Editor’s note: This column originally ran on March 10, 2017.
Sometimes I wish I worked in a hardware store. Or drove a truck. Or pushed a broom. Or waited on tables. At least then I wouldn’t have people coming to me in the depths of their sorrows or despair or paranoia looking for answers I cannot give them.
Oh, what I’d give to hear, “Where can I find 1-inch PVC pipe?” or “When will you deliver?” or “Is that floor clean?” or “Can I have my salad dressing on the side?” I can answer those kinds of questions. “Aisle 14, left hand side, near the far end.” “Three o’clock tomorrow on your loading dock.” “Spotless.” “Of course.”
But, I’m not a clerk at True Value, I’m not a truck driver, and the only brooms I push are ones that sweep out my garage, clean my floors and whisk the snow off my front porch. And who really cares about salad dressing?
What I cannot answer, but what I’m forced to answer day in and day out, are questions like “Why does my mother hate me so much?” and “What did I do to deserve this?” and “When will the hurt go away?”
I am the beneficiary of one of the best seminary educations money can buy, but three lousy semester hours in pastoral counseling just did not equip me to deal with the real nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty, in-the-trenches details of this crappy life we live. The only answer I am prepared to give most of the time is, “I don’t know.”
And I don’t dare answer these questions with the “J” word. The trite, “Jesus is the answer” answer just doesn’t cut it. Those can be the most hollow, empty words in the English language. People in the depths of despair and at the end of their rope don’t want Jesus.
They want help – real, palpable, authentic help; help that I am often ill-equipped to give them. I can quote Bible passages until I’m blue in the face, but unless I can put my money where my mouth is, no one cares what Jesus says.
Honestly, one morning a week I’m happy with what I do. In fact, I’m thrilled with what I do. Sunday morning is all about proclaiming the Word of God and teaching the tenets of the Christian faith. If I could do that 24/7 I’d never ask for a day off. But, it’s those other 6½ days each week that run me down, wear me out and make me wish I’d never taken my ordination vows.
God’s people are so screwed up sometimes it makes me want to scream. The words, “She did this to me” or “He did that to me” have bounced off my eardrums so often that I don’t even hear the words anymore. “Who cares?” I want to reply. “What makes you think you’re so special?”
When people walk into my office with outstretched hands and the only words they can offer are “I want” or “I need,” I want to shout, “Get out! There’s nothing for you here! This town, this community, and this church are tapped out, bled dry and just as needy and pitiful as you.”
But, I don’t. Instead, I grudgingly look to the example of Christ, who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
“And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).
In other words, quit your whining and do what I said: “Love your neighbor.” If that means answering one more impossible question, stating the obvious one more time, pleading ignorance yet again or being duped by one more con artist, then so be it. “… nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39), and “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34).
Thanks for letting me blow off some steam. I promise to be more positive next week.
The Rev. Bill Cate is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Salida.