunter: Glad to be here. You’re looking fly today, man!

Craig Robertson: I know our listeners can’t-

Roane Hunter: Normally you dress when we do this, you dress like the unibomber, but you look like the, a billboard lawyer. Are you doing billboards?

Craig Robertson: Yes. We’re billboard, um, advertisement photo session later today.

Roane Hunter: Good. All right.

Craig Robertson: And so anyway, but I’ve done it again. For some reason. I invited Roane to sit next to me in this podcast, but Roane’s my friend and he’s a Christian counselor. And then we also have another friend and pastor, uh, Jason Smith. So Smitty man, thanks for being here.

Jason Smith: Fired up to be here. And I will say you do look dapper today, man.

Craig Robertson: Well, I- obviously our listeners can’t can’t see. Um, so, you know-

Roane Hunter: do they need to.

Craig Robertson: I could be wearing cut off shorts and. And lipstick and a tank top, but-

Jason Smith: Is that jacket eggplant? Would that, is that the color of-

Craig Robertson: No, it’s maroon, Hail State!

Jason Smith: Maroon? Maroon, okay.

Craig Robertson: As most of our listeners know, we like to tell stories in this podcast and that’s what Smitty’s here to do today.

Jason Smith: Dude. Thanks so much for having me, Craig and uh, Roane glad that we get to sit down across some table and always, and, uh, share this again, but I’m learning that my story’s still being written.

You know, and, uh, today is a page that, uh, you know, I believe God’s been aware of for the beginning of time, but, and I’m, I’m just reading it today. And, uh, sometimes the, the parts of the story are uncomfortable and sometimes, uh, they’re not exactly how I would’ve written it, but, um, I’m grateful that, uh, I know the one who did write it and that, uh, I can trust Him.

And so. Yeah, man. I guess usually if you were to ask me this question, let’s say a year ago, I would’ve probably just gone into my normal three minute elevator pitch of kind of how I came to Jesus. And that would be my story, but I’ve, I recognize it’s a lot deeper than that. I was not raised in a Christian home and I, I wasn’t raised in the south either.

Well, I was. I was raised in the deep south, uh, as in like Miami, Florida, south raised down there, I wasn’t raised in the church. And so, uh, faith to me was, uh, man, I just so disconnected for my normal life. Uh, it wasn’t until I was, uh, 15 years old that my parents, uh, made the decision to put me into a Christian school.

And it was mostly just because I was getting in a lot of trouble in the public school system. And, uh, they thought it’d be a safer place for me. And so I found myself in a Christian school at 15, and I do remember coming home, uh, first day and, uh, man being overwhelmed emotionally because everything that was being taught at the school, especially in like the Bible class and the history class and things were almost totally opposite of my reality was in my home. And, uh, I just remember thinking I don’t belong here. Like, I feel so different than everybody in the room and my mom who, uh, you know, not a believer gave me some great advice. She said, “Hey, listen, just study whatever it is they give you. And, uh, you know, doesn’t matter if you think it’s right or not just study it and, and know the answers to the test”.

And that’s really what I started to do. And, you know, for the next two years I was exposed to the gospel and the good news of Jesus pretty much every day in school and in the, in that process realized that I had the information in my head now, but I, I had yet to have the experience with Jesus until there was a, yeah, an injury that I experienced in, in playing soccer and, uh, ended up, um, having to be hospitalized for an extended period of time. And most of what my life, I thought my life was gonna go, wasn’t going that way. And so I just, you know, kind of reached out and said, “Man, is this stuff real like that I’ve that I’ve been studying”? And so made a decision to follow Christ. And, uh, man, I’d love to say I got up from the bed that moment and my life was totally changed and I was a, uh, you know, I got back to playing soccer and I was awesome, but no, it didn’t like, I, I, I. Pretty much stank at soccer my senior year, cuz I wasn’t strong enough to play. And uh, but my life had changed in the aspect that my desires had changed.

And so, uh, that’s kind of how I started a relationship with God and went off to college and uh, excited. I went to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. I ended up getting a scholarship there for singing and uh, got there and was ready to go change the world. I was like, Hey, give me a church. I was ready to be a pastor at 18. You know, I’m like fired up. I’d been a Christian for about a minute. So I figured that was enough time to, you know, be a Christian leader.

Craig Robertson: I don’t think I knew that about you, um, Smitty that you went to Liberty.

Jason Smith: I did, yeah. I go to Liberty. Uh, and um, yeah, I got to sing on a team and it was an awesome experience, but man, you know, made some decisions and I ended up finding myself, uh, uh, back home. and, uh, and needing to make some big life decisions, uh, and, um, ended up getting married and joining the military and, uh, life got crazy from there. So long story short, my time in the military led me to a very small church in Nebraska, where a pastor showed me a lot of grace and, uh, told me that God wasn’t done with me yet. And, uh, started to serve in that church and essentially have been in pastor church work church planting, man. Gosh, for 23 years now.

Roane Hunter: So how old were you when y’all got married?

Jason Smith: I was 18 when we got married. Wow. I hadn’t turned hadn’t turned 19 yet. I turned, I got, we got married in may. My daughter was born, uh, sorry. Got married in may. Uh, I joined the military in July. My daughter was born in October and. Yeah, fast track. That’s right. And, uh, she is, she’s an awesome, awesome woman. Now it’s crazy.

Craig Robertson: Couple of questions. The lawyer has to do a little bit of interrogation. Number one, what was the soccer injury?

Jason Smith: It’s- it was kind of this once in one, in a million type of thing. I- I actually got a bone infection in my hip based on the trauma for the injury, and it created an abscess store on my CIC nerve. It’s all kind of, but the side, the abscess on site nerve was, was big enough to where the, the doctor said, if we drain it, there’s a possibility that we could hit the CIC nerve with the needle.

And that could be, you know, have some long term effects. And so my parents just decided to, uh, treat it with antibiotics and it just took a long time. So lost a lot of weight. Um, looked really sick and, and never really fully gained the, the strength back in, in that leg. So, yeah.

Craig Robertson: That’s brutal though. As a, as a person whose identity was somewhat in sports as a high school athlete,

Jason Smith: You’re exactly right. Especially the summer before your senior year. Uh, that’s. It’s usually the time where you have a, especially if you’re not a don’t have any faith at all summer for senior year is the time where you were going to go and sow every wild oat you possibly can. And that was my plan. And I spent the whole time in a hospital bed and while my other friends were going and living that dream.

Craig Robertson: And so what led you to Liberty?

Jason Smith: Yeah. I had a youth pastor who was really the only male Christian influence that I had that I could relate to. And that’s where he went to school. So, I figured I’d do whatever it was that he did. And so that’s where man, I went there, enjoyed it, had a good time, was there for a short amount of time, ended up going back and doing school there online later in my life.

And, uh, uh, ended up doing, uh, seminary there as well. But. Yeah. So that was kind of my story I, you know, was in ministry for, you know, 20 plus years I ended up coming. I was at Pinelake from 2007 to 2012, uh, left. And, uh, went back to Florida, planted a church. And then in 2019, came back to Pinelake to serve here.

And it was just kind of a whirlwind, a lot of stuff going on there. Um, and things were kind of going and blowing when I first got here. Uh, first got back in 2019. But man, I’d say the pressure of ministry and just, I think a lot of just long term emotional unhealth that I had just stuffed for so many years finally came to the surface.

Craig Robertson: Now, what do you mean by that? When you say you had stuffed so many things for so many years?

Jason Smith: You know, if you would’ve, uh, I, I would’ve thought. I was a really strong and mature person because I didn’t express emotions specifically negative emotions, right? Like, uh, sadness, fear, all those kind of things. I, uh, anger even, I just, I didn’t get angry very much.

I’d never expressed sadness. And, um, you know, I I’d thought that that made me strong. And, uh, it really served me well during my time in the military and served me well and, um, in different areas of my life. But man, um, what I would do is I just thought that I couldn’t express those because it wasn’t right to do that.

And, uh, there’s a lot of reasons for that. I’m sure we’ll get into that in just a few minutes, but after I became a Christian, because I didn’t really have a lot of other male christians that I could look at and watch how they responded to life. I assumed that the way you dealt with negative emotions as a Christian was you memorized some scripture, wrapped it up in a bow and then shoved it down deep into your life someplace, so it didn’t pop up.

Craig Robertson: Smitty, you mentioned that it served you well in the military. Talk just briefly about your time in the military and how that life mindset served you in that capacity.

Jason Smith: Yeah, so, um, you know, when you go to the military, you are consistently put in situations and circumstances that you can’t control and you are just asked to do specifically what you’re commanded to do and without asking questions and how you feel about what’s taking place.

Doesn’t matter, you still have to do whatever it is you’re being asked to do. And so, um, I think the military has taken some strides recently and understanding emotional health and understanding mental health. But man, when I was serving in that time, you, you didn’t complain about anything. You didn’t say anything was wrong.

Well, that’s the definition of a soldier. That’s exactly right. And, and, and not just, you know, your, your typical, I was in the air force. So we call ’em airman, not just your typical airman. I also served, uh, at, at our nuclear command and control headquarters and offered air force base Nebraska. And I was part of a, uh, a program at the time that, uh, you couldn’t even take a, uh, an Advil.

Telling somebody you took it. And if you did, you had to have your weapon taken away from you for a certain amount of time, because you’re serving around nuclear components and people that have codes and all that kind of stuff. So you, uh, yeah. So it was, it just, it was a, an environment that was not conducive to you being honest or open about any weakness that you had in your life.

Craig Robertson: And so you took that training and carried it into ministry.

Jason Smith: Long after I left the military, that’s still how I operated. And I thought that, that again, I thought that served me well because ministry, like everything has its difficulties and its problems. And so when I was hurt or, uh, when I was, uh, in a tough situation or when, you know, life just got hard, I just did what I had done before I kind of soldiered up and stuffed it down and kept going.

And, uh, I honestly thought I was okay. And uh, until I wasn’t.

Roane Hunter: We’ve talked and, and certainly that ministry, pastor role, it is a hard thing just because of how it sets up. Kinda suck it up, hide it. Don’t talk because if you start talking about your stuff, you know, you could lose your career or it’s a hard place.

Just because of how it, it is a setup in many ways. And certainly I think it’s changing. It certainly is at, at Pinelake and, and I think at other churches, but it is a hard thing because you just, you could actually be fired, lose your job and that’s a tough place.

Jason Smith: Yeah. I think the great responsibility that, that, uh, lead pastors have in churches is to set the example of what it looks like to pursue a healthy life. We’re at a place now where we’re seeing that modeled and, and it’s so much easier to follow that when you see it. But man, it it’s crazy to think that I was, uh, had served a ministry that long and I never really had an example like that to look at before. And when you weren’t raised in a place in which- where you had a father figure that you could look to that that was emotionally healthy. How in the world do you do something you’d never seen before or never experienced before? And, uh, so you’re exactly right.

Roane Hunter: We always say in family systems, there’s dysfunction in every family system. There’s just degrees. Uh, but the kind of the three hallmarks is simply don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. And boy, you know, going into ministry is that’s a, that’s a great place to live that out.

Jason Smith: Yeah, I’m glad you brought up family because in the past, uh, like I said before, when somebody would tell me my story, I would just kind of summarize, I wasn’t raised in a Christian home and just leave it like that.

There’s a lot to that. Mm-hmm right? There’s a lot to all of our homes, whether it’s a Christian home or not. But to me, I, I was raised in a home of an alcoholic parent and you know, my response to that, and there’s multiple ways that a, a child responds to an alcoholic parent, but one of them is to be the clown.

And the clown is your response to your trauma or your pain around you. And that is, I really took it upon myself to try to diffuse the craziness of my life by being funny and by drawing people’s attention away from the pain and making people laugh. And, uh, you. It, like I said, that ah, served me well in my life.

You know, most people would say that I’m fun to be around or that I’m, you know, kind of the life of the party and all that kind of stuff. And, and, and that was true, but I didn’t know that deep down I was functioning that way as a response to trauma as a child, I would’ve never put two and two together on that.

And, um, man, it, uh, what I started to recognize is it didn’t matter how much I made other people laugh. If I was hurting inside and take away that hurt. And then you add onto it. Once you’ve built the reputation of being that type of person, you don’t feel the freedom to be honest about how you’re really feeling, because it’ll let somebody down.

When, when everyone expects you to be the one that lifts the room and gets everyone excited, if you’re not feeling it that day, you then have to add onto the pain of letting other people down, if you can’t meet their expectations. And so I would just cover more pain with more performance and, uh, man, at some point, and it was at the beginning of 2021, I, I just started to run ragged.

I, I literally started to experience, I think what people would, would call burnout. I just didn’t have it in me anymore to live that way.

Roane Hunter: Mm-hmm. Man, you know, those roles that we all learn to play in these, you know, family drama, we often say that these family systems, they’re kinda like a bad play, you know, uh, everybody’s got a role in the script and as long as you play your role, man, everything works until it doesn’t. And those roles can be varied from, you know, the performer, the clown, the mascot, the saint, the hero, the lost child. Um, there’s lots of different roles that we take on, but it’s really a strategy, right? To try to make it work and try to be noticed and feel like, you know, there’s some sense of order or belonging even.

Jason Smith: Kind of the catalyst for me, there’s, uh, multiple things, but, uh, one of them was, um, I, I, I think on the podcast, you guys have maybe discussed enneagram before, but so I don’t know if the listeners are, are familiar with that, but, uh, I’m, I, I would be categorized as an enneagram seven. Right? And so-

Craig Robertson: Right. Which is my favorite number, by the way, because of everything that you’ve described, they’re always positive, always energetic. Always can see the glass as being half full instead of half empty.

Jason Smith: That’s I mean, that’s exactly right. And that, that is, that is who I am. Uh, but some of the negative ways that sevens respond is when problems arise, they escape them.

They try to escape them and there are, there are healthy escapes, you know, whether it’s working out or whether it’s a hobby that impacts the lives of other people. For me, ministry was an escape. In other words, helping other people made me feel better and little did I know that I, you know, serving people and caring for people had become a coping mechanism for me, which is always a good thing, you know, for as far as a coping mechanism, uh, until you realize you’re not really helping people, you actually need them for you to be healthy. That’s a scary thing. When you realize you have a codependent relationship with the people you’re supposed to be serving.

Kelly Engelmann: Hi, I’m Kelly Engelmann, family, nurse practitioner, and functional medicine provider.

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Enhanced Wellness Living is proud to offer a variety of lifestyle and regenerative treatment options, including sexual wellness programs. Take control of your health, live life well with Enhanced Wellness Living.

Stephanie Walters: We hope you’re enjoying this episode of season four of the Robertson and Easterling podcast. I’m Stephanie, the voice on the other end of the phone. When you call, if you think you need to speak to one of our attorneys, you can request a consultation from our website or simply call the office. Getting legal help is not only the best way to take control of your future.

It will give you the clarity needed to feel better. You owe it to yourself and more importantly to your children to take initiative. Be brave. And now please sit back and enjoy the second half of our show.

Craig Robertson: So we’re back with my friend Smitty and you’ve heard him talk about, um, having a little bit of a tough time in school and his parents recognizing that he needed something different and, um, going to a Christian school and feeling really out of place.

And he talked about suffering a, an injury. And that really sidelined him at a transformational point in his life, but it also allowed some of the knowledge that he was gaining in his head from the Christian school to, to be a part of his life and be a part of his, um, heart. And he, and he talked about, um, having a relationship with Jesus and how that changed the trajectory of his life and other things that changed the trajectory of his life.

Becoming a father and joining the military and getting married at a super young age and how that catapulted him and how he was always the fun guy in the room and the guy who brought the energy to the room and that he, in a lot of ways used helping others as a way to make him feel better about himself.

And, um, Smitty, one thing that, you know, we kind of blew through the first, I don’t know, 35 years of your life, but you talked about the transition from the military into ministry and that you were on staff at Pinelake, which if you’re not familiar is a, is a big church here in central Mississippi. And that you went out as a pioneer back to Florida and started your own church. Talk a little bit to our listener about that church and the transition back away from that church back to Mississippi.

Jason Smith: Yeah, man. We, uh, had the opportunity to go plant Good Life Church in Bradenton, Florida, and Bradenton is, uh, right next to Sarasota, you know, south of Tampa, great area. Neither one of my wife are, is hometown in Florida, but it was, it was awesome.

It was close to the beach. We had a great time doing it. About five years into the church plan. I just started to recognize, uh, where we were as a church, uh, needed a different type of leader. Somebody had different gift sets than me. Um, I was really good at bringing people in, but not so good with the organizational side of things, to really help create an environment where people can grow and stay long term.

And, uh, and so I just knew that in order for us to have that type of leader, I was gonna either have to get another job and preach for free essentially. Uh, while that person helped develop the, uh, systems or we’re gonna just have to hire somebody who could preach and develop the systems. And, uh, I just realized that wasn’t me.

And so we went through a process and I prayed through it. And, uh, the, uh, the guy that’s pastor now is doing really well. The church is great. Church will be, I can’t believe this, but, uh, so we, we launched in 2012, officially in 2013. So the church is about eight and a half years old now. And God’s still doing great things there.

Craig Robertson: And Smitty, you talked about this, this, these are my words, not yours, this ceiling of complexity that you reached in your ministry life and that you were feeling burnout. What, what did you do?

Jason Smith: Yeah, I mean, I think for me, um, a couple things, I kept myself busy doing other things that I felt were- I was good at. And so I, you know, I traveled around and helped other guys start churches all across the United States and Canada, which was fun. But, uh, you looking back at it now in a little better of an emotionally healthy place. I was just using those as little escapes, you know? When I was involved in something where I felt like I was either failing or not doing as well as I should have been doing, I could go someplace else where I was good at it.

And, uh, it’s easy to impress people in three or four days. It’s much harder to lead people through a lifetime. So I would do that. And then, um, and again, I think, uh, I just recognized that not only was I not really having a lot of joy doing what I was doing anymore, but. What the people actually needed was something different than I can give them.

And so I think that’s when I just realized, “Hey man, I, I, I don’t think this is right anymore”. And about that same time is when I got, uh, contacted back from the guys at Pinelake to say, “Hey, we’ve got an opportunity. We’d love for you to come back. And to the timing of that just worked out really well”.

Roane Hunter: Mm-hmm. Obviously that was a God thing. And, you know, as you talk, Jason, it just makes me think, you know, that that recipe for burnout is so common and it’s like, the call was certainly genuine. I mean, you, you have the heart of a pastor, not just the title and that developed out of that felt need in what you didn’t get even growing up. And then so often it’s like, man, we’re gonna go help people. Right. And it is the recipe for burnout. And as we’ll hear, you kinda hit the wall. Right. And I think that’s just the common. Movement with that burnout that I see so often in that world.

Craig Robertson: Well, it’s not just pastors though. I think, oh, Haven been any, um, man or woman who is listening to our voices now have experienced that, whether that’s parenting, um, whether that’s, you know, me as an attorney, uh, therapist, uh, physicians, I mean, anybody across vocation reaches a point in their life where, you know, things just sometimes just don’t seem as fulfilling they’re, you know, you hit the wall there there’s there’s burnout. And I think that every human being, um, experiences that in some way or another, they not necessarily just, you know, ministry folks, or even necessarily people that are in the helping business.

Roane Hunter: We always say, I, I don’t believe that there’s, there’s no such thing as a midlife crisis. Um, that’s the common vernacular, but really it’s kind of like Jack in the Box, right? The cranks turning the cranks, turning, and eventually, you know, Jack’s coming outta the box and I believe that it’s always just the unresolved emotional, relational trauma.

To move it into psycho babble terms. Uh, but those things that we experience that we’ve never really worked through and we don’t understand our pain. And certainly as I just listened to your story, it’s like, man, it’s a growing awareness. Right. And we get to that place. We kind of figure out if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it.

Jason Smith: That’s right. And you know, I think I mentioned before, part of my personality is I do, I do like to have fun. And so when I’m not having fun, I just go to the next thing that’s fun, you know? And, uh, that’s kind of how I live my life. I we’ve moved a lot and I’d love to say every time we moved, just cuz God was calling us. And I think that’s what everyone says in ministry. But, uh, you. You know, some people that are close to me would probably call that out as, as not necessarily true. And you just going to the, you know, picking up my toys and going to the next sandbox, you know, and, um, you know, we came back here in 2019 and uh, really gave myself fully to the work here was very excited about it had a lot to do.

Uh, a lot of momentum was going on at the church and a lot of work, uh, specifically at the Madison campus. So I was fired up about it. You know, we were hiring new staff members and we were, we were about to go conquer the world, change the world, and then 2020 hits and COVID hits and things shift and change. And the challenges of trying to do church during COVID were hard. But, but again, it, it, it took all my time and energy and I felt like I was doing something good. And so, uh, we, we navigated through that personally, uh, that time some things started happening at me personally, because I was spending more time alone and being alone was hard for me. Uh, for somebody who gets their energy from other people or, um, and I would even go deeper that gets their purpose sometimes, uh, from being around other people. Uh, and so I started, uh, that started to chip away at maybe a facade that I didn’t know was there. And, um, and then, uh, 2021 started and I felt like we were like, all right, not that COVID was gone.

It’s still not gone, but you know, 2021, it was like, all right. Or we gotta, we gotta start to live life somewhat normal again. And so ministry started to look a little bit more normal again. And, uh, I think around March of 2021 is when I realized that no area of my life is really good right now. And, uh, usually in the past I was able to juggle, uh, kind of my happiness, because there would be one area of my life that would be good.

Even if there was just one area I could escape to that area. And, uh, March of 2021 was probably the first time in my life where there was no area to escape. And I didn’t know what to do. I really felt helpless and. None of my old coping mechanisms worked, the things that I would use used to run to, they didn’t work anymore. And so I really found myself at that point, I guess people would say rock bottom.

Craig Robertson: Right? And as Roane put it, it, I I’m, I’m hearing in my head, the, the music when you’re turning the little, the little lever next to the box and, and then it’s tightening and tightening and the music gets faster and faster and faster until it pops and that’s what it sounds like was happening to you. Just all of the ways that you had navigated life before that had worked for you were starting not to work and you’re in ministry and an example and you know. Pastors have to have it all together. And so, but when you didn’t have it all together, where did you turn?

Jason Smith: Yeah, i, I didn’t know where to go. And so I, uh, of course I saw to show up to work every day and I still had to say the right things and, and lead and, and do those things. So I did that, but I felt unsettled is the best word I could use to describe what, what I felt. I. I realized it wasn’t going to last much longer.

And so I think I did what a lot of guys do, or a lot of people do as I started to say, okay, maybe I need to go get a job someplace else. Maybe I need to, you know, sell my house and move someplace else. Or, um, I mean, even in, in, you know, some of the darker days, well, maybe I married the wrong person or, um, you know, maybe I, you know, you fill in the blanks, you know,

I shared before that, you know, growing up in the, in the home of an alcoholic. Um, alcohol and, and substances and things like that. Uh, weren’t an issue for me because I was always afraid of them. And I saw the destruction that they caused my family. But man, even during that time, I’m thinking maybe that would work.

Craig Robertson: Well, that’s complicated for a, a pastor because you know, we, we as human beings medicate. And there’s- we medicate through relationship. We medicate through drugs, we medicate through alcohol. We medicate through exercise. I mean, there’s-

Roane Hunter: Through work-

Craig Robertson: through, through work

Roane Hunter: And we can go down the list.

Craig Robertson: Right. And, you know, I think pastors, human beings, you know, in, in, in a lot of ways, they’re under this microscope and these somewhat normal human coping mechanisms become super complicated and Smitty, I’m hearing this in a new way from you today. Just the, the unique challenges that you found yourself in. And what, what I heard you say was, you know, in the past, Hey, I’m gonna pick up my toys and go to a new sandbox. God’s calling me to this other place and this new challenge and this new thing. But the limitations of the global pandemic, coupled with being alone with yourself and alone, with your thoughts and as an extrovert, not having that place for that energy to go out. And all of a sudden when the energy is in, then things get almost intolerable and make you question everything.

Jason Smith: Yeah, you’re exactly right. And, uh, you know, this isn’t anybody’s fault, but for me, I had just existed for so long in which it was like, all right. I don’t know if I can tell anybody this.

Craig Robertson: For all those reasons that we were just talking about.

Jason Smith: Yeah. I mean, I have friends that I could talk to that, that, uh, but you know, again, especially if you have long distance friends and this is a side note, but if like your accountability or vulnerability partner or whatever you wanna call ’em is somebody that’s far away.

That, you know, you can tell them what you want then to hear, you know, it’s, you can edit whatever you want to edit. So it always helps to have somebody that’s in your life. Mm-hmm . And I had a guy that’s in my life that, uh, has been in my life for years and, uh, was able to pick up on some things and, uh, through, you know, some good conversations.

Uh, I recognized that man, I needed to- I needed to talk to the people that I worked with, uh, specifically my direct supervisor and even my pastor to say, I’m not okay. I was afraid to have that conversation, but man, where God was taking those, those guys, God had prepared them. And so when I, uh, in July finally got to the place.

So it was, I’d love to say in March I hit rock bottom. because of my maturity as a believer, the next day I went and got- no y’all from March to July, I was a wreck. And, and, uh, in July, I, I, I just, uh, essentially we were as a church on a journey towards emotional health, and I felt so unsettled because there was no way I was gonna lead a church to emotional health when I was an emotional wreck.

And so that’s what I told ’em. I, I don’t think I can do this. And instead of them saying, Hey, we’ll find somebody who can, which would’ve been my experience, other places, or other times in my life, they said, “Well, how do we get you healthy?” And so really, really thankful for those guys who stepped into that moment and, um, encouraged me to go see a counselor.

Uh, so I went to a counselor for what’s crazy, like really like the first time, really in my life. Which if I told you all the trauma, you would be like, Roane, you would’ve been like, dude, you should’ve gone to counseling at six years old, which is true.

Craig Robertson: And I don’t want to skip over just the importance of what you just said. I mean, you know, you hit what you described as rock bottom, and you tried to struggle with it yourself for, for months, but the power and just telling another person who was in an influential place in your life and the transformational power of just speaking the words to another human being: I’m not okay.

Roane Hunter: It it’s amazing the power that that has in our lives, because we’re up in our head thinking, you know, we’re the only one, I don’t know what’s going on. All the crazy thoughts that we all have. And I often say we, uh, our, our model of treatment, which I don’t even like that word, but the way we practice is what I would term integrity therapy.

And that’s actually a model that was developed in the fifties, but you don’t hear much about that today, but basically it just like the first step is to get honest with yourself, step out of the denial, get honest with what’s going on. And then second step is, get honest with the, those close to you in your life.

And then the third step. Is get honest, uh, with others that you’re doing life with. It’s like, wow. Pretty radical stuff.

Jason Smith: Yeah. I think the- and you know, I, I hope this helps somebody, even if it’s just one person, but the thing I was most afraid of, which was the exposure of the fact that I wasn’t okay, was actually the most freeing thing I’d ever felt.

Mm-hmm. So the thing I was most afraid of the wall that I was so afraid to scale, I guess you could say, is that the moment I broke through it, I realized that wall was separating me from-. It, it wasn’t protecting me. It was actually separating me from an enjoyable life. And so I was able to break through the life.

So the thing, you know, was just, it was crazy. And so on the other side of that, I felt free. And some of the, some of the, uh, immediately, it was almost, uh, you know, it was, it was really miraculous almost immediately. Some of the darkness that I. Was gone. Uh, there was now light. It was exposed to the light and, and not just from a spiritual standpoint, God, God was aware of what I was going through. But to know that there was other human beings that were aware and they physically, God used them to physically show me love and grace, there’s nothing that, uh, can substitute that.

Craig Robertson: Smitty. Talk about that a little bit. So you. Were directed to try to find some help. And you, you found a counselor and man, I’ve known you for a while and you’re right. You’re, you’re a party on wheels and you bring the energy and life. And man, you step into a counselor’s office. You sit down in the chair. What was that like?

Jason Smith: Well, here’s what the crazy thing is because of COVID my. My counselor would agreed to meet me online. And I’m like, you know, this could be lame. You know, like, like I can, I knew in my head, Hey, I can, I’ve been schmoozing people for a while here.

I can schmooze a counselor online. And I’m just telling you, the second we started, it was not like anything I’d experienced before. And one of the exercises that she took me through was essentially just a life map where I just wrote down every possible memory I had from the very earliest of points. And then, I was able to put it on a scale of how it made me feel which to me I’m like what, like, I didn’t even realize. And I knew I was in trouble when I, the, uh, I wasn’t even off the first page yet. I had a, me, a very early memory from my father being present with, uh, at a, um, football practice like that. There’s nothing sad about that.

It was a very happy moment and I just started weeping. It tapped into, um, 40 plus years of emotions that I didn’t think I had the freedom to feel or ever ask the question “Why am I feeling this? And, uh, gosh, I mean, so I knew I was in trouble, you know, and I, you know, if crying makes you uncomfortable and you’re listening, I’m sorry.

But, uh, I, I’ve just learned that, um, the best thing I can offer is that my genuine like feelings in that moment and it just blew me away. And so man, Paige, after page, after page, after page of these memories, And I was able to start processing them. And I really did feel like a reservoir of feelings just came pouring out.

And, um, so my counselor, uh, you know, has essentially said, Hey, listen, this is good. And this is great, but man, you are because you haven’t gone to counseling. I would encourage you as part of your treatment plan for you to go away for like a week. Uh, and. She referred me to a place and, uh, it’s, it’s called onsite in, in, uh, in Tennessee.

And, um, go and I didn’t know anything about onsite. Uh, actually I talked to my wife and I said, Hey, I’m gonna look up about what it’s about. She’s actually don’t. I went and I, uh, you know, I, I know my personality, I would’ve tried to figure things out. I also thought it was really, really wise of my counselor because of my experience in the church.

And because of my biblical knowledge and all that kind of stuff. She knew that if she sent me to a Christian kind of place, I would’ve immediately tried to figure it out. And, and I was so outta my elemented onsite, um, that, uh, I was, I was uncomfortable enough to be led. If, I guess you could say I was lost enough there to be led.

I had no idea where to go. So I had to follow the guides there and that’s what they call ’em our guides mm-hmm and man, I just experienced some incredible breakthrough. And what was really interesting was the things that I thought I was gonna go and discuss. I was pretty sure I had two things down that I was really, really good discuss.

And those were the real big rocks of my life. And within the first like five minutes of the first session, I realized. The thing I needed to talk about and experience the most healing and most work in was a relationship that I didn’t think was broken. And, um, that was, that was life changing. Mm-hmm life changing.

Roane Hunter: We refer a lot of people to onsite and, uh, I’ve never had anybody that went and came back and said, man, that was terrible. E- everybody that’s ever gone comes back, says, man, that was the best thing I ever did. And I hear you. Saying that because it’s just powerful working with, you know, the, just this stuff that we’ve all got in all of our lives, you know, psychobabble, we, we call it trauma.

But the, the little acronym that I often use is just simply fit fact impact and track. What were the facts? What impact did those things have on you relationally and emotionally? And then what track did it set you on relationally and emotionally? And that’s how trauma works in our lives.

Craig Robertson: Smitty, talk a little bit about on site. And I’m a, I’m a real visual guide to paint the picture for me, what it’s like, what you’re doing, what your days were like. And then summarize by your biggest takeaways. And as we’re moving to the end of our time, I wanna talk about the trajectory that this work that you’ve done has set you on.

Jason Smith: It’s in it’s outside of Nashville. I, I actually drove which I’m grateful I did, cuz it gave me time to think on the way there on the way back. But uh, just pulling in, you know, it’s. Beautiful. Um, uh, you know, the leaves were changing, uh, you know, Tennessee’s gorgeous, uh, there’s horses everywhere and, you know, I get there and, uh, get to, you know, I go into the very first session and there’s nice cabins and it’s really, it’s really nice.

They would do everything’s well done. The food’s great and all that kind of stuff. But I go to the first session and, you know, we get broken up into groups and then I find out that I’m not gonna have any one on one time with my, with a counselor. And I immediately think in my head why, what, like I’m coming away for a week.

I’m not gonna have a new one on one time. This is such a waste of time. Like we’re not gonna open up around these people. I don’t know these people. And, uh, something they said in the very first, uh, said two things in the first session. The first one was that, Hey, the people that are in your group are gonna become the closest human beings to you in six days.

And I’m like, there’s no. But it’s true. They are. Um, and I still talk to many of the people in my group, specifically, my roommates, um, we, we talk all the time. Um, and then the second thing they said is trust the process. That’s the thing they say all the time there. And I’m so glad they said that because I like to try to figure things out.

Um, especially when you’re in a position of leadership. Most environments I’m in I’m, I’m the one that’s leading the room. So I feel like I have to have it all together and know what’s next. And to be in a situation where I don’t know what’s next. And right when I got to the moment where I was about to raise my hand and be like, I don’t get this, they would explain it.

And it happened three or four times in a row where I was like, all right. I’m just gonna trust the process. And so it was a really, really cool experience. And so we got broken up into our groups for the first time we had nine people in my group and we had a guide and, uh, the nine people in our group, I kind of look around and I’m trying to figure out, like, why did they put us together?

And why did we have the guide now? I don’t know the scientific stuff behind why they did it, but I do know that everything they do is purposeful. So the guys in my group, the girls in my. We were all together for a reason. And our guide was selected because he’d be most effective with us. Right. And I’m telling you, man, it was first session.

Very first thing we did, we passed an elephant around the room and we held the elephant. And that was the only, it was an actual, like, not a real elephant, but it was like a little, um, you know, stuffed animal. I, I have one in my office. Yeah. And you, you didn’t talk unless you were holding the elephant, right.

And why that was so impactful to me. And, and I really will try to get through this without being emotional, but, uh, just for y’all’s sake. But, um, my mother collects elephants. She collects, she has thousands of elephants. It’s, it’s how being raised that way is always in the house. When you pulled the elephant out, I immediately thought of my mother, which was comforting to me because I was an uncomfortable situation and I have a good relationship with my mom.

Um, but when the elephant came to me, What we’re supposed to talk about, like what we were feeling, right. And I’m like, I don’t know what I’m feeling. Um, and I get this elephant and I hold onto it. And it was as if God whispered into my ear, like, this is why you’re here. And for me, the elephant reminded me of my mom, but it also represented my mom.

And what I mean by that was I went to onsite. Because there was so much brokenness and trauma I experienced from being the child of an alcoholic mother that I had never like said what I really felt to her because I felt like she was a victim. You know, she’s a victim of this disease. I’m not gonna make her feel bad for not being there for me.

That’s not her fault. Like she’s a, she’s got a disease. I mean, that’s how I’d always do it. And so it’s easy for me to be mad at other people. It’s always hard for me to be mad at my mom, cuz I felt like I, I can’t do that to my mom. Right. And in onsite I realized that I needed to be honest about how I really felt and because I never learned to say to my mother, what I really felt.

That set me up for the rest of my life to never be able to tell other people what I really felt. And in the same way I used my, uh, humor to distract from my mother’s dysfunction. I used my humor throughout my life to distract from my dysfunction in other people’s dysfunction. And until I got that right.

everything else was gonna be on hold. And over the next six days, I had breakthrough after breakthrough of really getting to a place where I was able to deal with these emotions that I ha had from the wounds of being a child of an alcoholic. And, uh, You know, I won’t get into too much detail, but, uh, one of the, the tactics they use in the group work is psychodramas.

And, uh, it does sound kind of scary. And in some levels it kind of is, but when you’re in it, it’s not scary. Okay. And the idea is you’re, you’re living out parts of your life around other people and they’re holding space for you. So you can have conversations with people who aren’t in the room essentially.

And. The beauty of that is they don’t talk back. So you can say what you really wanna say without being interrupted. And then you get the opportunity to stand in the other person’s place and say either what they said or what you wish they would’ve said. And now at no moment during the time, do you think you’re in a different room and that you’re actually talking to your mother, right.

But your brain doesn’t fully know that. And so the healing that takes place in your brain and in your body, It and the emotions are real. Like you’re having the conversation it’s as if, when you walk outta that room, that thing you needed to say, when you were six years old, you finally got the chance to say, and it was heard mm-hmm and then it, you know, crazy it, so healing.

Roane Hunter: You know, we, we, it, we call it experiential therapy because all of this stuff that happened to us was in a relational and emotional experience. And dude, you cannot pray that stuff away. You can’t read your Bible enough to will it away. Um, it has to happen in a relational and emotional corrective experience. And that’s what it happens in that it’s a corrective emotional experience and it is so powerful.

Craig Robertson: And I’ve heard you say Roane, what’s broken in relationship can only be healed in relationship. And so it sounds like Smitty that that space was created to be able to have that experience even as an adult.

Jason Smith: You’re so right, man.

It, it, it was, it was, I I’ll get to that. And if just a few seconds of, of you had asked about where I am now with that, which is a great question. I’m so thankful that I’m on that journey. But the other side of this group work stuff that I thought was so helpful. And I think for anybody. Thinking about, Hey, I might need to get some help.

Group work is really cool because most of your learning is done while you’re watching other people do their work. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the story and the scripture where the, the prophet Nathan, uh, addresses David sin. But when he comes to him, he tells him a story about a guy. And as he’s telling him the story about the guy, the guy.

Taking advantage of, of, uh, the situation he’s taking things that aren’t his, and, and David’s getting like angry listening to the story because he is like, I’d kill a guy like that. And then Nathan says to him, well, you’re the guy and that’s how Nathan addressed, uh, David sin to him instead of coming and being confrontational with David, he told him a story which then let David’s guard down.

And then David realized it was him. That’s exactly what was taking place in onsite. I’m watching other people’s stories unfold. And then I find myself and their story. I re. Problems dysfunction in my own life that if somebody were to come to me and just say, Hey, you have this dysfunction, I would put the walls up because I’d feel like I need to defend myself.

Well, when we were watching other people’s stories unfold, you’re leaning in, it’s like the best movie you’ve ever seen your whole life. Right. It’s so true. And all of a sudden you realize, oh crap, I’m the main character and I didn’t even realize it. And so I would watch other women talk about. Marriage, they would be talking to essentially they’re in the psychodrama, they’re having a conversation with their husband and they’re saying what they want to say to their husband.

And I’m thinking, I bet you that’s exactly how my wife feels or they can’t understand where their husband’s coming from. And I’m thinking, oh, I understand my wife probably doesn’t understand where I’m coming from. And it was like so much healing and my wife’s not even in the room. Mm-hmm , you know what I mean?

Uh, and so it was, it was a special moment, but, um, You had asked, you know, Craig about kind of where, where I’m at with that. And just talk about how something I’m learning. I wish I could say I know it, but, um, something I’m learning is, is God really is way ahead of us. He really, really is way ahead of us.

And, um, so I, I, I got back from, from onsite. I had a, my. My relationships that were broken were in a much better place. Um, my ministry that I kind of felt like I was done with, I was kind of tired. I was burnt out. I, I just didn’t think I could give it anymore. Um, I recognized I didn’t need ministry. I wanted to do ministry.

And the, the second that shifted that I didn’t need the people I was doing ministry to. I wanted to serve them. I want that just changed everything. So I just came back with a lot of joy in my, in my job, a lot of joy in my life, a lot of joy in my marriage. It was just awesome. And then, uh, on January 1st, I got the phone call that my mother was put in the hospital and she’s very sick.

And, um, you know, that be, has begun the journey and she’s still, uh, in a nursing home right now has become the journey of me going back and forth the Florida to, to care for her. And what I’m realizing is I’m able to care for her in the middle of her. Stuff, without carrying the baggage of 40 plus years of pent up, uh, negative emotions and, and trauma that were connected to my relationship with my mom, that I had shoved under the surface of my life.

And because of that, when she’s hurting in a need, I can take care of her. And when she doesn’t respond the way that I wanted to respond, I don’t start screaming about how mad I am that she wasn’t there for me when I was six years old. I’ve already dealt with. Right. I get that. She wasn’t there for me and, and I’ve been able to walk through and experience healing for that.

And so now I can just care for her. And God knew when I went to Onsite. What was gonna happen? I didn’t. And that if I didn’t experience that emotional healing specifically in my relationship with my mom, I couldn’t step into this season in which I’m her caretaker.

Craig Robertson: Wow. Smitty, that’s a lot, man, in our final few minutes here together. Um, talk about the trajectory that you feel like your life is on now, based on this, this work that you’ve been doing for almost a year now.

Jason Smith: Well, I mean, I would say it’s funny, I’m kind of undone still, you know, I’m not like I, I was hoping, um, like when you go to basic training, they rip you apart and they put you back together and at the end of six weeks, you’re now who they want you to be.

And I kind of wish that was true for emotional health, but it’s a little more complicated than that. So I’ve come back and, and I think there’s. I found a lot of myself. Again, part of me though, that’s that’s us struggling a little bit right now is because humor and, uh, that big personality, outgoing, extroverted, crazy, ah, you know, life of the party kind of guy was so deeply connected to my woundedness.

Because I’ve experienced some healing. I don’t really know where that fits into my personality anymore. So when I walk into a room, I don’t feel a pressure to take over the room. I don’t feel a pressure to be funny. I don’t feel a pressure to distract. So I’m quieter. And I don’t mean to not laugh as much, but I don’t feel the need to lighten the mood.

Right. And so it’s interesting watching other people who have only known me for that. From the outside, they actually think something’s wrong with me. where the reality is. I’m actually healthier than I’ve ever been. Uh, and so I’m learning that now. I was afraid when I went to onsite that I’d come back weird.

Craig Robertson: Smitty. You said a lot of smart things, but that might be the smartest thing that I’ve heard you say so far, but I mean, talk to our listener. They, uh, you just said what they’re thinking. Okay. I’m not, I would never think about doing anything like that, cuz um, but, but you said you were afraid you were gonna come back weird, but I don’t experience you that way.

Jason Smith: Well, I, I just feel I had so much pressure on myself when I looked at myself in the mirror before, and I, would’ve never known, known this until now, but when I used to look at myself in the mirror, I, I could only look at myself through the lens of how other people viewed me and how other people related to me.

And as long as other people related to me in a positive way that I felt good about myself. And I struggled when people. You know, didn’t see me the right way or didn’t like me, or didn’t accept me. I felt a pressure to get them to like me or accept me. And now I, when I look in the mirror, I’m like, I actually love that dude.

Like I, I do. I mean, not perfect, messed up crazy, but. I love him. And so, because I have learned to love myself, I feel like when I hang out with other people, I don’t feel the pressure for them, for me to get them to like me, because I like myself anyway, all that to say, I really hope I do laugh and are more funny than I am in this moment right now, I guess you could say, but, um, I don’t want to try to rush that. And, uh, start faking it again.

Craig Robertson: I mean, I don’t know how to add much to that Smitty except thank you. Thank you for the vulnerability that you’ve shared with us today. Thank you for me. And just being here and opening up your life. And let me tell you, I like this guy a lot. I mean, I liked. Wild crazy energy, but man, there is just a richness to the person that I’m sitting with now.

And I just wanna continue to encourage you to, to be, to be brave and to continue to step into that because it is really, really. Awesome.

Roane Hunter: Dude. Thank you so much. I’ve known you since 2008 and, uh, it’s just so cool to kinda seem part of the journey, but man, to hear the real stuff, uh, on your journey and, and I just, man, I so want to affirm you for somebody in your role as a pastor and leader of a large church, uh, on staff. Uh, dude, it is so powerful when you just get. Because that frees so many people up, man. Love you. Thank you for being with us.

Jason Smith: Thanks for having me guys. It was fun.

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