I am both a pastor and a counselor. If you don't know me well, you're probably sitting there thinking that I'm some uber-perfect hybrid of Billy Graham and Dr. Laura, their secret love child. You might assume you would feel a little uncomfortable around me at a party where there is alcohol, and you might try to clean up your language around me. In other words, you might think that I have it all figured out (at least in my own estimation), and that I'm harboring judgments about you because you DON'T have it all figured out. The truth is, I'm just as human and flawed as anyone, and perhaps more vulnerable. I want to talk a little bit about that vulnerability.
Last month everyone heard about the scandal surrounding Eliot Spitzer. I don't really want to get into that, but it's an old, old story: big name, big fall. Everyone loves to hate these people. It's a sick kind of fun when people who have a strictly moral public persona are caught with their pants down. My reaction is a little different these days. The more public my own life becomes, the more I understand how these things develop. Don't get me wrong, I'm not excusing anything...I'm just confessing that I think I get it in some weird way.
As my life becomes more and more public, I'm noticing the subtle pressure to appear a certain way. As a counselor, people expect that I will be extremely emotionally healthy with really wise and simple answers to all of the issues in their life. As a pastor, people expect that I will have a carefully constructed theological answer for everything and that my life will always reflect a kind of luminous spirituality. Together, the counselor-pastor combo amounts to the great double-whammy of pressured expectation. It becomes harder and harder to be real about my struggles and questions. Sometimes I bend and morph under the push and pull of it. If I'm not careful, I could leave myself behind and never really notice it.
I wonder if this is what happened with these other public figures? I wonder if little by little they forgot who they really were and what they cared about? I wonder if all that bending and morphing and hiding eroded their "me-ness" over time, and resulted in an identity that bore no resemblance to the person who first entered the public arena with all those high ideals? This thought scares me badly.
So here's my public confession, a kind of watermark to help me measure when the floods are threatening to overwhelm my "me-ness". I am a woman with a complicated personal history that I both love and hate. I have made a lot of mistakes, and some of those mistakes have hurt others. I have not been a perfect mother or wife or friend...far from it. (If I've done one thing really well, it has been to say "I'm sorry" when I was wrong...I've said that a lot in my life.) Sometimes depression and fear and doubt move into my chest like squatters and chase out all of the space required for breathing. In other words, I'm really no different than anyone else. All those titles really mean is that I am pointed in a particular direction and doing my best. I have not arrived anywhere and I don't have any room to judge anyone.
So there it is. Remind me of this if you ever run into me and I sound a little fake. Make sure there's someone home behind my eyes. Don't let me disappear into the world of expectations. Knock me over the head if you have to. Thanks.