This is the story of how ministers find out they’re not Jesus. This is the story of hitting bottom.
You start figuring out you’re not Jesus when you begin to unravel and lose the details. And if you’ve fallen into the trap of thinking you’re Jesus, there are a lot of details to keep straight.
One day your act starts to fray around the edges.
There’s the family whose son is in jail. Did you send that letter to the chaplain? Clay seems depressed again. When was the last time you had lunch with him? Remember that little girl who told you she wished you were her daddy? Weren’t you going to do some serious thinking about how to respond to her?
Did you pick up that book for Susan’s husband, like you said you would? He doesn’t feel at home at church. A little gesture like that could mean a lot. Hey, remember Bob and Linda? Jim’s children? They haven’t been to church in quite a while. They were moving to Hondo, right? Or did Jim say they weren’t moving after all? Holy Shit, you forgot to call Kay. Her grandmother is sick, and her mother just died. How could you not call her?
Is that wedding THIS week? What’s the groom’s last name again? Did you visit Joan in the hospital? She was there for three days. Wasn’t there a little girl who wanted to talk to you? Weren’t you going to have lunch with…um…that one guy? Wasn’t there someone who wanted to talk with you Wednesday night?
The voices in your head come together as one pounding headache of an entity and boldly name themselves Legion. The details are knotted into a dirty crowd, like starving kids on TV. There are so many of them, each precious, and you aren’t keeping up.
You CAN’T keep up, but you MUST keep up, because how can you NOT keep up?
You swear to God that you’ll try harder, but God doesn’t want that oath. God wants you to find a quiet place, sit down, and remember who you are.
But you want to try harder, because down inside you think you’re supposed to be like Jesus. So God stands aside and lets you have your way. The details rush into the void like giggling demons, and everything starts to fall apart.
Calendars blur before your eyes and become your greatest enemy. You know you wrote something down in a Monday square, but later it’s in a Friday square. You would swear on a stack of bibles that there is another week this month, but there isn’t. All the weeks are gone, preacher. Time’s up and you’re on. Weddings and speaking engagements skate furiously out of the distant future, pulling up short on the tomorrow square, spraying ice in your eyes.
Even your beloved words begin to fail you.
The blessing you have quoted every Sunday for eight years disappears from your mind without a trace, leaving you speechless before the congregation.
The people at church think your absent mindedness is kind of cute. Maybe they think that’s what comes with a creative personality. You hope they think that. You wonder if something might be wrong with your brain.
You develop a little tick. You start needing to squeeze your eyes shut tightly and jerk your head to the side. It occurs to you that it must look like a man saying, “NO!” You’re considering seeing a doctor, but that’s another detail you leave hanging.
Then one Sunday a woman raises her hand in church to share a prayer request. You know this woman. You were there the night her baby was born dying. You held his premature body and watched his final heartbeats through the waxy skin of his tiny chest. YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN. You know her husband and their boy, but her name is gone from your mind. Her name is nowhere. The pause gets too long so you just point at her, and she knows you forgot her name. You can see it in her eyes; you can see it hurt her. She’s the saddest person in the world, and you hurt her.
Grief seizes your chest, and all your energy drains into your shoes. You want to stop in the middle of the service, take a seat in the pew and say, “Someone take over. I can’t preach or pray or talk. Someone put your arms around me because I can’t do anything.”
But you don’t do that. You don’t want to let everyone down, so you dig deep and find energy in a secret place. The price of this energy is putting the woman out of your mind. It’s a terrible price to pay. It’s a quick fix, but in the long run you lose your soul.
This is what you’ve come to. Putting people out of your mind so you can finish the sermon. Is this what you call love, preacher?
You see, when you start forgetting blessings and names, you’ve lost the language of love. You can forget a lot of things, but you cannot forget a woman’s name and claim to love her. You cannot.
You tried to build a tower to the heavens, so God took away your words. It had to be this way. This was the only way you would learn.
Now you understand. You’re not Jesus after all. You’re a man who is good with words and who feels things very deeply. You’re a dreamer and a silly person, like all the other silly people at church. You cannot love everyone, and you cannot be all things to all people.
Welcome to the human race, preacher. Now you are ready to begin.
You will love some people deeply. Others will receive lesser kinds of love. Some will get a handshake and a kind word. Their journeys are their own, and they may have to get what they need from someone else.
Love the ones you can. Touch the ones you can reach. Let the others go. If you run out of gas, sit down in the pew and point to God. That might be the greatest sermon you ever preach.
You cannot love anyone until you learn you cannot love everyone.
You cannot be a real live preacher until you learn to be a real live person.