This happened, in the last church I served . . .
When my cell phone is set to stun, it sometimes seems more like a growl.
Okay, it’s not really on “stun,” (like the old in-the-future Star Trek hand phasers) but the phone’s silent mode is certainly not silent. When a call comes through, the phone shakes, vibrates and, yes, seems to growl a warning.
Its growl was honest the other day. Warning. Watch out. Grrrr!
I was preparing for an early evening meeting, doing a few minutes of endless catch-up office work, when my phone rang (Grrrr!). It was maybe 6:15.
“Are you the pastor?”
“Yes I am.” I didn’t recognize the voice, didn’t recognize the name, but suddenly I was plunged into a conversation with a person who was alternately crying, ranting, pleading, and asking VBGs: Very Big Questions. I mean BIG questions, the sort that can barely fit under a circus’ tent or in a major league ballpark.
Why don’t people love me?
Why can’t I find a relationship?
Why does God ignore my prayers?
Why am I so lonely?
No wonder my phone growled. Here was a person calling a church, seeking a pastor, in a time of crisis. Perhaps nearly every moment of their waking life was a crisis, but this particular moment had caused them to press a series of numbers on a phone pad to make a connection with another human being so they could . . . could what?
Cry? The person did.
Yell? The person did.
Express anger? The person did.
As I listened, with the emotions and the big questions swooshing into me like gusts of wind building to a full-fledged storm, one theme stood out. It was clear s/he longed to have a relationship that would, as Tom Cruise’s character Jerry McGuire said, “complete me.”
Notice my use of s/he? It didn’t matter if the person was male or female, gay or straight, old or young, or any of the other myriad variations of being human.
I am lonely. I want another to complete me.
What I know is true is that the Holy calls us to be in relationship with the other. Others do “complete” us. In the healthy relationships that many of us are part of—our life partners, our dearest friends, our trusted co-workers—we can experience life-affirming moments. There is little better than acceptance or honesty or shared laughter with another person.
What I also know is true is that another person cannot help complete us if we don’t have a healthy relationship with “me.” And, I believe (which is always different than knowing), with our Creator.
I squeezed in a few words and an “ahh” and “ohh” or two as the caller ranted. And cried. And asked those zeppelin-sized questions. Through it all, to use the olde cliché, I tried to “be present.”
Toward the end of the mostly one-sided conversation, I suggested that the person connect with a therapist I knew. I told the caller that this therapist was caring and sensitive, and open to discussing spiritual needs. And I am thankful, since I later checked in with the professional I recommended, that there was contact. The phone number I gave had been written down and actually used.
I think I did the best I could. I listened. I tried to interrupt with a few questions that might have helped him/her remember how much God first (and always) loves each of us. And maybe, just maybe, I pointed another person down a slightly different and hopeful direction.
And yet I’ll tell you this. Days later, the person’s voice still haunts me. Those questions were BIG. Why can’t I find another? We live in a situation comedy culture where nearly everything is wrapped up, and completed, by the twenty-eighth minute. Celebrities glide through life; today rehab, tomorrow walking the red carpet. Someone is always winning a lottery. We are surrounded by artifice and deceit. We are good at pretending we are happy.
How hard it is to have a healthy relationship with . . . me.
“Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus said in Matthew 6:26, “they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”
And the answer is: we are. I am. And you. And you.
One of the most precarious parts of faith involves believing how much God loves us. That belief won’t guarantee happiness or completion, but it may help us remember our own value in every relationship we seek or celebrate.