“Oh my god! Did that just go in?! I think that went in!”
I was fifteen years old and I had just hit the golf shot of a lifetime.
Set deep in the trees with over a hundred yards to go and just a six foot window to put the ball through, I was in what us hackers affectionately call a “swing and pray” situation, as in swing hard and pray the ball misses all of the trees directly in front of you. Normally I’d simply utilize my trusty foot wedge and conveniently relocate the ball somewhere less deadly, but just as I located my ball a family walking down an adjacent road spotted me in the forestry and stopped to watch the show.
I spent the next few minutes nervously trying to figure out my shot while pretending not to hear the muffled voices of my own personal shame gallery standing directly behind me.
Flustered, I prayed a short and desperate prayer, nervously stepped up to the ball and swung.
I’ve always considered myself to be a person who handles stress pretty well. I like to be busy. I enjoy taking risks. I tend to have my hands in numerous endeavors at any given time. I never thought anxiety was my problem.
Then a little less than a year ago I hit a wall. The previous several years of starting and growing the church I now pastor had caught up with me. I could never seem to get enough sleep. Small tasks became very difficult. Things I had normally done with little thought or stress were suddenly accompanied with an almost crippling anxiety.
It all came to a head one day as I was driving between meetings when all of a sudden it felt as though my heart was malfunctioning. I pulled the car over to the side of the road convinced I was having a heart attack. I remember thinking this might be the way I go out and I began praying for my family. That was my first panic attack. It was that moment that I realized I could no longer ignore the stress and anxiety that was slowly taking over my life.
Note: The video below includes profanity. If you’re in a public place, heads up.
For the last several weeks we’ve been journeying through Jesus’ beatitudes with our church. This morning I’ve been reflecting on the last couple months and as I do I find myself once again captivated by Jesus and overwhelmed by the depth and richness of his words.
In the beatitudes Jesus puts flesh and color on the resounding theme of his life: the presence and availability of the kingdom of God. Those present to hear his words no doubt found them every bit as shocking as we do.
In a culture marked by religious oppression and exclusivity, one in which things like power and financial blessing were assumed to be evidence of God’s favor, Jesus makes a shocking announcement: The kingdom of God is available to those religion has failed and the world has forgotten.
One of my heroes, Brennan Manning, used to tell a story about a friend of his named Mary. Mary worked out of her home in New Orleans and in her living room hung a large banner that read, “Today I will not should on myself.” Whenever one of Mary’s friends said something to her like “Mary, you should get back into teaching” or “You should go on vacation,” Mary would respond “Don’t you should on me. Don’t you dare should on me.”
Should is a powerful word.
At any moment on any given day there is an endless list of things I should be doing. I should eat right. I should exercise. I should spend time in prayer. I should read my bible. I should be more productive. I should be more generous. I should be more disciplined. I should read that book. I should pursue that thing I’ve always talked about. I should get together with so and so. I should be a better husband, dad, friend, neighbor, employee, _______.
I’ve tried my hand at a number of odd jobs in my relatively short life. Paperboy. Car wash attendant. Lawnmower. Dry waller. Waiter. Umpire. Commercial Christmas light hanger. Seat belt use surveyor. Professional lab rat. But perhaps my favorite odd job of all time was that of bartender.
I was a pastor by day and bartender by night. It was a great gig. The conversations and relationships were priceless. I miss hearing returning patrons ask, “Hey, is the bartending pastor in?” I miss getting to share about the Jesus who spent so much of his time with those who frequented the local watering hole. Honestly, there’s hardly a week that goes by when I don’t think about getting back into it.