I found myself sitting in my hotel room watching Seinfeld as a distraction. My wife was downstairs in the car. I was angry. She was angry. Rarely do Paula and I get to the point where we don’t even want to be in the same room, but that is where we were. The cause of our anger was plain and simple.
I was being a jerk.
I had been a jerk to her from the moment we had begun loading up the car to head to Tulsa to watch our oldest play basketball and all throughout the day. We had both hoped for a nice getaway to Tulsa for just the two of us, and I had ruined any chance of such an evening.
We decided to go for a 5 mile walk and talk things out. I didn’t want to talk at first. Like I said, I was angry. She was angry too. The first mile of our walk was an awkward dance of conversation, but as the miles passed by the truth came out.
The truth was I was lonely. The truth was, that outside of the people who had to love me (God, my wife, the boys), I felt completely alone. Anyone who has been in ministry for any time at all can tell you that the ministry can be a lonely place.
Maybe I was tired from the constant decision making of a building program I didn’t sign up for. For those of you who don’t know my story as of late, our church was set on fire by some young people in our community last October. The entire building has been gutted to the studs and we are in the middle of rebuilding. Honestly I don’t really care if the shingles on the roof are slate or charcoal, and I can’t tell the difference between “mysterious” grey and “hazy” grey. It’s all grey to me. Maybe the constant demands of a building project were wearing on me.
Maybe my melancholy mood was due to the fact that I had been wading through some tough issues with some people, and it seemed like I was always giving. It seemed like people only wanted what they could get out of me- advice, encouragement, support. It wasn’t like I had been a hermit and secluded myself. Maybe I just wanted someone to sit with me over coffee and just let me be Nate. Not a problem fixer or a means of support. Maybe I just wanted someone to just let me be me for a change.
Or maybe I was missing my best friend. Every June, I am reminded of the best friend I ever had, Simon. From the third grade on, we were best buds. He was the most magnetic person I have ever been around. We were inseparable through grade school and middle school. In high school we drifted apart a bit because of different interests. I was in basketball and band, he was in choir, but we were those types of friends who always picked right back up where we left off. When we were young he used to play the Disney record (I’m dating myself here) of The Fox and the Hound and make me say it with him: “And we’ll always be friends forever, won’t we?” And I would respond, “Yeah forever.”
In the last conversation I had with Simon, he told me that he still considered me his best friend, even though we hadn’t seen each other very often after high school. I concurred. Outside of my wife, he was the best friend I have ever had. On June 6th, 1994, he disappeared while backpacking in Hawaii and has never been found to this day. Maybe it was June again and I was missing the kind of friendship I had with Simon.
Whatever it was, I was hurting and I took it out on Paula. I have often used the phrase “hurting people hurt people” to describe the actions of others, but this time it was me who was doing the hurting. After walking a few more miles, I was finally able to verbalize the fact that I was taking my frustration out on my wife. We celebrated by doing what we do best- eating Mexican food! We settled into the patio at Los Cabos and enjoyed a live band and lots of chips and queso. (We had earned eating that Mexican food with our 5 mile walk right?)
One week later (this past weekend) I celebrated my birthday. Through Facebook posts, texts, and getting together with family and friends I was reminded of the wealth of relationships that God has given me. On my saner days (the days when I am not singing songs about eating worms) I realize that I have been blessed with so many great relationships. I have some pastor friends that I meet with on a regular basis to just “be Nate” and share life and ministry together. I have friends who I have celebrated birthdays with like we were family for over 20 years now. My relationship with my parents and my brother is as good as it has ever been in my lifetime. My immediate family (Paula and the boys) are a constant source of joy. The list could go on and on.
This weekend, I had the privilege of spending the weekend with my mom and her husband Bill. We went to Top Golf, played cards, tried our hand at cornhole, grilled out, and just generally had a great time together. My family surprised me with some awesome gifts including tickets to see Coldplay. Then I opened up my Facebook to see that a couple hundred people had wished me a happy birthday. What a testament to all the great relationships that God has blessed me with down through the years.
Then Saturday night, something caught me off guard. I remember going to a haunted house as a kid and when we had finished walking through the haunted house, we walked out an open door into the night. We began talking about how scary the house was as we walked back to the car. All of a sudden, a guy jumps out from behind a tree with a chainsaw buzzing and we all shot out of there like a cannon. It was easily the scariest part of the entire house because we had let our guard down.
That, in essence, is what happened to me on Saturday night. My birthday was over and I was preparing to preach another Sunday. Paula and I had gone to the church to straighten some things up for in the morning and our youngest son had asked us to bring his guitar by Cobey’s house. You see, our youth have this habit of all getting together on Saturday night at Cobey’s and, at camp, they had talked about singing some worship songs together as part of the gathering.
So I walked up to the door with Tyler’s guitar in hand. I made a joke to Paula about just barging in to make sure our boys were behaving themselves. She knocked on the door anyway. When the door opened, I was pelted with balloons, there were streamers hung up, and I was greeted with a big hearty SURPRISE! Now I am a hard person to surprise, but I was completely blindsided like the time at that haunted house. I was blindsided by their surprise, but more than that I was blindsided by the love that a group of teenagers had for their pastor. They had put the whole party together by themselves. Hot dogs, chips, drinks, balloons, streamers, the works! It was a simple act, but a huge one to me personally.
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” The youth of our church had no idea about the events of my week. My own boys had no idea that I had treated their mom like a jerk a week earlier. They had no idea of the loneliness I had felt. They just did a small thing that was a huge thing to their pastor.
It served as a good reminder to me that we never know what a person is going through and what a small act of kindness might mean!
Just a thought,